It was going to be a GREAT party. It was going to be better than GREAT. It was going to be fantastic! Many had been invited. Not a whole lot of responses were received, but really, people don’t RSVP any more anyway. It was going to be a GREAT party.
The house had been scrubbed top to bottom. The courtyard had been swept and swept again. The ground was free of all those little stone that get stuck between your toes and beneath your feet in sandals. Someone had crawled on hands and knees to make sure they were all removed from the site of the party. The animals that had been fattening for months were back from slaughter, and the choice cuts of meat were prepared. They had already begun to be licked by the flames of the cooking fire as they turned slowly on the spit. The host and his family had been scrubbed from top to bottom, too, clean and shining with excitement over the celebration that was just about to beginning.
At the appointed hour, the time when the guest had been invited to arrive, they went to the door to receive the blessing of their guests come to celebrate and enjoy the party with them. With a grand sweep, the door was opened…and no one was there! Just the bustle of a busy street at the end a of a long day. Servants going to collect the evening’s water, merchants trying to sell the last of their fresh wares, closing up shop for the night, worker of different kinds making their ways home to be with their own families for the night.
Not one invited guest stood waiting for the party to begin. Not one was there to celebrate and enjoy. Imagine the disappointment, the discouragement, frustration and even sadness of the host. The invitation had gone out to MANY. The promise of a GREAT, no, a fantastic party had been made. Hours of preparation had gone into the occasion, but when the time came, no one had arrived to celebrate. Come the invitation had said, but all he got were excuses in response. Celebrate with me! Come and enjoy! Come and rejoice for a while.
“Come”, says our God, “Feast at my table.”
“Come,” says our God, “and listen to me.”
“Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
“Come and follow me.”
“Come let us sing to the Lord.”
“Come and see what God has done”
“Come and hear the message from God.”
“Come to God’s presence with singing.”
Come, our invitation to worship beckons. Come and celebrate with God and one another, but often we, too, respond with excuses. I’m tired. I can do it alone. It’s too early after a long night. It’s too late for everything I have planned for today. There’s too much to do to get ready for the week. I did too much this weekend. I don’t know enough. I haven’t relaxed enough. I don’t believe enough to show up to worship God. I don’t believe enough to go to that party.
We don’t really think of it that way, but really worship is a party. It’s something we do together, not even just something done up front here by others on our behalf. It’s not a lecture surrounded by some good music. It’s not even a spiritual gas station we frequent to simply fill up our tanks for another week. Worship is a party, a celebration, complete with an invitation from God to come and rejoice, give thanks, sing, even dance if we’re ready for that. Worship is the time we gather as a community to do together what we can and we should also do alone – wonder and marvel at the glory of God, pray and meditate on the gift of God’s Word, offer our lives and ourselves in grateful response, celebrate the grace and mercy of our faithful Savior. And like most parties that I have been to, the more we give of ourselves to the energy of the party, the better it gets for us all.
But we’d never know that if we didn’t show up. The guest who didn’t think they were ready never got to taste the scrumptious food of the great banquet. The timing wasn’t right. Things weren’t in order at home. Schedules conflicted with the gracious invitation of their host. They just weren’t ready.
And who is when lives are busy and calendars are full. Who is when there seems to be so much to learn about God it’s really a bit overwhelming? Who is ready when there are so many questions unanswered? Who really is ready when sometimes the music isn’t the kind of music I like? When sometimes questions are asked that I’m not ready to hear? Who is ready when other things in life seem more pressing, more important, or maybe just more fun, more satisfying than coming to the party that God hosts? Who is ever ready anyway?
Well, in the parable someone was. A whole lot of someone’s were, actually. When the host heard that his guests weren’t coming, when he discovered that his carefully planned festivities, his delicious food, his gracious hospitality weren’t going to be accepted, he didn’t start wrapping everything in plastic wrap, resigned to eating leftovers for weeks, he sent out new invitations. He sent his servants out to find the guests who WERE ready to enjoy what he had to offer. He sent them into the streets and alleys, into the worst neighborhood, to the gates of the city where the poor and destitute lay waiting for something, anything, from the people who passed by. He sent his servants out with an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come, taste, and see. And the revelers came pouring in.
The best guests, it turns out, may not be the ones who are best prepared, whose lives are in perfect order, who think they have the time or ability to get everything ready before they show up to celebrate, because these guests will never actually make it to the party. There will always be one more job to do, one more house to check on, one more task to complete, one thing to learn. We’ll never be ready enough. Our lives will never feel in order enough.
The best guests, it turns out, are the ones who know their imperfections, but respond to the host’s invitation with a resounding, “Yes!” Come, you who are thirsty - - Yes! I will drink of your living water. Come, you who hunger - - Yes! I will eat from your banquet table. Come, you who are tired - - Yes! I will rest in your arms. Come, you with heavy burdens - - Yes! I will share them with you and others. Come, all of you, and rejoice and give thanks - - Yes! Even in my weakness, I will come and celebrate with joy and gratitude for the abundant blessings that are spread before me. Yes! Not just in spite of, but because of our imperfections, we will worship God.
The invitation is all over Scripture. It’s all over our worship service. We come and worship, not because it is our brilliant idea, but because God has laid the perfect spread before us. We come and worship because God has invited us, God calls us to gather here imperfectly. We come and confess all that stands in the way of this worship and our relationship with God, not to beg for our admittance into the party, but because the promise is there, the invitation has already been sent, and God wants to forgive everything that divides us from one another.
We come and worship because by the water of baptism, God welcomes us to the party even before we know what the party is all about, even before we can understand, even when we have tried to understand, but that understanding lays beyond our reach. We come and worship because the blessings of hope, the challenges of discipleship, the comfort of grace are abundant in God’s Word. We come and worship to share in the feast that Christ our Lord spreads before us, to come to the table of welcome, the table of life, the table of salvation, as imperfect and broken people, made whole as we celebrate and rejoice in the blessings that are promised in this spiritual food.