Prior to Kate and Prince William’s wedding I jokingly might ask someone, “Did you get an invitation to their wedding?” “Duh, No.” “Well would you like mine? I can’t go. I have to preach that weekend.” Ha, ha! Yeah, they didn’t think I was so funny either. Who in their right mind turns down a royal wedding and reception invitation? Well, that happens in one of Jesus’ whacky parables.
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet a king throws for his son. All invited say they’ll be there. But on the day of banquet, they won’t come. The king invites them again. This time some give excuses. Others rough up his servants, and others kill them.
That does it. The king explodes, calls up his troops, wipes out the recalcitrant guests along with their houses and town. Do you really think a king could do all this and still throw a party the same evening? Well, this king is determined. So he sends the remaining non-maimed servants to the streets. “Invite any and everyone you see – good and bad, indifferent and ugly. Fill the wedding hall.”
When he walks in, the king finds the hall packed. He’s happy, until he spots a guest who’s not wearing a wedding robe he provides to all. That was what a host would do in those days – provide the attire. “Friend,” which you know means trouble, “how’d you get in here without a robe?” The king has him tossed into the outer darkness of weeping and teeth gnashing. What’s this about?
The kingdom of heaven is an invitation to a party, not an inquisition – and that’s really good news. You and I are invited, too. But how are we responding to God’s invitation? Since you’re here today, I would say you are. But is everyone fully here? Just sitting in a church building doesn’t mean you will experience God. Sometimes we leave our hearts and minds outside. Some Christians profess to love God, yet you never see it in their lives or hear it in their words. Would that be you? Are we too busy to develop a relationship with God through Bible study, prayer, stewardship and worship? Are we people who do what God wants with our lives, time, money and possessions – or what we want? It’s more than showing up, or accepting God’s invitation. We can accept and be present, yet miss out if we don’t take the invitation seriously. Paul talks about being clothed in Christ Jesus. Are we wearing the clothes of God’s righteousness – or self-righteousness? God so loves the world, he throws a party for the beloved. Do you get it? God’s so much in love with what he’s made – he wants us to rejoice and party with him.
Because some invited refuse, a others get invited. But don’t think those who refuse are eternally done. God has this way of pulling victory from defeat – saving all of us in spite of ourselves. The present, visible sign of that heavenly feast and party God finally will give is the Eucharist, Holy Communion. Here God draws us into the divine – in union. We are changed, given party clothes. We participate in the joy and generosity of God, so that we can invite and welcome all into God’s joy and celebration.
Sociologist and part-time pastor Tony Campolo traveled to Honolulu to give lectures. One night, can’t sleep – he finds an open diner, orders coffee and a donut. About 3:30AM, eight or nine prostitutes come in, sit down on the stools around him, smoking and swearing. One says to another, “Tomorrow’s my birthday.” Across from Tony comes: “So what do you want from me – a party, cake, a song?” “I’m just saying it’s my birthday. Why would I want a party? No one’s ever thrown me a party.” They leave. Campolo asks the guy in charge if they come in every night. They do – same time. So Tony says, “That girl’s birthday is tomorrow.” “Yeah, I heard, Agnes.” “Why don’t we throw a party for Agnes?” Harry turns toward the back, hollers to his wife: “Come here. This guy wants to throw Agnes a party. It’s her birthday.” What a great idea! They’ve known Agnes for years – a really nice person deep down, who will help anyone. The wife will bake the cake and invite others; Tony will get decorations – Harry decorates. About 3:15 the next morning, every hooker in Honolulu turns up for the party. At 3:30 Agnes and her friends walk in and the place erupts. Out comes the cake – she’s stunned, grabs the counter and holds on. Harry says, “What’s wrong? Blow out the candles. Cut the cake.” Agnes quietly asks, “Could I take my cake home? I’ll be back with it. I want to show my mother.” “It’s your cake.” She carries the cake out the door like it’s the Holy Grail. Everyone is awkwardly silent. Finally Tony asks, “Would you like me to lead a prayer?” And with prostitutes and greasy spoon employees, Tony prays for Agnes – her life, happiness, health and peace – that she’d know she’s God’s beloved child, too.
He finishes. Harry says, “You told me you’re a teacher, not a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” Tony replies, “One that throws a party for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry says, “No you don’t. There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. Yep, I’d join a church like that.”
Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who throws a party for his beloved.” You and I are God’s beloved, too. Already there’s a party going on. Do you get that? When we go out from here, will people get an idea the kingdom of heaven is like a huge, festive, banquet and celebration? That’s what kind of church I think we want to be – and I think Jesus wants us to be, too.