Monday, August 30, 2010

Thank You for Inviting Me

Sermon from August 29, 2010
(Pentecost 14 – Year C)
Luke 14: 1, 4-14
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

A little over two weeks ago, while I was on vacation, I went to the car dealership to buy a new car for Susan.
Susan had been driving a mini-van for years, yet our family has pretty much gone past the need for a mini-van.
So I went into the car dealership looking to make a purchase.

It was a hot, slow Thursday afternoon, a pretty good time to buy a car.
I began talking to the fleet manager, and before you know it, we had struck a deal on how much he was going to give me for the mini-van we were trading in and how much I was going to pay for the new car.
We shook hands on the deal and I signed my name to his form, agreeing to the negotiated prices.
I was now the proud owner of a new, white Honda CRV, with that wonderful “new car smell.”

However, a man called the “credit manager” then appeared on the scene to set up our car loan.
It became quickly obvious that, even though hands had been shaken and backs had been slapped, I really did not own a new car at all.
It became quickly obvious that what this transaction was really about was about me going into more debt, a debt that certainly must be repaid.

In order to go into debt, I had to complete a lot of forms.
And in order for the credit manager to run a report to ascertain my credit rating, he had to get my social security number and a copy of my driver’s license.
Now, whenever I go to get my driver’s license picture taken, I always make sure that I have on my clerical collar for my picture.
So when the credit manager looked at my driver’s license, he said:

“Rev. Fisher, you should see some of the riff-raff who come in here trying to get a car loan,
But I am sure that your credit rating will be just fine.”
Strangely, I was flattered by this comment –
And I did have a sense of misplaced pride when my credit rating came out with a stellar rating, which really only shows that I am just very good at being in debt.

After I was congratulated for my stellar credit rating, the credit manager led me through the loan agreement and amortization schedule, showing me how and when my debt must be repaid each month.
We shook hands again and more backs were slapped.
I was congratulated for making such a wise purchase.

Yet a few days later, I realized that this transaction was really not about being invited into the great banquet of Honda ownership.
This transaction was really about going into debt, a debt that must be repaid.

Jesus says:
“When you throw a banquet, do not invite your rich friends and those with stellar credit ratings.
But when you throw a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
When you throw a party, invite the riff-raff who could never qualify for a loan.
Invite the people who can never repay the debt.”

Now I know that Jesus is saying that the host of a party is supposed to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
I know that Jesus is saying here that we are to practice a radical hospitality, a hospitality where everyone is welcome.

Yet, as I have had said before in other teachings, I believe that many of Jesus’ stories and teachings are not centered on you and me.
I believe that Jesus’ stories and teachings are centered more on who God is.
Therefore, Jesus is not just giving us a simple lesson on nice manners at a luncheon.
Jesus is not just telling us about whom we should invite to our parties,
As much as Jesus is telling us about whom he invites to his party.

For when we throw a party, we are selective in whom we invite.
Yet when God throws his party of unconditional love, everyone is welcome.
When we throw a party, we run a credit report to see if the credit rating of our guests is good enough.
Yet when God throws his party, the credit reports are ripped up and the riff-raff are invited along with the rich.
When we throw a party, we sign a loan agreement that specifies when and how we are to repay all the love we have been given.
Yet when God throws his party, God takes the loan agreement, he takes our debt, and he nails the repayment schedule to the Cross, once and for all.
Because at God’s banquet, at Jesus’ party, everyone is invited, invited to live debt-free.

And our Christian response to God’s invitation,
Our Christian response to debt-free living,
Is to live full of thanksgiving and gratitude.
And we live a life of thanksgiving and gratitude,
By practicing saying ‘thank you,’ each and every day.

When I was in kindergarten, I was invited to the birthday parties of most all of my classmates.
On many Saturday afternoons, my parents would drop me off at the house of a classmate for a celebration of ice cream and cake.
My mother taught me that, whenever I left a birthday party, I should always find the host and express my gratitude by saying:
“I had a very nice time.
Thank you for inviting me.”

Now whenever these birthday parties were over, my mother would usually pick me up at the front door.
And as we walked down the front walk, she would ask me this question:
“Jeff, did you find Mrs. Smith and tell her:
‘I had a very nice time.
Thank you for inviting me’?”

Yet sometimes I would forget to say thank you to the host.
And my mother would insist that I march back up the front walk and into the house to express my gratitude.
I would whine:
“But Mom, that is so embarrassing to go back into the house and find them in their backyard.”
Yet my mother would not back down,
And I would re-enter the party, and find the mother of my classmate and say:
“I had a very nice time.
Thank you for inviting me.”

I was taught by my parents to say ‘thank you,’ because sometimes we need to be taught how to be grateful and thankful.
And each and every Sunday at St. Alban’s, we open the doors of this church so that each one of us can be taught the practice of being thankful.
In fact, every Sunday at St. Alban’s, we celebrate what we call:
The Holy Eucharist.
And that word, ‘Eucharist,’ in Greek, actually means ‘to give thanks.’

So every Sunday, we are invited around God’s Table to God’s party, to practice saying thank you, thank you to God for loving us.
Every Sunday, we practice saying thank you, thank you for inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and the riff-raff to God’s party.
Every Sunday, we practice saying thank you, thank you for ripping up our credit reports and canceling our debts.
In this church, we celebrate the Eucharist, we say thank you - because we will never, ever, need to repay the debt of love that we have been given.

This morning, you are invited to celebrate at God’s party, God’s Eucharist, with bread and wine.
You are invited to practice gratitude, gratitude for a debt-free life.
You are invited to march yourself up this aisle to find Jesus, our Host, and say:

I had a very nice time.
Thank you - for inviting me.


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