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Begging off the Banquet

 

Last week, I invited my Facebook friends to list excuses they’ve heard to blow off church.  I received over 40 replies! There were the predictable excuses such as church is boring, it’s full of hypocrites, I don’t like the preacher’s sermons (that one really hurts, especially when it comes from your wife).   Kids playing sports on Sunday was an excuse that showed up more than once. Others said, “I’m good without church; I don’t need fixing.”

The Art of Making Excuses

We are skillful at the art of making excuses, aren’t we? In the jargon of this clever video, we all have “big buts:” “But I’m tstop-making-excuses-coveroo busy. But I’ve already served. But I don’t know how to do that.”

Excuses have been around at least as long ago as the days of Jesus. He was at a dinner one night and noticed that guests were jockeying for honored seats around the host. Jesus mentioned that they should be humble and seek lower positions. And then he launched into one of his parables, a tale with a teaching – the story of a man who prepared a great banquet and invited his friends to attend. The first man said that he had just bought a field and needed to inspect it – but who buys land without first taking a careful look at it? The second man explained that he bought a team of oxen and needed to try them out – that would be like buying a new pickup without first taking it for a test spin. Lastly, a man said he couldn’t come because he was getting married – the age-old excuse of family obligations to get out of something you don’t want to do.

Keep in mind that feasts in biblical times took elaborate preparation and invitations were sent weeks, even months, in advance. This kind of meal was the pinnacle of Jewish social life in a harsh world of eking out a living. To have a sumptuous dinner prepared for you and to be invited by a prominent person would be a great honor, perhaps the highlight of your life.  To make excuses to shun such an event would be unimaginable. In His parable, Jesus was insinuating that these guests had already accepted the invitation and now that everything was ready, they found excuses to “beg off the banquet.” 

Now look: we’ve all made excuses to skip church or Bible study. There have been some Sundays when I don’t have a booking and my wife says, “Good, you can go to church with me for a change” and I whine, “But I just wanna sleep late and watch TV.” (Yes, sometimes I act like a layperson). Have you heard the one about the pastor who confronted one of his church members? He said, “George, I heard you were out golfing last Sunday during worship.” George replied, “Pastor, that’s a dirty lie…and I have the fish to prove it!” 

Not Just “Church Hooky”

But this parable that Jesus told goes much deeper than playing hooky from church – it’s about begging off God’s gracious invitation to a converted life.  In biblical symbolism, a banquet symbolized fellowshipping with the Lord and enjoying the rich blessings of His Messiah.

Now that the Messiah has finally come, He invites all – Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, the righteously smug and spiritually sick – to His banquet table. This feast is transformative: it changes strangers into guests, enemies into friends, those who are achingly hungry for something the world cannot offer into people who are filled with the good things of God.  

Luke reports that Jesus was at a lot of dinner parties. In fact, he was enjoying the night life so much that people accused him of being a drunkard and glutton. But Jesus wasn’t guzzling Mogen David and gorging on brisket until He passed out; the table was a prime place to teach the masses, tell spiritual stories, include outcasts and confront the sanctimonious – in other words, Jesus used dinner as a means to discipleship. 

A disciple is a student – and discipleship is the process by which we “hang” with Jesus at the table and learn from him.  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” 

Are you sitting at the table with Jesus? Are you enjoying His company and feasting on His goodness? If not, the first course is simply saying “yes” to his invitation. And if you are dining with Him, are you inviting others to this great dinner that is meant for all – or are you making excuses? “People will think I’m weird.” “Evangelism isn’t my gift.” “I’m not a preacher.” God isn’t impressed with our excuses, but He is well-pleased with obedience that is fueled by our love for Him.

Showing Up at the Wrong Party

After college, I got a job at a radio station. One Christmas, the station manager invited the staff to his house for a party. I was not familiar with his neighborhood, so when I got on his street and saw people getting out of their cars and going into a house, I figured I had arrived. Well, I didn’t recognize anyone in the house, but everyone was friendly and there was party food everywhere. Finally, a man asked me, “Who are you, anyway?” I told them my name and why I was there. He smiled and said, “Chief, your boss lives a few houses down. You’re at the wrong party.”

I left like there was a fire, but not before grabbing a few cocktail weenies on the way out.

partyA lot of folks have ended up at the wrong party. They’re dining on despair and dancing to the devil’s beat. Where do they go from there? They must hear the RSVP from God. They must be invited to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” They just might come if they see the joy and satisfaction in your life that comes from dining in the presence of the Divine Host. 

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It certainly won’t be those who beg off the banquet, who find every excuse under the sun not to grow in their relationship with Christ. Those at the honored seats will be those who recognize the graciousness of the Host, who run to His sumptuous table without the burden of a “big but.”

Let’s keep dining with Jesus – and inviting others to the party!

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