August 20, 2018

“Surprise”

My wife Jessica’s birthday was approaching and it was my job to get her to a surprise party in her honor. It’s no small feat to come up with a cover story that makes you forget turning thirty. Friends of ours had just moved into a brand-new house, and the story I went with, to lower suspicion, was their house-warming party. That would explain why familiar cars would be parked in front of the house. No one would need to hide their vehicle—perfect!

What I did not consider was bringing a gift as part of my cover story. I could have wrapped anything and brought it to “sell” the story…but I didn’t. Little did I know, this error would nearly be the demise of my plan. I should have anticipated this would be an issue; Jessica has a healthy awareness of social graces. So, we sat in front of the “house-warming” and she refused to go in. We didn’t have a gift, and she was certainly not attending empty-handed! That was made clear…very clear. I would be drastically understating the facts to say, “emotions ran high.” It took an extra fifteen minutes and every bit of persuasion I had to get her into the party! But in the end, we all yelled, “surprise,” ate cake, and celebrated together.

In Luke chapter 14:16-18 we find Jesus attending a party at a prominent religious leader’s house. While attending this party, He launched into a story about another dinner party:

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses.”

 This was to be the party of the year and anyone who was anyone would be there! But we read of would-be guests who unanimously blow off this massive party with terrible excuses. It’s like someone offering you Super Bowl tickets and you decline because you are getting your oil changed that day.

Then, there is an unexpected twist in the story, one that Jesus’ listeners wouldn’t have seen coming. The person in His story, hosting this elaborate party, invites the marginalized, hurting, and exploited to eat at this incredible table. Jesus uses this story to teach that ALL are invited to sit at “God’s table,” even and especially those who have been overlooked and despised.

 And even then we read in verses 22-23, “there is still room.”

 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

 The religious leaders Jesus told this story to wanted a measured, self-serving, calculated, and predictable life. But Jesus had entirely something else in mind.

Have I ever fallen into the trap of demanding a measured, predictable life? Have you?

 How do I know Jesus invites all to sit at His table? He invited me to the banquet. He invited the sometimes cynical, loud, insensitive, and broken me. And He invited you also! But it is not just for us. Let’s do the hard, beautiful work of helping to create a community of Christ-followers that compels more people to follow Jesus. He has placed people in our everyday lives so we can help them enter into His family, find belonging, and experience the endless love of our Heavenly Father. And that, in His grace, is the great “surprise.”

———————-

Brian Werner serves as an associate pastor at Cornerstone. He and his wife, Jessica, and their two boys, Ethan and Austin, just transplanted from the Midwest to the valley and look forward to not having to shovel snow this winter.


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