“Dinner’s Ready!” Man, did I love hearing those two words when I was a kid. My Mom is a great cook, and I loved dinner time. Most of the time I would drop everything to get to the table. There were times, however when I might not answer the call right away. There were two main questions that determined my reaction time: What was I doing at the time? What was for dinner?
There were times when I’d be playing a game on the computer, and I just needed to finish one more level. There were times I was watching TV, and just wanted to wait until the commercial. There were times my buddies and I were playing basketball in the yard, and we just had to finish this game.
If dinner was spaghetti, it didn’t really matter what I was doing. I don’t think I ever had to be called twice to come for spaghetti. Whenever Mom made spaghetti the aroma would fill the entire house. It took several hours to cook, creating a crescendo of anticipation as I waited for the moment I could twirl that first forkful of garlic bliss. On those days, “Dinner’s Ready!” were my two favorite words, and there was no delay.
There was one thing however, that I did not like to eat as a kid. I need to try it again because my pallet has probably matured, but when I was a kid there was nothing worse than navy bean soup. I’m sure my Mom made great navy bean soup. It just wasn’t my favorite. For me, navy bean soup meant one bowl doused in ketchup, and then peanut butter and jelly. When I knew that navy bean soup was coming, “Dinner’s Ready!” was not exactly a clarion call.
Now that I’m an adult, “Dinner’s Ready” remains two of my favorite words. Now I’m usually the one calling out to my family. It is no longer so much the quality of the food that gets me excited about calling out “Dinner’s Ready!” I get excited because I know that shortly after saying those two words, the most important people in my world are going to be coming. Shortly after calling out “Dinner’s Ready!” I will hear the toys being put away (or dropped randomly). I will hear the distinct pitter-patter of my 18 month old daughter, and the much louder stomps of my 5-year-old daughter running into the kitchen. I know that soon the four of us will sit down together and eat. We will pray together. We will talk about our day. We will tell jokes. We will correct the baby when she throws her cup. We will pick up spills. We will be nourished in mind, body and soul, and we will be drawn a little closer together. There are few things I enjoy more than sitting around the table with the people I love most in the world.
Today – right now – God is calling out to all of us, “Dinner’s Ready!” God wants desperately for us to come to the table, sit down and enjoy the feast. God yearns for a chance to draw us closer together – all of us. God wants us to laugh, talk, cry, pray, correct each other when needed, forgive each other when needed, and love each other always. God invites all to the table, but not everyone will come.
Jesus tells a story in the Gospel of Luke about the great banquet.
Jesus replied, “ A certain man hosted a large dinner and invited many people. When it was time for the dinner to begin, he sent his servant to tell the invited guests, ‘Come! The dinner is now ready.’ One by one, they all began to make excuses. The first one told him, ‘I bought a farm and must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen, and I’m going to check on them. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ When he returned, the servant reported these excuses to his master. The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.’ The servant said, ‘Master, your instructions have been followed and there is still room.’ The master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” (Luke 14:16-24, Common English Bible)
This story tells us a lot about God and how desperate God is to have the table full. If we are honest with ourselves, it tells us a lot about us too. God is willing to go to any length to fill the table with God’s children. The banquet has been prepared, all God needs now is guests. When we deny the invitation, God might be frustrated, but God will keep sending servants to find someone to come.
We all deny God’s call at some point. I know that God has called me to the feast over and over again. There are times when I have responded, and I have tasted grace. I have tasted forgiveness. I have tasted reconciliation. I know what it is like to take a seat at the gospel feast and feel the love of God. I have had a taste of the power of the Holy Spirit. I also know that there are too many times when I have ignored the invitation.
I have come up with my list of excuses. Like a child not wanting to come have bean soup, I have decided I’d rather play another inning of wiffleball, or solve another Carmen San Diego case. I’ve used lots of excuses to ignore God’s call. Like the excuses of the men in Jesus’s parable, they all seemed legitimate at the time, but they were all empty. Who would buy a field or a yoke of oxen sight unseen? These two excuses are probably just outright lies. And a marriage? How does getting married prevent anyone from going to a banquet? The excuses seem good on the surface, yet a closer look at them reveal just how shallow they are.
Aren’t most of our excuses? What are the reasons we tell ourselves we cannot answer God? We lack the time. We lack the training or talent. We think someone else can do it. How many excuses do we come up with, but all of them are foolish. I mean, we’re not talking about an invitation to choke down some liver and onions. We’re invited to the greatest banquet that has ever been spread. God is calling to you, “Dinner’s Ready!”
Maybe you’re invited to your first taste at the table. You are invited. You are invited even if you are blind, lame, sick, hurting, broken, shattered, worried, fearful, or poor. If you are human, you are invited. Maybe you’ve been to the table before, and God is calling you for more. Maybe God is calling you for greater service, deeper Bible study, healthier living, fuller prayer, or more passionate worship.
Wherever you are on the path of life, whatever you’ve done, no matter who you are, you are invited. The banquet is ready – and it is ready now. It’s not ready in some distant and unreachable future. It’s not ready by and by when we all go to heaven. It’s ready now. God is ready now. The dinner is ready. Come and get it.
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This blog post is a condensed form of a sermon I preached at Riverside United Methodist Church on February 26, 2012. If you are interested in CD with the entire worship service, please let me know in the comments, and I will contact you in private email about mailing information.