In the Gospel of Luke, the story we heard from Matthew is told in a slightly different way: Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’”
This less violent version still holds the same central theme, and the parable can be looked at in multiple ways… The rich person throwing the banquet believes his wealth and table of plenty should only be there in service of other rich folk perhaps. Or that poor rich man who put all this work in to prepare a feast for his friends was under appreciated and his gift was not received by those he invited. Or the rich man, scorned by those who looked like him and were in his social class, listened to who he was supposed to serve and had a change of heart. But then, in Matthew, we have this mysterious person who was not wearing the wedding garment who gets thrown into the outer darkness. Many aspects of this parable make us uncomfortable, and don’t match my theology where all are welcome, no matter what we are wearing. But it comes as a warning to the people of these times…. Those with wealth and riches are not the ones to fawn over. See those on the margins of life, bring in those from the streets, bring in the crippled and the poor and the lame. But be careful, for not everyone you invite comes with good in their hearts….. and I wonder if he was referring to the Last Supper where those gathered with him were from different walks of life… and Judas was also there among them, welcomed to some extent, but wearing evil in his heart.
For us, today though, I think this parable speaks to each of us individually, playing multiple roles in the story. If we place God in the role of the party giver, we are probably most likely to be the ones who are too busy to come, too uninterested, unwilling to set aside the time to come to God’s feast of abundance…. We turn our backs on the invitation, claiming that we have other, far more important things to tend to, and we miss the chance to come and sit with God multiple times throughout our days and weeks.
Recently my fellow monks and I did a prayerful reading on this passage, and one, Merri Lynn, wrote these words in response:
Come, for everything is now ready.
I can't come. My father-in-law has died.
I can't come. I'm too tired in my bones.
I can't come. I'm too sad.
I can't come. My grandchildren need me.
I can't come. My mom needs support and laundry and groceries.
I can’t come, I’m not worthy.
Come, for everything is now ready.
Come out of the alleyways of your mind, your experience, your loss, your confusion.
Come bewildered, blind, begging.
Come forgiving and forgiven.
Come. Keep coming. Keep bringing all that you are. There is room.
Come again, and again, and again.
Come, for everything is now ready.
I can’t come. I can’t come. We all have many excuses to say no to God’s invitation to come and feast, to come and celebrate, to come and sit, to come and visit, to come and pray. Yet, unlike the parable, this invitation to come never ends, we are invited over and over and over. The table is always ready, and all we have to do is show up. And how hard this is… right!
Earlier this week I went to walk a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a path of prayer that leads to a center, and, unlike a maze, it’s a path that, even with all the twists and turns, does not lead you astray. It leads to the center and then it leads out again. No dead ends, no false trails. Just a simple path. This particular labyrinth is out on a prairie and I was walking it on one of the windy days this week, and as I walked I was praying with this scripture. I got to the middle and listened, the wind at my back blowing hard. It felt like it was compelling me to move, to step forward, to go, go, go. But that didn’t feel like what God was asking of me. So I listened. “Turn,” I heard whispered in my heart, “Turn.” So I turned and faced into the wind. All of sudden, everything slowed down. I leaned into the wind, the fast air blowing in my face, and I felt totally at peace, held by the wind, not compelled to move but just to be, supported as I leaned forward, the wind holding me in place. I could lean far into it and feel secure, knowing it was strong enough to hold all of me, constant enough to keep me safe. As tears came to my eyes I thought that this is what life is like. We are driven by the outer world to keep moving, pushed to go, go go. But if we turn, if we allow ourselves to lean into God’s presence, then we can feel held and supported, and our ‘going’ has a very different feel to it, moving from this place. One that, when we are ready to move we may be going into the wind, is surrounded by the Spirit, it’s a being led rather than being pushed, it’s more stable than running with the wind behind us, pushing us out of control. And so I faced into the wind, and allowed the God to move me, to hold me, to stabilize me, to support me. Lean into me, the invitation I heard, the one I listened to. Lean into me.
Another of my fellow monks, Sue, drew a picture as part of her prayerful response to the passage. In the center, in large red letters, was the word BUT. And surrounding this was a litany of excuses… I’m too busy, tomorrow maybe, later, when I have more time, how about after the kids grow up? And these were just a few. I think we ALL tend to do this: place God down our list of important things to pay attention to, especially when the wind is at our backs. But when turn, when we lean in, when we feel the love and support that comes from the power of God holding us, the excuses soften and fly away.
So, for a few minutes, I invite you to write down some of your excuses on the card you have in your pew. What keeps you from saying Yes to God’s invitation to come and spend time in that Divine presence, what are the things that feel like the wind is pushing you forward in an out of control way, rather than turning to lean into the Spirit? Write them down now.
As you sit with your list of excuses, I invite you to ask God to show you just one way you can change one of these from an excuse into a leaning. One way you can bring one of these things into your awareness and turn it into something different when you feel that old way of being rising within you. Circle it, maybe write some words of encouragement you are hearing next to it, and bring this into your prayers this week.
The good news is that the invitation is always there for us. God, like in the parable from Luke, continues to tell us to come, until the house is full…. Until we are full of God’s love and grace. Until our souls and spirits are full of God’s peace and hope. This is a time to turn, a time for leaning. When the world around us spins out of control… turn and lean into the One who stays constant, who never changes, who is our center and our outer universe. Lean in to God. For the door does not shut on us, rather the invitation is to return again and again, to find time and space to turn in to God, to lean into God’s presence. When we do this, perhaps those parts of us not wearing the right robe, those parts that we think are ugly, mean or unready, those parts that have not taken this invitation seriously, the parts that show the world a false side will be thrown out, will move aside, will be healed, leaving the parts that are eager and ready to receive God’s love more space to do so.
So come, lean into God’s presence. Chose one excuse of busy-ness and allow it to fade away. Take your seat at the table. Say yes to the invitation to be with God. Be fully there and rejoice in the abundance of life you will find there! Lean in.
As we listen to Kitty play Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, begin to practice this leaning, take that one thing you have chosen to focus on and feel God’s presence supporting you, offering you a leaning post, lean in, lean in.