by Rev. Scott Summerville
When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, `’Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
For I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.'”
♬ Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!…
Food, glorious food!
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day —
Our favorite diet!
In case you did not recognize it, that was my off-key rendition of my favorite song from “Oliver.” It’s a good Methodist song. We know that officially there are two Protestant sacraments: baptism and holy communion, but in the Methodist Church there is an unofficial third sacrament: chowing down. They say an army marches on its stomach. What would the Methodist Church be without pies, cakes, pot lucks, coffee, tea, punch, and picnics?
We are not ashamed of our gustatory enjoyment. Jesus was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard,” someone who would sit down at a table with anyone to enjoy more than his share of food and wine. The apostles of John the Baptist were ascetics; they practiced self-denial; they imitated their leader who dined on locust and wild honey and disdained the pleasures of life.
Jesus and his apostles did not follow the ascetic practices of John the Baptist. In fact quite a number of the parables of Jesus have to do with food and with banquets in particular. It is not a coincidence that there is food – a meal – at the center of Christianity: the Lord’s Supper.
In the parable we heard today Jesus describes a banquet – a feast – a sumptuous spread, with the host of the banquet inviting all his friends, family, and associates, all of whom excuse themselves. He finds himself with a banquet hall wreaking with the delicious scents of spices, steaming dishes – savory and sweet, platters of bright fruit, freshly baked bread, roasted meat – “♬ Food, glorious food ! Hot sausage and mustard! … cold jelly and custard!” – the serving staff at the ready – and all the chairs empty. The trouble he has gone to! All the happy expectation he had of greeting everyone! The pleasure he anticipated of presiding at this happy gathering! And no one to partake of it.
Seeing the empty room, he seethed with anger; he sent his servants out into the streets to bring in the poor, the disabled, the invisible people, the people who would never appear on anyone’s guest list. As they were escorted into the room, the host sees that there are still empty chairs in his banquet hall, so he sends his servants back out to bring in anyone they can find, by force if necessary. He was going to have his banquet with a full house, by golly, and he wasn’t going to let any of that food go to waste.
With this parable Jesus takes a jab at all of us who are just too busy too acknowledge the hunger of our spirits – our souls’ need for food – all of us who have such important things to do that we keep our souls waiting.
The soul must be fed. But we keep sending the soul back to the end of the line. First I must take care of business; first I must take care of my property; first I have to tend to my social obligations; first this, first that – my soul? My soul can wait.
Periculum in mora ! — that’s Latin; it is a phrase used by lawyers – it means “danger in delay.” My soul will just have to wait. My soul will just have to wait – a day, year, five years, ten years – the time stretches on – Periculum in mora – it is a risky thing to keep the soul waiting. One of the most persistent themes in Jesus’ storytelling and preaching – if not the most persistent theme – is: “stop procrastinating:”
“Now is the hour, ”
“leave your nets and follow me, ”
“do not be caught napping,”
“keep your lamps lit,”
“the fields today are ripe for the harvest,”
“put your hand to the plow and don’t look back,”
and even the parable that ends: “Fool! This night your soul is demanded of you!”
In a thousand ways he says: this is the moment to live, this is the moment to love, this is the moment to forgive, this is the moment to soften the hardness of your heart and care for your neighbor; this is the moment to change direction and choose life.
One of the reasons that I come to church – and yes, I know you think that I have to come to church – but none of us has to come to church – one of the reasons I am here instead of somewhere else is that I need the inspiration, the spiritual framework, the example of other people, and the witness of the church to remind me over and over again to wake up and live now. Because I have a tendency to go to sleep – a tendency to avoidance and procrastination.
The church has given me something that I do not believe I could have found anywhere else. I did not get “saved” at any particular moment of my life, but as I look at the trajectory of my life, as I think about the influence of the church in my life, I can see so many places where I could have gotten off track, become lost, isolated, and discouraged – and the church was there to nudge me back.
Church these days is an option. It is a free choice. I do not judge those who elect to focus their energies and their lives elsewhere. We each have to make our own decisions about where we find the heart of life, where we find our sustenance for living, and where we find food for our souls.
At times the church has spread before me this feast that Jesus talked about – in worship, in the brotherhood and sisterhood, in working with others for the causes that matter to me, in the love and in the prayers, in the eyes of the children – I have often experienced an overflowing richness and fullness of life and love that I treasure deeply. It is not always that way. I have certainly not always experienced the church as a bountiful feast. The church is ever an imperfect thing. Sometimes I have had to be satisfied with crumbs. But always I have found some food for my soul in this imperfect community of imperfect souls.
I cannot imagine my life separated from the church, even though I know countless people who are living their lives without any association with a faith community of any kind, some quite contentedly, some unhappily; each of us chooses his or her own path.
There was a time early in my ministry when I nearly quit. I thought it was my responsibility to provide a constant feast. It was on my shoulders to bring joy to every troubled soul, to heal every wound, to inspire every weary traveler – and it was beyond my power. I was constantly overwhelmed, until I came to realize that all that anyone of us can do is to offer a morsel, a piece of bread, a cup of water to another soul.
I also came to realize that the soul does not need a banquet.
♬ Food, glorious food!
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day….
No – the soul does not need three banquets a day. The soul can feast on a morsel. All the soul needs is a sign of hope, a gesture of compassion, a word of love.
A sign, a gesture, a word – by these things we feed each others souls, and by these things our own souls are fed.
Grace and peace to you.