Decatur Presbyterian Church

Holy Ground

October 3, 2021

Luke 14:15-24

Welcome All

         The parable we’re about to read is found in two of the four gospels, here in Luke and slightly longer version in Matthew. This parable finds us with Jesus in the home of a Pharisee. He’s sitting down to dinner with a group of people and someone remarks that it must be a great blessing for someone to eat dinner in God’s kingdom. Jesus responds with this parable: Luke 14:15-24

          As far as parables go, this one actually seems pretty straightforward. It’s a small story with a big point, it’s about a fairly ordinary scenario that happens in life, and there’s a twist. When the invited guests make their excuses and miss the dinner, rather than despair, the host decides to issue a blanket invitation to anyone and everyone. He tells his servant to invite anyone outside who is poor, crippled, blind, etc. Those in deepest need of bread. Those in deepest need of company. Those in deepest need. Period. So, the servant does exactly that and there’s still room. Then the host says go out even further. “I want a full house. Bring anyone who will come.” And so, the house is filled not with the busy or the loved or the privileged but with the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty, the cast out. I think we like this twist. We like that the host issued a wider invitation. And we don’t feel sorry for the original invitees who made their lame excuses and missed the dinner. Except they weren’t lame excuses. As in, “Oh I have to alphabetize my spices” or “I didn’t realize your thing was the same time as this other thing.” They have legitimate reasons for begging off. They are economic and family reasons. They hold up and even though their excuses were good, they still missed out on the feast. They missed a great opportunity.

          At first read, I think we really like this parable. It has what we might see as a good ending. Of course the host should invite everyone. Of course the host should go into the street and tell anyone and everyone they are welcome in. That’s what we strive for in the church, right? We welcome all. I know countless churches who post that statement or something similar on their website or their sign or their t-shirts or their banners. And I know just as many, if not more people, who have not felt welcome in spaces that claim “we welcome all.” Truly welcoming spaces invite all of who we are and accept what we each uniquely have to offer as gift.

          I want you to think about a time when you were new, when you were a stranger and you felt welcomed. Can you think of a time when you were on the outside and you were welcomed in? What made you feel accepted? What made you feel safe? What made you feel at home? These are especially important questions if you’ve ever felt like you’re in the minority or are on the outside of what is considered normal. I’ll guess that most of us are not that. I know that I’m not. Now, I’ve been the only woman in many a space and that has put me on the outside but on the whole that doesn’t make me terribly unusual. What I’ve never been is a person of color in a room full of white. I’ve never been LGBTQ+ in a room full of straight. I’ve never been differently abled in a room full of able-bodied. Most spaces, on the whole, are made for me. I’m a white cisgender heterosexual woman. My pronouns are she/her/hers. My name is easy to pronounce. I may have to duck in a few doorways because I’m a bit taller than average but as far as differences go that’s pretty minor. I’ve never had to go around because the door that I have the ability to access is in a different place. I’ve never walked into a church and wondered if I’ll get kicked out as soon as they find out x, y, or z about me. What a privileged place to be. I do know what it’s like to be rejected. I do, of course, know what it’s like to feel different and on the outside and excluded and I don’t wish those feelings on anyone. Nor do I believe that God intends for any one of us to be shut out because of who we have been created to be.

          When we think about what it means to invite, to welcome, to include, we have to remember what it’s like to be uninvited, not welcomed, excluded. And we have to know deep down that God’s intention is a full house, a crowded table, a space for all without exception. When it comes to invitation, inclusion, and welcome, our best intentions sometimes don’t quite cut it. I want you to listen to two different welcome statements from two different faith communities.

          Here is the first: “We welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.” Here is the second: “This church welcomes all to our services of worship and into the full life, leadership, and ministry of this church. We are an inclusive community that embraces all people regardless of race, ethnic background, age, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, social or economic situation, marital or family status, biblical interpretation or political persuasion. We welcome all in the love as Jesus Christ welcomes all of us. We celebrate that we are all God’s beloved children with gifts to sram for the just and peaceable reign that God intends. We believe in living out our faith and ministry by loving, learning, giving, and serving each other and the world, and by being a place for everyone to meet God, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey.”

          Is there a difference between the two statements? What is it? How do they each make you feel?

          No matter which you choose, it’s a hard thing to live out, isn’t it? A vague statement is one thing, a true and open invitation is another. The first statement requires little of us. The second statement requires a great deal. We can make all the excuses we want and some of those excuses may be completely legitimate. There’s not enough room. We don’t have the resources. We may run out of ______. We don’t know what to say or how to act or what to do. We hit what we think are our limits and then we miss out. When we trust in God’s abundance, though, none are limiting factors. When our invitation is broad and our welcome is all-inclusive, we are gifted with the full breadth and height and depth of God’s good creation, God’s love expressed in a variety of ways. Our community is blessed in ways we cannot imagine.

          It is a blessed thing to eat bread in the kingdom of God and to sit at God’s table. Isn’t that what we want for everyone not just for ourselves? So, why wouldn’t we run out into the streets and far beyond the town to invite anyone in deep need of the love of God to experience it? Why wouldn’t’ we trust that with God there is enough to go around? Why wouldn’t we meet people where they are and offer them the bread of life and the cup of salvation no strings attached? I can’t think of any good excuse.


And the table

will be wide.

And the welcome

will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide

to gather us in.

And our hearts

will open wide

to receive.

And we will come

as children who trust

there is enough.

And we will come

unhindered and free.

And our aching

will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow

will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands

to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn

toward each other

without fear.

And we will give up

our appetite

for despair.

And we will taste

and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.

And we will become drink

for those who thirst.

And the blessed

will become the blessing.

And everywhere

will be the feast.

—Jan Richardson