Sermon: The Kingdom of God is not a Potluck
In college, I was a member of a Christian fellowship that actually had weekly gatherings called “The Banquet,” a name chosen in honor of this parable. As a junior in college, I was a leader in the group and helped run “The Banquet” each week with a classmate. Ironically, the times when we're trying to form Christian community and spread God's love to others may be just the times we're inclined to forget something important about this parable: that this Banquet is prepared and readied by the King.
Despite how churches may love them, the Kingdom of Heaven is not like a potluck. Of course, the potluck concept may not have been around at the time, but it still makes for a useful comparison as we try to understand the Kingdom of Heaven. At a potluck, the contributions of the guests often determine how good the meal will be. In the parable, we know, way before the guests arrive, that there will be oxen and fat calves. Potlucks relieve the burden that is often put on hosts. The King shows no signs of being burdened by hosting, having, we could safely assume, ample resources for a grand banquet.
It is humbling, but vital to see ourselves as guests, and not guests whose contributions are necessary to ensuring that the banquet is filling.
Despite this, it can often feel like God's Kingdom is entirely dependent on what we, in particular, can bring to it. This feeling may impress itself on us most strongly when it seems like we, or things we care about, are failing. In my case at college, dwindling attendance numbers for our fellowship and conflicting ideas among members of the community sometimes overshadowed the reality that God was present and active on campus. We might also be viewing the Kingdom of Heaven as if it's a potluck when we get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. When we're down on ourselves, it may seem like everybody has hearty contributions for the feast except us.
Thankfully, this parable undermines any tendencies to make God's Kingdom about our own efforts and their outcomes.
As the King says in the parable: “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'”
Everything is ready.
Here, we have a reminder that the Kingdom is prepared by God and is ready for us. It is meant to fill the guests. It is a good, good thing, and it is plentiful. And God is the source of it. The Banquet happening is not contingent on what we have to offer. It is ultimately much bigger than us.
While our confidence in Christ shouldn't numb us to the negative aspects of life, we must also see our lives in the context of God's Kingdom—the context of a Banquet prepared by our maker, the triune God who loves us and wants to be with us and wants good things for his children.
This is a reason to celebrate. Let us be glad that our God is like the king in this parable. Our God is the God in Isaiah, the God who will, I quote, “make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” According to the Isaiah passage, God will be the one destroying death, and God will be the one wiping away tears.
Celebrating does not mean, of course, that we limit ourselves only to celebration. While God, like the king in the parable, is an initiator and our host, the role we have to play in God's redemptive story for the world is not a passive one. We may not need to offer our recipes for the Banquet, but we still, in important ways, are called to offer ourselves to God. This story, though, provides a way of thinking about that offering that may be more healthy than some other alternatives.
Perhaps offering ourselves to the Lord is essentially about accepting invitations, showing up to the feasts in our lives that God has already prepared, and allowing our lives and agendas to be interrupted and shaped by the callings and promptings of the Spirit.
Perhaps we are also called to be the ones relaying the invitation to others to come and be with God and be fed by God. The parable suggests that this is not a task without cost, as is clear by the messengers being seized, mistreated, and killed.
Lastly, we might offer ourselves to God by clothing ourselves in what is appropriate for the Banquet. Rejection of God is more blatant in the examples of people simply not showing up to the feast, but the example of the man without a wedding garment might also be Jesus showing us a different way of rejecting the Kingdom.
There's no clear and obvious meaning to the garment as a symbol, but showing up in the completely wrong clothes for a wedding might signify a pretty halfhearted, and maybe downright disrespectful, attitude about the event. Theologians throughout history have disagreed when it comes to the wedding garment, but I find Martin Luther's interpretation pretty compelling. He wrote that “the wedding garment is Christ himself, which is put on by faith, as the Apostle says in Rom. 13, 14: “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then the garment gives forth a lustre of itself, that is, faith in Christ bears fruit of itself, namely, love which works through faith in Christ.” This garment has been identified by various thinkers with love, good works, or repentance. No matter what we land on more specifically in terms of the symbolic meaning of this garment, it seems to imply that there's more to truly accepting God—or truly accepting an invitation to a Banquet—than just saying one does and showing up.
In some ways, this passage actually asks a lot of us. It's a challenge to show up to what God calls us, to deliver God's invitations when we're enlisted for the task, and to clothe ourselves in what is appropriate for the Banquet. Let's not make our task any more difficult by confusing the Banquet for a potluck or confusing ourselves for the hosts. We do not create the Kingdom of Heaven. Let's appreciate that our God is preparing a feast for us.
“My cup is running over,” says the writer of today's psalm. If we trust ourselves to fill our own cup and the cups of others, I have a very good feeling those cups will be running low in no time at all. There is a type of abundance we can only receive—and only recognize—when it is God setting the table before us, rather than us setting the table for ourselves.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.