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"The Struggle of Prioritizing God"

Those who say it’s inconvenient to attend God’s party just don’t want to be there. But all who go should be ready to redress when they arrive, for God will have the garments of righteousness waiting.

As you bring in the mail you notice an invitation among the bills. When you open it, you find that the daughter of a long-time friend is getting married.

"Look, Jeannie’s getting married next May. What a great time that will be. John and Susan will be there; we’ll get to see them again. Lots of old friends we haven’t seen in a while will be at the wedding. What a fun time that will be. Let’s mark that on the calendar right now." So you send back your RSVP, and begin counting the days until the party begins.

But it isn’t always that way. Other invitations come and you are not so excited. "The Borings are having another of their parties. Remember the last one we went to … three people fell asleep in the middle of it. Sometimes they are awfully dull. Besides it is a good 15 minutes away. Oh, and it’s on a Friday night. You know how much I like to watch Survivor. Do we have to go to this party?"

In Jesus’ parable the invitations to the wedding banquet have gone out. People have sent back their invitations. Now the host is making the preparations. He has slaughtered the ox and prepared the fat calves. This is going to be a special feast.

People in Jesus’ day very rarely ate meat because it was so expensive. So, you can imagine that serving a young calf was a rare treat. Given time, that calf would grow into a cow, which would provide a lot more meat. But rather than wait, the king is serving it now, because this is a special event. In those days to serve meat, especially a young calf, was a real delicacy.

As they set the tables, the fruits and vegetables are prepared. The honey is ready. The hall has been gaily decorated. The musicians have been hired, and now they bring their instruments into the hall. The feast is all set. All they need now is the guests.

So, the king sends out the servants to call those who have been invited and who have already responded. "The party’s all ready," they say, "Come now."

But as the servants go out with their announcements everybody turns them down. Every single person gives some reason why he or she cannot come to the party. One says he must go to his farm. Another says he has some business he must attend to.

They all have excuses. In the end, their excuses come down to "Sorry, but I don’t have time," which really means, "I don’t care that much about this." We make time for the things that are important, don’t we? Suppose someone said, "I want to meet you Tuesday at 10 because you have been left money in a will. I have a check for $2,000,000 to give you." Would you say, "You know, Tuesday doesn’t really work so well for me. Could we make it maybe on Friday afternoon?" No, you would clear your calendar for that meeting! Even if he wanted to meet with you at 3 in the morning, you would find a way to be there and get that check. We make time for the things that we feel are important.

The king’s servants went to the invited guests, and they all used our polite way of saying, "I don’t want to come." They said, "I’m sorry, but I have another commitment."

Maybe we too need to be warned by the Arab mystic, al-Ghazzali, who said, "Listen my friend, if you do not want to be with God, it is not because you are too busy; but because you do not like him, do not want him and you had better face the fact." It is a blunt and harsh statement, but it does make us think. Are there ways in which we don’t like God interfering with our lives? Is it easier to keep God at the fringes of life, rather than at the center of our lives?

When the king hears that all of his guests have backed out of his party, he is angry. He has made all these preparations -- he has put a great deal of money into this party -- and it’s all ready. What is he supposed to do now?

He decides on a different approach. He says to the servants, "Go out to the streets and invite everyone you find. Go up and down the streets of town and invite everyone you see. Anyone and everyone are invited to this party." The parable is even explicit about saying; "both the good and the bad" will be coming. Everybody’s invited.

As a result, the banquet hall is full – and it’s a rag-tag crowd of people. Some are executives, some are street people, some are hungry and looking for a free meal, some are women of the street, some are political leaders, some are young students, some are old people.

Great laughter fills the hall. Lots of people are getting to know each other, since almost none of them have ever met before. There is a great deal of conversation. Nobody has ever been to a party quite like this before. This is a joyful celebration because everybody wants to be there.

The outstanding preacher, David Buttrick, tells of a family he heard of who every Thanksgiving set tables and chairs throughout their house. They made places for as many people as would fit. Then they went about preparing an enormous Thanksgiving dinner. All of this was done because each year they invited anyone who would like to come to share Thanksgiving dinner with them. Some who came were street people, some were friends, and some were people who had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. Some were people they invited as they walked to work in the morning. Some were friends from church. When the people finally gathered in their home, they didn’t know most of the other people there. Every year it was a grand banquet and a great celebration. And every year they made lots of new friends. They did this annual event because they were inspired by this parable of Jesus’.

But Jesus’ parable isn’t over yet. As the king enters this great feast, he greets his guests who are laughing and enjoying the party. He walks among this crowd of people meeting most of them for the first time and thanking them for coming to his party.

Then he notices one person who isn’t dressed properly -- he isn’t wearing the traditional wedding garment. The king asks what he is doing here at his party, not dressed the way he should be. The man stands speechless. Then the king has his servants bind this man and throw him out of the party.

Did Jesus have to add that part to the parable? The party was going so well. It was fun, everybody was having a great time, and then this unpleasant scene. After all, if you’re inviting people in off the street, can you really expect them to show up in tuxedos?

Yes, when you are providing tuxedos. The host in this parable, knowing that some of those coming would not possess a decent suit of clothes, would have provided wedding garments for everyone. A wedding is no time to skimp on all the trappings.

All the other guests graciously donned the proffered garments, but this one guy didn’t care enough to make the effort, to be dressed appropriately for the occasion. He could have gotten ready like everybody else; he just didn’t bother.

We’re all invited to God’s party, and we need to accept the fresh garments of righteousness God gives us when we get there. We need to embrace the necessary change, surrendering our filthy rags of sin and donning the robes of righteousness. That doesn’t mean we make ourselves righteous, only that we accept the righteousness God offers.

But once we have done that, we can make some other changes ourselves. Maybe we need to change out of some old prejudices. It could be we need to get out of some bad habits or discard some unfair ways of treating people. Maybe we need to put on a closer relationship with God or slip into something a little more compassionate.

Perhaps we will want to change into something more generous and caring. We’re all invited to the party, but it isn’t quite "Come as you are." It’s "Come as you are -- RSVP to God’s invitation -- and ready to be changed when you get there." We can’t stand long in the presence of God dressed in grubby ethics or shabby morals. God’s call is for a new attitude, new love, new hope, a new approach to people.

Jesus’ parable is clear that everybody is invited to the feast -- good and bad alike -- but those who stay agree to wear the garments of righteousness.

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