October 29, RSVP

 RSVP

Matthew 22:1-14 

Recently (within the last month) I got an invitation to an event, to a gathering. It came quite a bit in advance of the actual date. I set it aside.

Sometime later, I picked it up and looked at it again. Oh no! I was going to be out of town at the time of the event. I made a mental note to send a message that I wouldn’t be able to make it and set it aside again.

The third time I came across the invitation I was working my way through odds and ends. I looked at it again. The time had passed.

I felt bad about it. But what do you do at that point? It’s really too late to say, “Thanks for inviting me, but back when you invited me I was in the thick of things and thought, "I’ll deal with that later,” and then when I thought of it again, I realized I couldn’t make it, and then when I thought of it again, I realized the time had passed and I hadn’t ever gotten back to you.”

So, I’m left with this awkward feeling of a sort of embarrassment, combined with a frustration that things get so busy, combined with a wondering about what I missed, combined with a recognition that as hard as I try to keep all my ducks in a row, sometimes some of them wander off.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was on the other end of the situation, so to speak. Someone asked me for an appointment. The planning and scheduling process went back and forth since it proved difficult to figure out how to get our schedules arranged. It was actually an appointment that involved several people, so the coordinating was that much more difficult. Finally, we settled on a time and confirmed it with all those who were to be present.

The day and time came. I was waiting, as were the other persons who had been asked to participate. The person who had requested the appointment didn’t show up. Ten minutes after the appointed time, I checked my email messages. I found one sent at the appointed time: “Sorry,” the person said, “something came up and I won’t be able to make it. I really regret this. Can we reschedule? Maybe for later this week? Or next week at the same time?”

I kind of grumbled to myself – not because the person had postponed, but more because it was at the last minute and just within the last day, I had put off someone else to a later hour who also had wanted to come and talk to me at the same time as this appointment. Now, since it was too late to invite my later appointment to come earlier, my day was going to stretch longer than it needed too. But I checked with the others who were to come to the meeting and by mid-afternoon responded to the person who had backed out at the last minute.

“We can do it tomorrow,” I messaged, “but after that it will be hard to coordinate schedules – travel and such will be getting in the way. Let me know.” And…nothing. No response. Not that afternoon, that evening, or the next morning. I know – people get busy, other things intrude, schedules are complicated. But I confess: It bothered me.

Of course, I should be used to it – we all should. We get (and give) invitations, arrange and rearrange schedules, all the time. Messages come and go from us: requests, and opportunities, and demands. People want us to show up, to respond, to engage. They want us to come and be part of their lives. They want us to listen to the people and the presentations that matter to them. They want us to care about the things they care about. They want us to contribute to their causes and come alongside their concerns. And we have the same expectations for others.

And sometimes we (and they) come through, and sometimes we don’t. And when we don’t…it seems there’s always a residue. And maybe that’s the reason that so often people just don’t respond: It’s harder to say no, than it is to say nothing. Or maybe people really are like I was with the first story I told: they try to keep all the ducks in a row, and sometimes some of the ducks just wander off.

Either way, there are gaps between us: gaps between the one who is inviting and the one who is invited; gaps between the priorities and preferences of the potential host and those of the potential guest; gaps between the understandings of different people about how worthwhile something is.

But always, there are invitations…and we have to decide. Respond or not? Show up or not? Participate or not?

Most of the announcements I make on any given Sunday morning are invitations: help with hurricane relief, participate in Love Feast, come to council meeting, want to help out with the nursery or the name tags?, attend this Sunday school class, join the choir, head over to the university for this or that event, a fundraiser at the Mainview, a meeting at Timbercrest. Sometimes it’s information that you don’t really need to do anything about – something like an announcement about the progress of the picnic pavilion for example – but most of the time it’s something that asks you to respond.

And we are faced all the time with decisions: Will I or won’t I? How much of my time and energy am I willing to give? Do I want to engage this person, participate in this activity? What is the cost or the benefit of responding? And this: How does this request (or opportunity) fit with who I am and how I understand myself?

The scripture text for this morning is another of Jesus’ parables as told through the voice of Matthew’s gospel. It’s another of these “kingdom of heaven” stories (“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” or “The kingdom of heaven is like…”) You’ve heard a bunch of those right? The kingdom of heaven is like…the weeds among the wheat, the treasure in the field, the net full of good fish and bad, the mustard seed, the yeast in the flour, what happens to an unforgiving servant, that mess with the laborers in the vineyard.

Isn’t it interesting that any time Matthew’s Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” there’s some kind of uncomfortable, conflict-inducing, decision-demanding, status quo-upsetting thing about to happen?

In this case, the “awkwardness” is an invitation ignored. It’s not like weeds planted among the wheat or the tiny mustard seed that yields a plant that takes over the whole garden or the ungrateful or even violent tenants in a vineyard – it’s nothing quite so aggressively troublesome. It’s just an invitation ignored...at least initially. But then it turns a corner. First the guests refuse the invitation, then they mock it, and then (we’ve heard this story before) they abuse and kill the messengers.

In the story, the king who has invited the people to his banquet is enraged when they refuse him. He punishes those who refused the invitation and killed his messengers – burns their city to the ground – and sends his slaves to bring in anyone else who can be found, so that the wedding hall might be filled with guests.

And then, the story takes a strange turn: a guest shows up (presumably someone who didn’t get an invitation the first time round, but was pulled in off the street at the last minute) and the man is not properly dressed – no wedding gown. The king has him thrown out into the darkness. The parable ends with this statement: “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Oh my goodness! What are we supposed to do with this? And on Stewardship Commitment Sunday?! It sure sounds a lot more threatening than we want to sound on a Sunday when we are trying to invite people to make a commitment toward the next year!

But here’s a thought: the judgement that Matthew casts through this parable is not that unreasonable or unexpected. The king makes two rounds of invitations and by the second round, does not differentiate between the worthy and the unworthy. All he asks is that people come. Well, and that they come in the right spirit. No just showing up for a free meal; come as a member of the dinner party, come as part of the new community, come knowing who is hosting you and arrive with your gratitude and respect draped around your shoulders. Is that too much to ask?

So, it’s a matter of posture and a matter of response. Maybe the issue is multi-layered. We have to decide whether or not to respond to the invitations we receive – invitations to participate, to share, to contribute, to minister; we have to decide what they are about, or whether we are too busy, or if our schedule is too complicated. Or maybe we decide that people will just have to understand if we don’t come. Maybe the problem is that when we turn away, we do so because we just assume there will be another day, another invitation, another opportunity.

Maybe that’s a piece of what we need to see in the parable: Some ignore the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet, some refuse it, some show up without paying any attention to what the occasion really is, but all of them, in one way or another, seem to think that there will be other times, other opportunities. They take the banquet invitation for granted.

I’d like to take things less for granted. I’d like to take my friends and my family less for granted, take the kindness of my neighbors less for granted, take the opportunities to sit and listen to people less for granted. I’d like to take holy moments – the ones that sneak up on me in worship from time to time – less for granted. And I’d like to have a bit more of a sense of urgency in how I meet opportunity; not panic, but urgency.

I’d like to remember that this moment, this invitation, this time with us together is not going to come again. Sure, next Sunday will be next Sunday, and the schedule will be the same, the format more or less the same, the rituals the same. But I’d like to recognize that this moment – this time, this gathering, this feast: It’s now. It’s given to me, to you, now. I’d like not to take that for granted.

And this thought. I’d like to be more grateful when I am invited to do something, to be with someone, to share a piece of life, to be given an opportunity to respond to a need. I’d like to be more grateful, because in those moments, rather than feeling like someone is taking something from me, I would like to feel more like someone is giving me something – To recognize that when I help someone else, I am increased. When I share my resources, I am increased. When I show up and engage and care and respond, I am increased. When I am invited to be part of the new community, the beloved community, I am increased. And I’d like to see it that way so that my first thought is always to be thankful when I am included, when I am invited.

Richard Spalding, writing in ‘Feasting on the Word,” says this about the text: “Gospel living only begins with the invitation. It cannot remain a mere idea; its (essential condition, the thing that is absolutely necessary) is a transformed life. Though many have been called, the ones who are to be chosen are those who are living in a new way – who have put on life in Christ. 

And this “new way”? Is it a way where we don’t take the invitation for granted? A way where we respond with gratitude?

Some weeks ago, when we were looking at the parable about the early workers in the vineyard who were unhappy when the late workers got the same pay, I mentioned a little note I had written in my folder of worship and sermon notes that said “payment vs. participation.” And then I said this: I wish now I had written more because I can’t remember exactly what all I had in mind when I jotted down those words. But if nothing else, I think those words serve as a reminder that all too often here we are worrying about payment (so to speak) when we could take the point of view that we are blessed to be able to participate. So, instead of thinking, “Did I get what I deserved?” can we make a shift to thinking, “I’m just so glad I got to be part of this!” That’s a radically different perspective, isn’t it? “Did I get what I deserved?” versus “I’m so glad I got to be part of this!”

I think the invitation piece in the parable for today fits into that as well. Instead of focusing on “what does this invitation demand of me,” we might ask, “how does this invitation enrich me”?

Your invitation today is the stewardship commitment invitation, yes – the invitation to support a budget and a practice of ministry and a set of priorities for another year; it’s the invitation to support this work and to embrace this community. But it is also an invitation to a feast – to a place and a people who nourish you, to a place and a people who put another leaf in the table, to a place and a people who want all of us to find a seat alongside Jesus, to a place and a people who don’t – indeed who can’t – pretend that the spiritual life does not matter, to a place and a people who want justice and peace in this world, to a place and a people to whom and with whom you can belong.

That’s the banquet invitation, that’s the kingdom of heaven invitation – to me, to you. I don’t want to take it for granted; I want to learn to be more grateful. What about you? 

Amen.

Benediction: May we move forward into the week, taking less for granted each other and all our opportunities, being more grateful for every moment, every gift. Amen.  

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

October 29, 2017