Text: Luke 14: 15-24
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
Grace Peace and Mercy is yours from the Triune God. I bring you greetings today from your brothers and sisters in Christ at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver Colorado. It’s an unbelievable honor to be here with you today. I’d like to thank the class of 2011 for asking me to be your preacher and I’d like to thank God that I am able to give this sermon just under the escatological wire as it were. This week I posted a question on Facebook asking exactly when Eastern Standard time the righteous are expected to float off like Mary Poppins and I was assured that it wouldn’t matter one bit since, let’s be honest, after the rapture most of PLTS would still totally be here.
So, let’s get to it shall we? Perhaps, dear graduates, you are sitting here today wondering if you now have what it takes to serve this church. Perhaps you are sitting here having listened to the lectures, defended your dissertation, survived the scrutiny of internship thinking Am I now prepared? Do you really have what it takes to serve the church as a pastor or lay leader or educator and the answer is: don’t be silly. Of course you don’t. If you are worried that you have weaknesses and deficiencies and short-comings or as we recovering alcoholics call them, “defects of character” you can stop worrying. You’re right. You really don’t have what it takes. But fortunately, you do have the God that it takes. And the question is not will your failings and weaknesses and short-comings get in the way….the question is will your strengths get in the way?
I think this is what we see in this parable of the great feast. A feast where the A-listers – the ones who supposedly have their game together, who own land and can buy oxen-- the impressive folks, the totally invite-able ones make really lame excuses for not showing up “Oh wow, a feast, huh? I’d love to be there, but my kids are in the Highly Gifted Soccer league on Sundays”. So the host sends his servants to instead call the poor the lame and the blind – and it’s these riff-raff and not the A listers, who sit at the table gladly partaking of the feast set before them.
See, sometimes it is the strong able-bodied parts of us that fail to heed the invitation. My bishop said the greatest spiritual discipline is not praying the daily office, or leading a vegan lifestyle, the greatest spiritual discipline is just showing up. See, those in our parable for today who were invited initially were all able to actually come to the feast un-aided. They were wealthy enough for horses and able bodied enough to arrive on their own volition….but they didn’t show up. Those who did come were those who could not get there without help. The blind needed guides and the lame needed carrying, if they were to make it to the feast.
The same can be true of us: that the property owning, healthy, secure parts of us can’t hear the invitation. Because, sometimes we are so busy trying to be strong and self-sufficient and successful that we forget that we actually are hungry. That’s what’s great about the parts of us that are poor and lame and blind…at least these parts of us know how much we can use a good meal.
God invites those parts to dinner, because God will not be deterred by our excuses, or our delusions of self-sufficiency: God sees where we are weak and hungry even while we are trying to hide it from ourselves and each other.
Most of you come to this commencement with real strengths for leadership. And I’m certain these strengths will serve you and your students or parishioners well. God will use your successes to be sure …but if you really want to witness the handiwork of the Spirit, just watch how God will use your failures. Just wait till you glimpse the masterful redemption that springs forth when you ask forgiveness for having been a total ass, just watch how grace will rush in to fill the spaces of your shortcomings.
God reaches again and again into the graves we dig ourselves, continues to reach into our failures and yank out new life: just as God brought forth the universe from nothingness and water from a rock and babies from barren wombs and a church from a bunch of forgiven sinners. So don’t be afraid of your deficits, but rejoice in the spaces where you have nothing to offer, for this is the very canvas on which God’s best work is shown forth…just wait. I promise you this.
Not that long ago when I was in seminary I said: I just want God to use me. And I’ve regretted it ever since because honestly some times I can feel used by God. See, embarking on Word and Sacrament ministry I had some real strengths. I understood post colonialism. I was a confessional Lutheran. I could distinguish Law from Gospel, patriarchy from womanism and in pastoral care class I learned how to tilt my head and show concern in my eyes while saying “tell me more about that”.
And while I’m not going to say that these strengths were useless, I am going to say that God has used my weaknesses a whole lot more. What God has really used in me are the things I’m no good at, where I have no choice but to ask for help.
For example, I’m not naturally a pastoral, nurturing, come to me I’ll listen to your problems kind of person. Naturally I’m a slightly misanthropic-for-the-love-of-God-please-stop-whining kind of person – so the fact that I genuinely do care for all the folks in my church is only because I was forced to ask God for help in managing this impossible part of my job description. The fact that I sincerely have a deep fondness, concern and even love for all my parishioners can clearly only point to God’s grace and mercy. I don’t think well, I’m just a better person now than I was before seminary…trust me, I’m not. But God’s strength is indeed perfected not in our strengths, but in our weakness, our poverty, our hungers.
And I simply cannot feel spiritual hunger pangs when I’m on a sugar high of personal charisma or graduate level education or economic privilege. It seems that only when those things fail me and I’m up against the limits of my personality or skill set that I turn to God for help.
And brothers and sisters I am here to report that we have a faithful God. A God who will provide for God’s people. A God who never tires of being for us what we simply cannot be for ourselves. A God who calls every part of us to the feast.
So when you go from here to serve God’s people, don’t offer to them only the invite-able parts of yourself: your confidence, your skill, your intellect…but offer them also your weakness, your smallness, your blindness and poverty. Offer them the blank spaces so that they may see God’s creative mercy rushing in.
For what I wish for you is this: Not that you might be strong and admirable and shiny in your ministries, but that may God use your weaknesses. May you continually die to self-sufficiency and rise to Christ; may your people see in you the work of a God who has always used the most questionable people to do God’s work. As you go on from here both prepared and unprepared for what awaits, may you, like the apostle Paul, boast gladly in your weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in you. Amen.