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"Thankful for All the WRONG Things"

Thanksgiving Sunday Oct.13/13 Lk.14:15-24


While searching for a graphic about Thanksgiving for our church ad in the newspaper earlier this week, I was struck by how many of the "stock" clipart images dealt with things foreign to our Canadian experience - lots of Pilgrim and Mayflower images, but that's all from south of the border. That's not OUR story.

Likewise, many people this weekend may find "Thanksgiving" as such foreign to their experience. They have trouble relating, there's not much obvious to be thankful for. Some homes will not resemble the traditional Thanksgiving scene with two or three generations crowded around a groaning table loaded with a big turkey and all the fixings. Lots of families these days are fractured by various factors: there are separations due to geography (such as our own family scattered across the provinces); separations due to busy schedules and conflicts with others' calendars or holiday plans; and, least pleasant, separations due to relational fractures and unforgiveness.

Some find it hard to put the "thanks" in "Thanksgiving" today - perhaps it catches us at a bad interval in our lives, whether due to stress or sickness or strain: yet, can these somehow be brought to the table?


Jesus' main focus in His recorded teaching was on the Kingdom of God. So you'd think He'd be happy when somebody brought it up. But as one who knew what was inside people's hearts, He also knew those words could be loaded with wrong connotations, self-serving assumptions. There's an innocent remark of a bystander in Luke 14:15 that provides an opportunity for checking assumptions, providing clarification as to what "Kingdom of God" is really about.

Note the setting for what is said: 14:1 they're eating in the house of "a prominent Pharisee". V3 there are several "Pharisees and experts in the law" present - an elite group. V7 they're very status-conscious: guests "Picked the places of honour at the table". Grabbing the best spots, trying to out-rank each other. Likely they are what we'd call "well-to-do", capable of paying back the host by throwing their own lavish shin-dig, because in v12 Jesus cautions His host against inviting "rich neighbours" who can pay back the favour.

Note the context of conversation that may prompt the man's well-meaning remark in v15: Jesus has been talking about a "wedding feast" in v8 and "banquet" in v 13. And it was common enough in Jewish culture for God's Kingdom to be associated with a feast; Isaiah prophesied, "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines." (Is 25:6) So off to one side Jesus hears a man say (v15), "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." Perhaps he was enjoying the dinner so much with its elite invitees, a "who's who" of the local religious world, that he supposed it was perhaps a little foretaste of heaven. That "religiosity" merited entry into God's space.

It's tempting today for Christians to let eschatological yearning - hankering for heaven if you will, or preoccupation with correct interpretation of end-times Scriptures - to let that yearning for "last things" and heaven to eclipse what we should be dealing with in the here-and-now. Heaven can become an escape from having to deal with the sometimes unpleasantness of the real world. We write hymns like "In the sweet by-and-by...we will rest on that beautiful shore." Or "when the roll is called up yonder I'll be there." We romanticize our view of heaven to the point it seems unrelated to our daily being IN the world. Stuck in that mode, we associate God with the far-off and remote "THEN" in a perfect idyllic setting, but He becomes increasingly disconnected from our "NOW" - today's mess, our most recent failures.


The commenter and table-mates may have thought they had it made, that they were shoo-ins for God's Kingdom on account of their ancestry and detailed keeping of religious laws. They assumed such impeccable breeding and behaviour meant they had "reserved" signs beside their plates at a linen-clad table in heaven. But Jesus up-ends their assumptions so much that, at the end of His parable, it's got them scratching their heads whether they're even IN the Kingdom.

To understand the story He tells, it helps to realize when a longer feast was given back in that culture (even a week long - they knew how to party!), it was common practice for the host to send out invitations in two stages. First would be the general invitation to "save the date". Obviously, etiquette would dictate that if you received the first invitation but had a real conflict, you'd show your respect by sending your "regrets". That way the host would have an accurate head-count and not prepare too much food. Then when the feast was actually ready, the host would send out his messengers saying "the time has come" - all is ready, the spread is prepared, "come and sit up".

Now, given this sensible 2-invitation system, it would be a real insult to the host NOT to decline the first invitation, and to wait until the second one to say you're not coming. A writer (Tristram) in Eastern Customs notes, "To refuse the second summons would be an insult, which is equivalent among the Arab tribes to a declaration of war." A major social 'faux pas' and slap-in-the-face!

Now to Jesus' parable in vv16-17: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited [1st invitation] many guests. At the time of the banquet [here comes the 2nd invitation] he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'"

At this point begins an unbelievable roll-out of the most flimsy excuses - not just by one, but by all of them, almost as if there's a conspiracy! V18 "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.'" REALLY, now? Who buys a field without seeing it first? And why "must" you go and see it this instant? Is the land going to go somewhere, sneak off across the countryside while you're away? We're not buying your excuse!

V19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'" Now, how many people buy a car without first test-driving it? And why can't these oxen wait til you get back, are they running loose in the road? Not likely! Your excuse is pure fabrication. How lame. These fellows have really strange priorities, putting acquisitions above attending the party-of-the-decade. Like getting an invitation to a royal wedding and saying, "No, I think I'll stay home and roto-till the garden instead."

Bloke 3 is even less convincing. V20 ""Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'" Now, marriage according to Deut 24(5) did provide exemption for one year from military duty or long business trips. But that's not what we're talking about here. Wouldn't most wives be happy to come along to a big party, the social event of the year?

Excuses, excuses...and not a convincing one in the bunch. It's clear the invitees - ALL of them - are snubbing the host, DIS-ing him, rejecting him. It seems like a join effort to shame him, to mock and dishonour him. The significance of their joint excuses is not lost upon the host. V21 tells us the response of the "lord of the manor": "Then the owner of the house became ANGRY / furious [NLT]." He correctly perceives the responses as a snub, as complete rejection and insult. The invitees have discounted the value and honour of the invitation to the "great banquet" and treated it as worthless.

Let's press 'pause' here for a moment and consider. When you're being thankful this weekend, what are you thankful FOR? Is it for 'stuff' like the priorities of the invitees? It's easy to be thankful when you're AFFLUENT; for things such as property, business success, wealth (the 'field' the man bought). It's easy to express gratitude for power, goods, means of production, or novelty (the 'five yoke of oxen'). And it's not difficult to be thankful for positive relationships (the man who just got married). But is that where our thankfulness and focus stop? Can these become idols, priorities, ends-unto-themselves that we worship and serve above all else? Does the drive for success take over our lives and distract us from a closer relationship with Jesus? If this is the case - are we actually being 'thankful for all the WRONG things'?


What's the response of the feast-giver to all the no-shows? V21 still angry he 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." The disabled, the physically challenged, the wounded, the have-nots. In the context of this chapter, one is reminded of Jesus' words in v13, "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" - those who CANNOT REPAY the host for inviting them. When the affluent reject the invitation, the host turns to the afflicted. Your failures, your imperfections, your wounds, your emptiness and lack - these become what defines those who by grace are invited to the banquet.

A sidebar here - let's do a quick tally of those YOU may be inviting to share your 'spread' this Thanksgiving. Have you invited any poor people to your feast? Any crippled, blind, or lame? Any elderly neighbours who don't have anyone to share their meal with, or maybe that single-parent family nearby which can't afford a turkey?

At our EMC Pastors & Spouses' retreat this past week at Stayner, Andrew Mills and Andrew Epp both emphasized spelling "BLESS" the way Dave Ferguson does in his short book Discover Your Mission Now: 5 Simple Practices to Change Your World. BLESS is an acronym: Begin with prayer; Listen; Eat; Serve; and Story. Ferguson notes these are simple things we can do to be disciples without drastically rearranging our timetables. For example, almost everyone you know probably EATS! Inviting someone to eat with you - whether for just a coffee and doughnut, or all the way to 'dine in' - those become great opportunities to connect your lives and stories, learn where their struggles and hopes are, and share Jesus' love and concern. Ferguson writes: "For some of you as you take on the challenge of this missional practice of eating, you'll discover that hospitality is a spiritual gift you didn't even know you had, and you'll be able to touch more and more lives by having folks in your home at your table.You are going to find yourself helping others eat their way into the kingdom of God.Here's the real question--if you knew the only thing standing between a co-worker of yours and eternal life was you eating with them just once, would you do it? What if the only thing standing between your neighbor and a saving relationship with Christ was you having them over for dinner? If that were true, would you do it? I know you would."

Where did the host in Jesus' parable find those to fill his table? The streets and alleys - the homeless, the afflicted, the broken, the needy - precisely those who need a Saviour.

V22 But there's still room at the table! That brings us to phase 2, v23 ""Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full." The roads and country lanes / behind the hedges [NLT]? Who are you going to find there? More homeless, place-less, transients, those who've 'just moved in' (do you have any new neighbours on your block?), the marginalized: hobos, hitch-hikers (someone has to be somewhat desperate to risk hitchhiking these days). Those with no 'means', nothing to impress.

Now, remember our initial fellow back in v15 who quipped how blessed those are who feast in God's Kingdom, and likely assumed HE was part of the crowd. A prominent Pharisee could have claimed his breeding and law-keeping qualified him to be on God's guest list. Contrast: what qualifies those who end up at the table in Jesus' parable? What's the criteria by which they're admitted to this great feast? Not their AFFLUENCE but their AFFLICTION, their need, their weakness. Their have-not-ness. Did you come here today with any of that? Any imperfections, any current burdens that have you almost overwhelmed? Surprise! That may just be your entry ticket to the Kingdom feast.

What's the 'cross' you're carrying? In 14:27 Jesus declares, "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Not your cash; not your perfect church attendance. What qualifies you is recognizing your need for Jesus. It's not enough just to be thankful for fields and oxen and a peaceful home. Your priorities may be all wrong. If you're not enjoying God here and now MORE than worldly preoccupations - if that's not your FOCUS - what makes you think you're going to be happy in heaven?

V24 The master declares, "I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet." That's final! No opportunity to change their mind, no 'second-chanceism'. If we reject God in this life, there's no opportunity to repent later, after death (Heb 9:27).


What qualifies us to eat at the feast in God's Kingdom is not our breeding, our law-keeping, our 'churchianity', our fields, our oxen or Dodge Rams, our flawless families or trophy wives, our good grades, or the number of 'likes' on our selfies. Those aren't the criteria! God's searching for hearts that need Him, that are contrite and broken, that have given up on the sufficiency of our own resources and call out to Jesus His Son for help to relieve our guilt and remake us anew. Hearts that know our need of Him - His saving and His lordship.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to establish his qualifications over against false apostles who were making inroads, he didn't try to do that based on his own human merits but his "weakness" through which Christ supplied strength to carry on; "weakness" by which Paul experienced Jesus' power 'resting on me'. From 2Cor 12(5B,9-10) "...I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses....He [Jesus] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Can you be thankful today for your WEAKNESSES? Can you include your needs, your shortcomings, in your Thanksgiving worship? It's not about waiting until you eat at the feast in God's Kingdom. The goal of Christ's way is not so much enjoying God in the hereafter so much as: Am I enjoying Him here NOW in the midst of life's troubles? In my alone-ness, without-ness, my incompleteness, my pain and physical imperfections? When I'm feeling poor, crippled, wounded, out forgotten in the back alley? That's where the Lord's messenger will find you and bring you to His banquet. That's where, with Paul, you'll find Christ's power "rest on" you - in weaknesses, in hardships, in difficulties.

John of Avila wrote: "One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclination."


Can you give thanks in your weaknesses - in the situations of life beyond your control, when things seem wrong?

While Corrie ten Boom was living in a German concentration camp, her entire body became infested with lice, making a bad situation worse. She was complaining about it one day, and her sister reminded her of the Bible verse (1Thess 5:18) that says, "In everything give thanks," and she challenged Corrie to give thanks for the lice. Corrie's response was, "How can I give thanks to God for lice?" But she made a choice to offer thanks for the lice anyway. Later, she found out that the lice had actually protected her from the assaults of the German soldiers. Let's pray.