Giving the Self as Thanksgiving and Praise

The invitations have been sent, the preparations have been made, and the day has arrived for the sumptuous celebration is ready to begin.  Quickly, go out to those that have been invited!  Tell them that the table is set and we await their company to begin this festive celebration of our son’s wedding feast.  Go out to our friends and bring them to join us at this most splendid table!  Let us raise our glasses to the well-being of our son’s future.  Let’s begin the celebrations and enjoy the company of each other as we feast!

Yet, the people invited failed to show up.  The myriad of excuses poured in from the messengers informing the family that the people invited to the most splendid affair have decided to go elsewhere.  The invitations have been ignored. They no longer wish to be a part of the celebration.  “What do you mean they are not coming?” asks the son.  “Why wouldn’t they come?  We have done all this work and had all this food prepared to celebrate with them on this day!  Why have the people rejected my invitation to a celebration not only of my wedding but also of our shared relationships?”

The king replied, “Don’t worry son.  I will send the messengers once again.  I will exhort those invited to the feast to join us for this celebration.  I will remind them of the invitation that was sent months ago.  We will be celebrating your wedding feast.  Do not fret.”

Yet, the guests failed to arrive.  The messengers that did return did so in an awful state.  It was clear that the friends of the king were not going to honor him by attending the wedding feast.  They were deciding to focus on the matters of the world instead of being focused on the relationship that they had with the king.  The people invited to the weeding feast decided for themselves not to go.  Yet, the fatted calves had been slaughtered.  The food was prepared!  The wedding feast had to continue!  It was important to the son that the feast continued and that the wedding was celebrated.  Surely the king could find guests that would enjoy the delicacies laid out for the celebration.

Go out into the streets!  Find anyone that is willing to come and join us in the celebration of our son’s wedding feast!  Bring in all that you find.  Tell them to come – good and bad – to join us in the celebration of this joyous occasion!  Bring them in from the streets!  Issue a new invitation to the most unlikely persons in our city, and let us fill our banquet hall with a new batch of guests!

The parable that we hear from the Gospel according to Matthew this morning is a rather difficult text for us modern listeners, just as I suspect it was difficult for the first century listeners that made up Matthew’s community.  The parable has layers of meaning that would have related historical events for first-century listeners.  They would have recognized the slaves as the prophets to Israel, the guests as the recalcitrant Israel that failed to heed God’s invitation to the sumptuous feast being prepared.  They would have recognized the fact that salvation is not guaranteed without also being willing to fully participate in the community that God invites us into.  They would have seen the burning of the city as the destruction of Jerusalem in or around 70 AD, and they would have understood the people from the streets as themselves – having finally been invited into God’s kingdom/wedding banquet.

And yet, though they have been invited to the feast, they also would recognize that accepting the invitation and simply showing up was not enough to be a full participant in the wedding banquet.  They would have understood that the invitation also carried certain expectations during the feast, and they would recognize that is only by accepting the invitation and fully participating in the wedding feast completely that they would continue to be included in the new reality of God’s kingdom.

Let’s revisit that last statement.  They recognized that it was not simply accepting the invitation to community; it was the combination of acceptance and full participation in the banquet.  So often in the life of the Church we have focused our thoughts about stewardship as an idea that we need to talk about during the time that we launch our pledge drive.  We equate the notion of stewardship with giving a percentage of income to suppor the work of the Church, and we forget that stewardship is so much more than that.

Stewardship has never been about giving a percentage of anything to God.  Stewardship is giving ALL of the self to God as part of our offering of praise and thanksgiving to God.  We come in the doors of the church – the entirety of ourselves including those parts of the self that we may not want to name – and we offer that over to God as part of our worship.  We enter into the banquet with the hope of salvation, but it is important for us to always remember that God issues God’s invitation to ALL and wants ALL to come to God’s wedding feast.  God has laid out the sumptuous feast and earnestly desires that we come to God’s table just as we are.  Perhaps we should restate that: God WANTS us to come to his feast!  God WANTS us to bring our entire selves – our souls and our bodies – to the feast.  God WANTS us to celebrate the gifts that we receive from God by sharing those gifts with others and by working towards the common good of all people – of all of God’s children.

Christ calls to all of us to invite us into sharing God’s love with each other and with the world and that means that Christ calls us to bring our gifts to God as part of our offering of thanksgiving and praise to God.  Christ calls us to share in the gracious gifts that come from God and to offer those back to God as our only way of thanking God for the gracious love that God shares with all of creation.  We come to this table today to offer back to God all that we are and all that we have.  Christ calls us to let go of the concerns of the world and to share in the material possessions that we have through our beneficent giving to another through the ministry of the Church.  Just as the king expected the wedding guests to participate fully in the wedding banquet by wearing appropriate garments, Christ hangs from a cross and invites ALL of God’s children into the deep, deep mystery of divine love.   He calls out to all of us to bring us towards His healing love; He calls us to participate in that deep, deep mystery through our own giving to each other and to God.  It is no accident that the greatest commandments in Matthew are love of God and love of neighbor.  We are called into relationship not only with God but also with each other, and we enter into the full participation of God’s love by lovingly, willingly, prayerfully sharing the gifts that God has given to us.