October 11, 2020
It was the summer of 2008 and my family and I had just moved to Columbus, Ohio so that I could start seminary. My first foray into the seminary world was going to be taking a seven-week intensive Biblical Greek course. Before that began, we wanted to get acquainted with our new community we were living and started to explore the area. We noticed that the Lutheran Church down the street from the seminary had a Vacation Bible School that was being held the following week. My son was excited about this and wanted to attend.
Therefore, the week I started my summer Greek class, I walked him down to the church in the morning to get him registered for VBS and my plan was to pick him up after my class was done for the day. When we arrived, there were a lot of people, and as he was a kindergartner, we were instructed to go to a designated area of the church. Once we arrived there and they found out that we had not pre-registered, we were turned away because they were full.
WHAT A WELCOME!
This was not the reception I was expecting. I was left feeling frustrated. He was upset that they would not let him attend. How could a church be so unwelcome? On top of that, a church in the denomination I had been hoping to be ordained as a pastor. I vowed from that point that I would never let something like that happen in a church that I pastored.
This morning we heard the third parable in Jesus’ response to the chief priests and elders as to whose authority he is performing the miracles they have heard about and even witnessed themselves. This parable of the wedding feast seems just as absurd as last week’s as the tenants kept killing the landowner’s servants. In the parable of the wedding feast, people are killed or kicked out when they do not meet the expectations of the king. Where is God’s grace in this?
We have all been in a place where we have not felt welcomed or it has been clearly pointed out to us that we are in the wrong place. Maybe, we never received the invitation, or it got lost in the mail. Perhaps you can even think of times when you have done this to other people. Usually not some of our prouder moments. We find that we are more comfortable when we stay in our cliques where we know what to expect. When people do not look like us, we fail to invite them. This reflects our human brokenness and tendency to be afraid of those things that we do not understand.
I was proud of my last congregation as they made difficult decisions to become an ally of the LGBTQ community. It required transformation and a change of heart for some. I thought we were all good and put “All Are Welcome” on our church sign. It was not until we had a gentleman from India show up for worship that I realized the congregation still had some transformation to partake. His skin was brown, and his English was difficult to understand at times. Therefore, people found comfort in having coffee at their tables and not inviting him to join. It took a couple stepping out of their comfort zone to ask him to sit down and even invite him to our weekly bible study.
When we say, “All Are Welcome,” do we truly mean it? Do we withhold our judgements of others? Do we keep an open mind?
When I read the parable of the wedding feast, I hear an open invitation for all. Yes, those that think they are too busy or would rather do this or that, refuse the invitation. One man that does say yes to the invitation is found not wearing the proper wedding attire and is thrown out into the darkness.
A lot of times, we read these parables as allegory where God usually takes place as the king. If that is the case, it is hard to justify following this God. The king does not seem to have little grace and love in him. Jesus wants us to wrestle with his parables so that we can begin to understand our own thoughts and actions. Remember, these parables are not true stories, they are used to make a point. It is in the conclusion that Jesus states “many are called, but few are chosen.”
I believe that we are all called to join Jesus at the feast, and we are given the opportunity to receive the invitation with an open heart and mind. Not only that, God invites us to put on the wedding garment which can represent the righteousness of a life lived in Christ.
I am not sure if we were judged when we tried to go to the VBS because they didn’t know us, but I know that it did not feel welcoming. The truth is that judgement happens every day. More often than not, it is us doing the judging. I believe that what God judges us on is the love and kindness we share with humanity. I am fine by being judged by the gospel of love which invites all to the wedding feast. I desire to sit at the table with the good and the bad, the old and the young, people of every color and people of every language. For I believe that those are the best dinner parties. Who are you inviting?