One of Jesus’ more ingenious moves was to teach and preach in metaphors and parables. He knew that we lived and learned through stories. So Jesus taught using stories, everyday stories that people would know and remember. He told stories of family, travel, money and crops. He used metaphors of fishing, coins, bread and candles.
And over and over again we find Jesus using the metaphors of banquets and tables.
Brilliant, because they are something we all experience. We all sit around tables to eat and we all attend parties, so these make perfect parables and metaphors. And then over and over something happens to us at a table or a party and the metaphors take on a whole new life.
It happened to me once at my surprise 16th birthday party. My mom and girlfriend put the invitation list together and between the moment of sending our invites and the party, I had a big fight with a close friend. Of course the party invitations had already been sent out and because it was a surprise I knew nothing about it.
So when I walked into my house the night of the party there at the front of the crowd was this friend yelling surprise and happy birthday. I don’t think we ever really talked about the fight; his being at the party was really all the reconciliation needed and our friendship continued on after that.
When I read parables about banquets, this is always in my mind and brings a bit more life and light to the parable.
And so this week when I got home from a trip and opened my mail I thought I was living in another parable moment. In the stack of mail was an invitation to a banquet thrown by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a banquet titled “Celebrating Cooperation.” I was surprised we were invited since this fall the BGCT voted us out of fellowship because of our stance of inclusion toward all people, but I was also a bit hopeful that this was the beginning of something new, perhaps even the reconciliation that our church has longed for and sought, to no avail. What a parable this was going to be!
The next day I got a phone call from someone at the BGCT office who started with, “I am so sorry …,” which I have to be honest was making this parable story even more miraculous by the moment. Of course then he finished his statement, “I am so sorry but you received an invitation to our Celebrating Cooperation banquet and we did not mean to invite you and I have to tell you that you and your church are actually not invited to the party. You are not welcome here any more.”
I will just pause to let the irony of being told you are not invited or welcome at a Celebrating Cooperation banquet sink in for you.
And then I realized that I was not in fact living in a parable moment; in fact this was just about as far from the Kingdom of God parables as one could get (or so I thought).
Jesus did not tell parables about people being uninvited. A few parables actually talk about how far and extreme the invitations went. Jesus did not tell parables about cooperation banquets which had a list of folks who were not welcome. This sure did not feel like a parable of Jesus, at least the Jesus I know who welcomed everyone at his table.
But then it dawned on me that this might actually be a parable, one that I have always struggled to understand. It’s that parable about being thrown out of a banquet, when a host saw a guest improperly dressed for the party and throws the invited guest out. Most of us have probably struggled with this parable and tried to figure out what it says about God, because most of us probably put God as the host.
But then I learned a fact about this parable: scholars believe that at the entrance to the wedding, the host would have provided wedding robes for all in attendance to wear. And that fact changes everything about this parable for me. It helps me to pay more attention to the guest at the end of the parable, the one that is thrown out into darkness. The one who refuses to put on a robe and play their part. The one who says, the king never previously worried about me wearing the clothes of a peasant so I refuse to wear the robes of royalty now.
The one who is not willing to play the game, but instead allows his dress to say, “This is who I am” and “This is me.” And that takes courage because being real is the hardest thing we are called to do.
The salvation in this text might just be getting thrown out of the party, refusing to wear the costumes, refusing to act like you are something you are not. The salvation might be the courage to tell the truth and the courage to be seen.
And then this fact: this parable is always paired with the 23rd Psalm in the lectionary, as if they shed insight into one another. So the ending of this parable — “The king said to his attendants, ‘Throw him out into the utter darkness” — is always read alongside Psalm 23: “Even when I walk in the darkest valley, I will not fear for you God are ever with me.”
And with that I was back to living in a parable moment.
God might not be obvious in the text because the story ends before we really get to God. God is waiting outside the banquet hall to catch the poor soul who is about to be thrown out for being so real and refusing to play the game. God is waiting for the brave souls that refuse to put on the costumes that hide who they truly are.
God is out there in the dark, waiting to catch us too, when life throws us out and we are finally exposed for who we really are. When we are found out, God is there waiting to catch us and to say, “I am here. I am not going to let go of you. We are going to walk through this darkness together to another Feast, a Feast where you don’t have to wear a costume, you just have to be Mine, a Feast where all are always welcome.”
God is there just waiting for us to shed our costumes so God can look at us and say, “You my child are beautiful just the way I made you. Your scars are your stories of courage. Your cracks and breaks are where the light and grace get in. Your story is one to be proud of simply because it’s yours and you’ve made it. And now listen, dear child, I don’t want you to hide anything from me. I love all of you.”
The Kingdom of God is refusing to hide yourself anymore, but instead being fully seen and sharing all you, telling your story with your whole heart, and sitting at the banquet table of the greatest Feast of all times.
And it’s worth getting uninvited or thrown out of a party to be at that Feast.
So BGCT, consider this your invitation. There are those of us who have been thrown out because we finally decided to be true to us, we stopped worrying about who was paying the check at the table, we stopped worrying about being safe — and we were thrown out. However, here we have found God, a God who wants us just the way we are.
And please know there is plenty of room for you at this table and we would love for you to dine with us. And we will never take that invitation back. Of course, we couldn’t even if we wanted to. After all it’s not our invitation; it’s God’s invitation.