All Are Welcome
2nd Wednesday in Lent, 03/-4/2015
Week 2 of “Not a Fan”
1 Timothy 1:12-16, Luke 14:15-24
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
Welcome back to Not a Fan, everyone! To those of you who may not know, this Lent we are following the book Not a Fan. The author, Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which is a really big megachurch. Anyways, last week Pastor Mary Ellen talked to us about the initial question that Kyle raises to us: Are we fans of Christ or are we followers of Christ? The difference is huge, because a fan is noncommittal, but a follower is “all in.”
This week, we get to learn about how we move from being a fan to being a follower. The title of the sermon for tonight is “All Are Welcome.” I really am sorry for that. “All Are Welcome” really is an overused phrase by churches. How many of you have seen a sign on a church that says “All are welcome?” It kind of is a loaded question, isn’t it? Does it “All are Welcome” as long as you look like us, or dress like us, or accept the same view of the Bible like we do. Churches are notorious for overusing this phrase, but we are hardly the only ones. How often do you get an invitation for a credit card in the mail that says “You are pre-approved! Just return this exclusive offer that thousands of other people got back to us and you will have the best credit card ever!” Then when you actually fill it out, you get denied or you get slammed with a high interest rate because your credit score is too low. So the next time you hear about a special offer for “anyone,” you may think twice, or at least look carefully at the fine print.
What about Jesus though? What does Jesus mean when He says “all are welcome?” Is there some sort of catch? What is the fine print?
Our Gospel reading for today sheds some light on this. In our reading, Jesus is telling a story in the form of a parable while he was eating dinner at the house of a Pharisee. Remember in Jesus’ time a Pharisee was an expert on the Jewish Law and the Old Testament, so he was a smart guy, but the Pharisees often opposed Jesus.
Anyways, about the story. In Jesus’ story, a man throws a great banquet. In the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, a feast or banquet is used to compare to what will happen at the fulfillment of all things. Theologians call this the “eschatological feast.” That’s my ten dollar word for the night, “eschatological.” The people Jesus ate with realized this, because at the beginning of our reading some anonymous guest piped up: “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” This makes sense to us, doesn’t it? There is something inherently intimate about sharing a meal together, whether that is a family dinner or a date. Something about eating together brings people together. The same thing happens with the Kingdom of God. Eating at God’s table has the same effect.
The host of the dinner in Jesus story has a guest list that he puts out. These are the people that the host wants to throw his party with. However, these people seem to be too busy to take him up on the offer. Since he needs to have people at this banquet, he tells his servants to start rounding people up off the street. Who does he find? He finds the sick, the lame, and the disabled. These people were the undesirables. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus chapter 21, the one that no one likes to read, God tells Moses that priests cannot be disabled in any way. These priests were the ones who offered sacrifices to God in the Temple, that is, the people who would be eating with God. So what Jesus is saying here in the parable is that the ones that God is bringing to the party are the undesirable ones. The people who were excluded from the party before are now the ones that are invited.
In our first reading Saint Paul talks about these “undesirables” that were invited to the banquet. In our first reading for today, Saint Paul says that he was not a good person. Paul, by his own admission, was a bad man. He was a blasphemer against God, a persecutor of God’s people, and he was a violent person. He said that he was the “worst sinner.” Yet God still chose him to serve. To Jesus it did not matter that Paul was a bad person. Heck he was evil! As far as undesirable for church people went, Paul was at the top of the list of people to avoid. But Jesus still loved him and turned him into an apostle that would carry the Gospel across the whole Roman Empire and sent the Holy Spirit to inspire him to write a good chunk of the New Testament! If Jesus could love a person like Paul, don’t you think that Jesus would be able to love you too?
In the story of the banquet told, however, there are two types of people. There are people who like the host enough to be on friendly terms with him, but when it came down to it, they were too busy with life to have anything to do with him. That sounds a lot like the fans that we have been talking about during this series, doesn’t it?
The other category I think sounds a lot like the followers that Pastor Kyle is talking about. There is something special about them. Not only are they full of the “undesirables,” the people that you may think don’t deserve to be there, but they couldn’t come on their own. Jesus says that the host told them to bring them in. The host tells his servants to compel them to be there. There is something special about that. The undesirables didn’t crash the party. They didn’t decide to come there on their own. They were brought in. Sorry to everyone that thought they could decide on their own to follow Jesus! You can’t! It’s not up to you! Like the undesirables in the parable, we are blind and lame! We can’t get there on our own. Even if we chose to go, it wouldn’t mean anything. The only way to get in is by the authority of the host and to follow him in. The guests that were originally invited could have been led in too, but their stubbornness left them out.
Martin Luther taught the church about this in the Small Catechism, which if you don’t know is one of the documents that says what the Lutheran Church believes. In his explanation of the third section of the Apostle’s Creed, the part about the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It’s not about what we do or decide that makes us a follower; it’s what God decides and does.
So that leaves us with what kind of guest are you tonight to Jesus’ eschatological feast. Ha! I used it again. Are you the fan that is friendly to Jesus but really can’t be bothered when He asks you something? Or are you one of the undesirable ones; one of the people that realizes that you don’t deserve to be at the table with Jesus, but follows him in anyways, praising God that you had the opportunity to do be at the feast too?
Pray with me. Lord, you are the host of the great eschatological feast. We know that we are not worthy to be invited. We know that we are the undesirable ones. Thank you for inviting us to you table God, and enable us, O Lord, to accept the offer to come to the feast that you have prepared. Help us to keep the demands of this life from crowding out Your love for us. Holy Spirit, lead us into the feast; we know that we cannot enter it ourselves. This we pray in your Holy name, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.