Sunday, September 01, 2013

Party On

A Sermon for Trinity 14.

Let me begin with a text, not from our Gospel reading this morning, but from a book called the ‘Healthy Churches Handbook’.  It goes like this: ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  If you take nothing else away from this morning, please take that.  ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  To be a Christian, is to be a party-goer and a party-giver!

The Gospels are full of parties, and it is clear that Jesus enjoyed a good party (so much so that he was called a glutton and a drunkard, or in the wonderful word of the King James Version, a ‘winebibber’!).  Our reading this morning is all about parties. In fact it’s about a specific party.  Jesus has been invited to a party given by a leader of the Pharisees.  And while he is there, it is clear that he isn’t just a guest but that he is being watched and tested.  First of all, just before our story this morning starts, Jesus is asked about healing on the Sabbath.  Then, Jesus notices that people choose the best seats, and that an invitation to this party isn’t free – you are expected to repay the invitation, either by inviting the host to one of your parties or by some other way.

Jesus goes to a party, but discovers three things.  First, that he’s being watched and tested. Second, that for most people going there it’s all about getting the best seats and being recognized as being important.  And finally, that there is an expectation that the invitation to this party will be repaid.  And, if I’m honest, that’s the same for most parties that I’ve ever been to, both as an adult and as a child.  So what does all of this have to do with the kingdom of God.

Well, it seems to me that the Leader of the Pharisees and his guests had rather missed the point of a party.  (And before we get too smug, we should remember that the Pharisees were the religious people, the church-goers of their time.  It is worth reading the Gospels replacing ‘Pharisees’ with ‘church’ and see whether it works.  All too often it does!)  But the leader of the Pharisees and his guests had missed the point of a party.  A party is supposed to be a celebration, and while you are watching other people to see if you can find fault with them; while you are jockeying for the best seats and while you are worrying about how you will ever top this party, you are not celebrating anything.  So if we are to are to be good party-goers, then we are to remember to celebrate.  Not to find fault in others, but to celebrate who they are and what they bring. Not to try and find the most important place, but to celebrate that we are here at all.  Not to worry about what is next, but to enjoy the party that has been provided.  ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  Christians are to be good party-goers and to learn celebrate.

But Jesus words to his host give instructions on how we should throw a party.  “When you give a party, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours … but when you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”.  Christians are to give parties.  But these parties are to reach out and to include everyone, especially those who don’t normally get invited to parties.  Who is it in your street that is normally left out? – they are the people you should invite to your party.  How can we provide a party for the poorest people in our midst, and for the poorest in our world?  Christians are to be concerned to offer invitations to parties to those who are excluded, left out and forgotten.  They are to invite the poorest and the most vulnerable.  This is the way in which Christians are to be party-givers.  It is also why it is such a tragedy if the church gets a reputation for excluding people – that goes against the whole way in which Jesus seems to speak about parties in the Gospels.  Christians are to be party-givers that reach out to others and invite all to their party.

So Christians are to remember to celebrate – that is what it means to be a party-goer.  They are to reach out to others, especially to the poor and the excluded – that is what it means to be a party-giver.  Remember, ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  And it is the kingdom of God to which all our parties point.  Jesus, as he speaks to his host, reminds him of ‘the resurrection of the righteous’.  All our parties are but pale reminders of the great party that will be the kingdom of God.  That is why we can celebrate, even in the midst of pain and suffering we celebrate because God’s kingdom is coming.  That is why we reach out, because God’s party is open to all, and especially to the poor and the excluded.  ‘Parties and thank yous make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  The kingdom of God is often described in the Bible as a party.  It is because of this, that our parties need to be celebrations and need to reach out to all.

Jesus liked parties.  Jesus got into trouble for partying at the wrong time with the wrong sort of people.  And that is why the church gets into trouble for throwing too many loud parties for the wrong sort of people.  No?  We have forgotten that the church is a party, not a political party, but a party with music and singing and dancing, with food and drink, and lots of it.  What we do today is a party, with music and singing (if not dancing), with food and drink (if not too much).  It recalls the party Jesus had with his disciples on the night before he died.  It also recalls all the other parties that Jesus has with his disciples, with his enemies and with the disreputable.  Our doors should be open wide, inviting in all the disreputable folk of Wingerworth and Derbyshire.  And we should celebrate, celebrate all that we are, all that we have been given, and all that God has done for us.  Let us get the reputation for being good party-goers and good party-givers.  After all, ‘Parties and ‘thank you’s make the world a better place and more like the kingdom of God’.  Amen.

Given at All Saints', Wingerworth.  1.9.13

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