If Jesus Were a Wedding Planner

Luke 14:7-14

I love to sit at a table like this.

A place saved, just for me.

Most often, I sit at a place like this at a wedding.  After the ceremony is over we make our way to the reception; we scan the tables for a place card with our name on it.  It feels like some kind of social lottery.  “You’re table four?  So are we!  Oh, and look, we’re close to the cake!”

My reaction isn’t always that positive, though.  As a pastor I sometimes do weddings for couples I don’t know at all.  They invite me to the reception because it’s the polite thing to do, but they don’t know quiet what to do with me.  So I get assigned to a back-corner table with second cousin Billy and his wife – what’s her name?  Who will sit with them?  Oh, I know – the pastor!

I don’t blame them for putting me there.  At own wedding, when I made my own seating chart, I made some of the same choices.  I didn’t put the pastor at my table; I put my closest friends there:  maid of honor and her boyfriend, matron of honor and her husband, best man…  And they, in turn, knew they were our people on that day.  They didn’t even need to look at a seating chart; they could safely assume they were “Table 1,” just like I had been at “Table 1” for them.

But Jesus’ party is different:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher…’”

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed…” (Luke 14:7-10, 12-14).

Jesus would have made an interesting wedding planner.  He certainly would have shaken things up at my wedding.  I can picture him opening the doors to our exclusive reception venue, walking into the downtown streets where he’d find plenty of poor and crippled and lame and blind.  “Come on in!” he’d say.  “She’s even got a mashed potato bar – you’re going to love it!”  He’d lead them straight to my table, Table #1, and inform the bridesmaids in their matching dresses that they were going to have to make room for these folks in bargain-bin clothes from Goodwill.

I have to be honest, I’m not real thrilled at that idea.  Would Jesus have ruined my party?  Was Jesus a party pooper?

We know he wasn’t.  He was actually accused of partying too much by the religious leaders.  His message was also called “good news” – so anytime we apply it to our lives and it feels like bad news, we must be missing something.  It might be hard news, or uncomfortable news, but not bad news. 

So let’s think about this a little more. 

Jesus certainly wouldn’t have ruined the party for all those folks off the street, for starters.  It would have made the party.  Here’s a bunch of people who are always getting kicked out of places, and they get invited right in.  Can you imagine the stories later?  “And then this guy came along and told us we could all go into this fancy wedding and just help ourselves!”

The hard part is imagining how this might be better for those of us already at the party.  I know the church answer is supposed to be, “Oh, it’s much better letting the homeless crash your wedding!”  But – it’s my wedding.  That doesn’t sound better.  It sounds like chaos.  And I don’t think I’m wrong for feeling that way.  We weren’t wrong for wanting our closest people close to us on such an important day.  Jesus himself had 12 closest disciples, and among them 3 best friends:  Peter, James, and John.  At important moments he’d go off with them, just the four of them, for a while.  It’s a really good and important thing to have those kinds of people.

The problem is that we might hang out with those like-minded people every day, all the time.  We might invite the same people, sit next to the same people, every chance we get.

I do it.  I walk into a room full of people – a meeting, a community gathering, a big meal – and I scan the room for who I’m going to sit with.  Instinctively I’ll scan for the people giving off visual cues that they’re like me:  middle-aged working moms, for example.  I go and sit with them because I have a good hunch that, even without knowing each other, we’ll have something to talk about.  But what happens is that I keep sitting next to the same kinds of people, having the same kinds of conversations, exposed to the many of the same thoughts and ideas and stories.

Pastor and author Mark Deymaz, in his book Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, has a simple but life-changing practice to break that pattern:

When you enter a room and start scanning for the person most like you – stop.  Look again.  Who is least like you?  Go and sit with that person.

In my role as a pastor, I get to sit with a lot of people who aren’t much like me.  So I can tell you, from personal experience, that getting to talk with these different kinds of people is awesome.  I hear the most amazing stories from the people I’d least expect.  Just this week I heard stories about racing cars, playing golf at the collegiate level, and saving a bell from the rubble of a fire – and none of those were from middle-aged working moms.  If we don’t sit with people different than us, we’re going to miss out on some pretty amazing dinner conversation.

Now it’s starting to sound like a good party, isn’t it? 

I knew Jesus wasn’t a party pooper.

So here’s the good news – the way of Jesus Christ is the way of a better party.  One where we don’t invite the same people and have the same dinner conversations all the time.  A big, diverse, wild party where you never know who you’re going to talk to next.  And the best place to put that into practice is right here:  at church.

Every week we walk into this room and have a choice:  where are we going to sit?  In the same spot, by the same person?  Or, in the few minutes before worship starts, will we make a new friend?

And every week as we think about coming here on Sunday, we have a choice:  will we go by ourselves, as though this is some kind of exclusive by-invitation-only event?  Or, will we recklessly invite others, because this is a true the-more-the-merrier kind of party?

In other words:  is this Jesus’ party or not? 

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