“Then he said to his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get inhere without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This is the third sermon in a series dealing with God’s grace. Jesus challenges his audience with parables. This parable includes guests who gave the king excuses for not going to the royal wedding. You might not think that anyone would refuse a king, but sometimes it happens. When William Faulkner was invited to attend a banquet of accomplished American artists, he declined. It was a huge story! President John Kennedy was very upset that this invitation was turned down, and probably even more upset when he heard Faulkner’s excuse: “I’m too old to make new friends.”
What an excuse! It is just as weak as the excuses listed in the parable. (The complete parable is found in Matthew 22:1-14) It could have been that Faulkner didn’t know what to wear and did not feel like dealing with it. That is what this parable is all about, it seems. When the king invites others to the wedding party, all is well until the king finds someone who is not dressed properly. The person, struck speechless, can’t even give an excuse to the king. At times the wealthy provided wedding clothing for their guests, and it seems that this guest did not want to wear the clothes. So the king throws the person out of the party. Let us remember that this is a parable, and not an allegory, so it doesn’t mean that God is like the king who threw out the guest, but rather that God cares enough to take notice and respond. The parable might be explained that yes, God welcomes us to the party, but we must arrive changed. Of course this is referring to being changed on the inside. Maybe the guest got the message that he was welcome at the party, but did not realize that he could be changed as well.
Maybe deep inside the guest did not feel that he was on the level of the other guests present. After all, the parable states that the king invited everyone to the banquet, “both good and bad.” When I envision this parable being played out, maybe this guest felt as if he was one of the bad. I see the guest being struck speechless not because he could not come up with an excuse, but because he was suddenly standing in the presence of the king. It is surprising enough to find yourself in a royal wedding party, but who expects to be addressed directly by the king?
I heard about a convention of sociologists who said the problems of society were not due to a lack of communication, but a lack of communion. Yes, the world needs communion. That is why this parable fits so well on today’s world communion Sunday- the world is more connected and wired in communication than ever before in history, but we need communion, a communion that will go beyond communication to understanding and compassion. Otherwise, we will never address suffering and the plight of those in need. When we move from communication to communion, we realize that we are a part of, not apart, from others.
At the beginning of the day my wife Christine and I look at the calendar and go over the appointments that our family aims to keep. Christine is good at going beyond talking about the agenda’s details, bringing in the emotional, sensitive issues that might be involved. If I am in a hurry to get out the door to a meeting on time, I tend to hurry her along by checking through the cold, hard facts, and trying to move things along. Christine slows me down and brings me to the level beyond communication, and I take a deep breath. She is right. Humans are programmed for that kind of compassion, but everyone needs to be reminded that we have that capacity. The level of thinking, feeling, being, caring, is beyond communication.
Last month’s First Wednesdays Luncheon featured Randy and Lizi Barba. They told about their safari to Africa. They showed a slide of the acacia tree, a species of tree that reacted to a giraffe eating its leaves by making its leaves turn sour whenever a family of giraffes would begin eating the leaves. Even more interesting than that was the fact that the trees released pheromones into the air that waft downwind to other trees of the same species. The trees were warning them that a hungry giraffe was nearby. So it was not only the leaves on that particular tree that turned sour, but the leaves on all types of trees within a half-mile radius! This is a natural way that the trees participate in their own preservation and survival. Somehow humanity’s natural inclination for compassion for others is not as easily activated as those acacia trees. We need to be reminded that if we are going to be at the royal wedding- (life- isn’t it wonderful that Jesus wants life to be full of joy like a royal wedding?) our attire (our hearts), should be appropriate.
Since we are gathering with Christians around the world this morning at this communion table, we may feel a sense of global compassion. I hope that we do. When we connect with God on the vertical level of prayer, communion, introspection, worship, whatever one may call it, a response should follow. We should feel changed on the inside. It is more than an earthly feeling, or even a natural response as those acacia trees. There is a supernatural connection with our Creator through the Spirit of God. There is a universal connection to God’s grace.
World Communion gives us the biggest framework we can contemplate for humanity. We should consider our communion, our unity, with all Christians as we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We should also feel drawn upward to communion with God as we realize God’s love for each of us shown in Jesus. That should connect us in love and respect for all humanity. There is definitely a cosmic potential in communion that transcends earthly compassion and links us to a heavenly home. Speaking of the cosmos, did you know that communion has already transcended its earthly bounds in a physical sense?
On July 20, 1969, the space rocket Apollo 11 became the first manned vehicle to land on the surface of the moon, an accomplishment that inspired the world. After his moon landing, one of the astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, brought out a little communion set. I have a little communion set that I sometimes bring with me to the hospital. He took out his set and said these words as he celebrated communion, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He read a few verses from the Bible about Jesus being the vine and we are the branches. I can imagine how people in his church felt when, as their pastor celebrated communion, he explained that the missing portion of the loaf was in outer space!
World Communion is supposed to accomplish an awareness of what lies beyond communication. If the world could activate, like those acacia trees, a way to naturally become tuned in to helping others, then we would preserve relationships, families, dignity, and love. When we sense that evil and the poverty of the world is near, we join together and release God’s love to all of humanity. Our church is reaching out so much, but we can do better. The world is reaching out, and it can definitely do better. What happens when we leave the communion table? The world goes back to fighting the same old fights again with nothing changed.
Did Jesus mean for us to place such emphasis on celebrating communion? There is a book by Thomas Pettipiece, Visions of a World Hungry, that describes his experience in prison when he was arrested as a political dissident. He described how the prisoners celebrated communion once without the elements, each taking a portion of an invisible loaf and drinking from an invisible cup. The absence of these elements ironically helped soothe the prisoners: “Many of us here have already heard that we have lost our homes, our furniture and belongings, our cars – everything we owned is gone. Our families are broken up. Our children wander the streets alone, father in one prison, mother in another. And perhaps the greatest pain of all – it happened so fast, none of us had a chance to say goodbye to our loved ones . . . the fact that we have no bread represents very well the lack of bread in the real hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don’t have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity and a just society, without difference of race and class.”
Communion should bring with it an awareness that is beyond what is seen, beyond the exterior to what is on the interior. God, seeing our interior, makes us aware of our need to respond. The famous preacher Fred Craddock told a story about his trip to Winnipeg, Ontario. His lecture had been canceled due to the weather, so he went to a nearby diner. The diner was crowded with travelers. One lady came in and asked for water. She was obviously cold and looking for a place to rest. The waiter behind the counter kept raising his voice at her, urging her to order or she would have to leave. Finally he ordered her out. When she got up to leave, the person on either side of her stood up and started walking out, too. Then the whole diner began to get up. The waiter called from behind the counter, “Wait, she can stay, she can stay!” Then he brought her soup. Craddock said that as people settled down again it felt like a new atmosphere. As he started to eat his own soup, he said that it felt as if he was having communion.
World Communion calls us to a new awareness in both small moments- the person sitting next to us- or on the grandest scale- God’s vision of humanity. A New Testament professor Ehrman from the University of Chapel Hill wrote:
‘We do not have to sit idly by while governments (even in strategically unimportant lands) practice genocide on their people. A lot of people have read about the Holocaust and said, “Never again.” Just as they said “never again” during the mass murders in the killing fields of Cambodia. Just as they said “never again” during the slaughters in Bosnia. Just as they said “never again” during the massacres in Rwanda. Just as they are now saying “never again” during the rape and pillaging and rampant murders in Darfur. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is not a liberal plea or a conservative one: it is a human plea.’
God welcomes us to the joy of heaven. That is good news. Let us accept the royal invitation and enter God’s presence with changed hearts- with a new awareness of ourselves and our world. Amen.