“Table Talk”

Mt. 22

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

One of the more irritating aspects of today’s social scene is the casual approach some people take toward invitations.

You want to assemble a small group of your friends to go out to dinner at a promising, new restaurant. You select a date and tell your friends.

Some of those invited might say, “Yes” immediately—but then, at the last minute, they suddenly cancel. Others accept the invitation–but they end up arriving so late that they miss most of the party. Others don’t respond at all, until you call them a second or third time.

Today’s Gospel presents an extreme example of the casual approach to invitations. It’s a story that Jesus tells, comparing Heaven to “a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”

The story begins on the day of the banquet, when the king sends his servants out to escort those who had previously been invited back to the king’s palace. But the guests refuse to come. The king sends out another group of servants with the instructions to tell those who have been invited: “Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”

Some of the prospective guests still rudely ignore the servants, and they go back to their work. Others actually resent being invited! They are so resentful that they seize the king’s servants and torture and kill them.

Now, of course, the story is highly symbolic—as Jesus says, it’s about the kingdom of Heaven. The nasty guests represent those who will reject the message of Jesus and ultimately kill him.

The symbolism is carried through into the conclusion of the story. The king is enraged by the guests’ behavior and punishes them by execution and burning of their cities—this is a warning of divine retribution for those who refuse the invitation to hear Christ’s teaching.

But, happily, the very end of the story is positive: the king says to his servants, “‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

The parable thus implies that since those who were born into religion haven’t responded to God’s invitation to work for his Kingdom, others should be offered a place at the table.

Today, Christ’s story is often interpreted as applying to the church’s attempts to expand its membership. Just as the early Christian community welcomed pagan converts as well as Jews, so the Church should welcome people who haven’t previously felt included. The Diocese of New York, for example, has taken this lesson to heart and has established special missions for Hispanics and Chinese and other ethnic groups that traditionally might not have felt comfortable in an Episcopal Church.

The invitation to be part of the Church has also gone out in more subtle ways. For example, many congregations have in recent years relaxed their customs about what constitutes “Sunday dress.” A man can now feel comfortable attending services without wearing a suit and tie; a woman doesn’t need to wear a hat or gloves.

But there is another message in this lesson that applies to those of us who are already church members. Recall the people who are first invited to the king’s banquet. As the Scripture says, they “made light” of the invitation—they just went back to work or whatever they were doing.

Aren’t there ways in which we, too, make light of God’s invitation to share in the life and work of God’s Kingdom? Aren’t there times when we choose instead to do what pleases us?

So, for some people on some Sundays, brunch takes the place of worship. Or, on the night of a church meeting, a TV show is chosen instead.

I must admit to my shame that on one recent afternoon, I was working late in my office, getting ready to go out and meet a parishioner for dinner. The phone rang. A woman was outside the church; she said that she realized that the building was closed–but she wondered whether she could be allowed briefly to see the interior, since her parents had been married at Incarnation.

I say, “to my shame,” because at the time, I only thought of my impending meeting. I didn’t want to leave my office and go over to the church and open the doors and turn on the lights and welcome the woman in.

I therefore advised her to return at another time when the church was open. And while I regretted my action almost immediately, and I even went out to see if I could find the woman, she had already left.

A grim example of not offering God’s hospitality. My approach to my religion was casual. I didn’t do what I should have done because it wasn’t convenient. Like the people in Christ’s parable, I didn’t respond to God’s invitation to serve him because I couldn’t fit that invitation into my schedule.

And, this casual approach can hurt us as well as others. We end up not being prepared for the times when we really need spiritual help ourselves.

St. Paul often described the practice of religion, using images from sports. He realized that much day-to-day religion is like athletic training. You might want to compete in only one marathon a year, but to do well in that race, you need to work out every day.

By the same token, you might go for many months without feeling troubled. But then the day comes when you wake up filled with anxiety and you need spiritual comfort. Your religion will only be able to help you if your prayer life has been regular and you have been generous to others—if you have, as Paul said, “kept the faith.”

Woody Allen famously observed that, “90% of life is showing up.” This might seem to be a trivial point; after all, being a friend is much more than just keeping someone company.

But even though showing-up is only a minimum requirement for a relationship, it’s an essential minimum! Going to church, saying our prayers, responding to calls to help others—all the little things of faith help keep us spiritually fit.

And finally, not least of the little things of faith is remembering God’s invitation to us—as the General Thanksgiving says, God offers us “the means of grace” and “the hope of glory.”

Even though we may take it casually, God’s invitation to come to the table is there. It’s an open invitation. And it’s an invitation for which we should always give thanks. It’s an invitation that we should accept!

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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