A Church That Welcomes All

A Church That Welcomes All

January 16, 2022 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

You would think having performed hundreds of weddings in my career I would know everything there is to know about weddings. But now that I am a father of brides…I realize I don’t know squat! Last summer we organized a wedding remotely as our oldest daughter got married in Colorado, and she and Susan spent loads of time looking at venues on the internet, making phone calls. 

And now, our youngest is planning a wedding here, since Christmas she and her mother have been going around town looking at places to hold a reception and compare prices, and then they draw straws on their way home to see which one gets to share that information with me.

O my goodness, I went into the wrong business. I should have just been a wedding pastor. I could have offered a package deal. That’s what I’ve offered my girls. I said, “Look, I could do the ceremony, then set up tables in the backyard, grill a great meal. It would be awesome.” So far I’m 0-2. But I have discovered just how big an investment weddings are.

So I have an all new appreciation for today’s parable. It’s about a king who prepares a wedding for his son. Now that fact alone stands out to me. The father of the groom hosted the wedding party. When did that tradition change? I’ll guarantee you it wasn’t changed by a father of three daughters! Anyway, this king spares no expense for this wedding. Everything is prepared so He sends out his servants to tell the invited guests, it’s time.

But they don’t come! They are going about their business and didn’t even have the courtesy to send in their regrets! And this king is angry, and I say, “He has a right to be!! Don’t those people know how much this king has paid for them to have a seat at the table!!” And this is where it’s important to remember that this is a parable. That means it’s a story we can relate to but it is symbolic of spiritual things. As Ellsworth Kalas wrote about this story: At this point you and I say to ourselves—how could people respond this way to an invitation from their king? Clearly, Jesus intends in very dramatic ways for us to realize just how unthinkable is our human response to God’s generosity. (Parables from the Backside, p70)

But this is where Jesus’ story stretches from the relatable to the ridiculous, because when the king sends the servants out a second time the guests mistreat the servants and kill them. And so the king in his rage sends out an army to kill them and destroy their city.

Some Bible scholars say Jesus never said these words, that they reflect the embellishment of the writer. Hmmm. I guess you could make that point that something has happened to this parable. Luke tells the same parable but there’s no mention of servants being mistreated or a king burning down a city. I suppose that’s possible.

But I can still imagine Jesus telling this story just like this because it’s a parable. Its meant to make us think how we react when we get offended by the actions of others. The things we do in response and how matters can escalate so quickly when people just start retaliating and going back and forth and they do things they regret, and how in the end all that mudslinging just becomes a distraction. It takes you away from the main point and what God wants to do.

So after all the smoke clears Matthew gets back to the main point: the banquet hall is still empty! That’s the point. The food is ready. The wine bottles have been opened. The china, silver and crystal in front of each place setting but every chair is empty. The party has been paid for and no one is there. What are you going to do?

You do what Sarah Cummins did. Remember her? She was the Indianapolis bride who called off her wedding a few years ago. That is a painful, difficult circumstance for everyone. But what made it worse in their case was that the venue they had contracted for their reception was nonrefundable. It was an investment of about $30,000 and they were just going to lose that. But instead, with the support of her ex-fiance, Sarah called places like Wheeler Mission and the Dayspring Center and invited the homeless population of Indianapolis to come. So on what was supposed to be her wedding day she welcomed and greeted guests to a reception unlike anything many of them had experienced in years and some never before in their lives.

Now, that kind of scene reflects the version of Jesus’ parable in Luke’s Gospel. Luke says the host of the banquet sent servants to bring in the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” In other words, go bring in the people no one else would invite. The people who typically get left out. And that’s a wonderful story. It’s a wonderful message of the Gospel.

But Matthew tells it differently. The king says to the servants, “Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you can find.”(v.9) I like that. Anyone! Rich, poor. Black, white. Republican. Democrat. Anyone. That’s pretty inclusive isn’t? The only requirement is that they accept.

Then notice how it says, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad…”(v.10) That’s a little different nuance isn’t it? But it still includes everyone. Good and bad kind of sums up all people, but not because it includes separate groups—all the good AND all the bad, but because all people are a mixture of good and bad. There’s not just all good people and all bad people. Everyone of us is a mixture of both aren’t we? We’ve got good within us. We can do beautiful things. We’re capable of that. But then there’s this other side to us, a side that for most us makes us feel like we should be excluded. We don’t deserve an invitation. And probably for a lot of folks they struggle with feeling their bad outweighs their good. That in the end they aren’t good enough. That when it comes to getting into heaven they’re probably going to come up a few credits short.

If you are someone who at all wrestles with those feelings, read this story closely. Anyone is invited. The good and the bad are accepted. Because what Jesus is describing in this parable is the church. He’s giving us a picture of what the church is meant to be, a place where all are welcome.

And that takes us back to the little church in Normandy we are using as a metaphor for this series. If you missed last week, I shared the story about a church in a tiny village that two medics in World War II set up as an aid station in the Normandy Invasion. I learned about the church from an article written by a Methodist pastor in Colorado who visited there a few years ago. I am pointing out several aspects of this story to use as metaphors for the Church today.

This week I want to focus on that part of the story where the German officer asked if they would treat his wounded. The medics agreed on the condition that they leave their guns at the door. So inside, on the pews where the bloodstains can still be seen today, there were Allied soldiers, German soldiers, and local civilians of all ages including a small child. Everyone needing healing was welcomed.

Carrying on from the quote I shared last week, Bob Kaylor tells about visiting a church in Normandy that summer and how he loved the welcome offered by the pastor:

“If you’re our guest today, we want you to know that this is a place where its OK to not be OK. But our hope is that you don’t want to stay in that not-OK place. We love you enough to tell you the capital “T” truth about Jesus Christ.” That’s a welcome for all—an invitation to add our weapons and conflicts to the pile outside and come inside to be made whole.”

Once again what happened in that little church over 77 years ago is a reminder that the church is open to all. Anyone is included. But, you have to leave your weapons at the door. We have to lay down our arms. This is where the Church can be the hope of the world. Our world needs to church to live out this part of its mission perhaps more now than any time since World War II. The divisions of our society are tearing us apart. Some families couldn’t even be together over Christmas because of political differences. Its time to say “no more!” We must help people lay down their weapons and come inside where all are welcome. All are accepted. And all are given a chance to be made whole. But, there is a condition. We must lay down our weapons and conflicts.

Let’s go back to Matthew’s parable one last time. The servants follow the king’s command to bring in anyone, and they do. The hall is finally filled. But then the king walks around greeting the guests and there is someone without a wedding garment. What did that mean? It wasn’t a special garment, it was a reference to wearing nice clothes for the occasion. To come into a beautiful banquet wearing your work clothes was an insult. So, the king was asking in effect, “How did you get in here without dressing up?” And the guest had no answer. So the king threw him out.

And it makes no sense. This king sends out servants to bring in the anyones, but when the king finds someone who didn’t change clothes he’s thrown out? It makes no sense until you remember this parable is about the church, and God, and we realize Jesus is making an important point. Anyone is welcome, but not everything is welcome in Jesus’ presence. Just because all are invited doesn’t mean there are no standards. Change is required. We are welcomed as we are, but that doesn’t mean God wants to leave us as we are. Change is required.

Did you see that story in the paper the other day about a funeral in Italy where the coffin was draped in a Nazi flag and pallbearers gave a Nazi salute? The service was held at a Catholic Church and the Vatican wasted no time condemning it calling it unacceptable. Why? Because not everything is welcomed in God’s presence. Hate is not acceptable. It must be left at the door. Discrimination must be left at the door. An unwillingness to love those who are different than us, who think differently than us, must be left at the door. Selfishness, greed, intolerance. It must be left at the door.

But how do we do this? What helps to disarm us? When we remember that thing about good and bad. The servants rounded up the anyones, both the good and bad. You see no one is altogether good and no one altogether bad. We are all a mixture of both and when we accept that, we can choose to love the good, for when we love the good it shrinks the bad.

One Sunday morning when Dr. Martin Luther King was serving his first church out of seminary, Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, he was ill. His doctor advised him not to preach, but because the topic that Sunday was so important he couldn’t be stopped from preaching. The title of his sermon that day was Loving Your Enemy. In it he said:

Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every (person) and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of his hate. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

Our world desperately needs the church to live out this ethic today. We need to reach out against the hostility of our times and rescue the goodness within people. It will take much to carry out this mission. It will take tough skin and a tender heart. It will take a commitment to stay with each other even when we find the other detestably wrong. If all we do is find a church that welcomes those like us and agrees with our politics we will never find a church that displays the wideness of God’s mercy. And that is what makes me thankful to be in a church like St. Luke’s…(video of Eli Blackburn interview)

Closing Prayer:

Lord, I will be open to growing with you this year, even when that growth means being challenged. When I hear things I disagree with, before I react, I will come to you and ask if there is anything you want me to learn.

 And all who agree with this prayer say, Amen.

Lord, I will let you love through me this year, especially those different from me. I will be a bridge builder and let you express your grace and mercy through my words and actions.

 And all who agree with this prayer say, Amen.

Lord, I will not add to the disturbance of our times this year. I will resist the urge to tweet, like, post, and communicate in any way that shames, runs down, makes fun or dehumanizes another human being.

 And all who agree with this prayer say, Amen.

Lord, I accept that change is required in your kingdom. I give you permission to change me so that I can be a better me than I was last year.

 And all who agree with this prayer say, Amen.


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