I’m sure there are other important things going on in the world today, but I imagine only a few of them can match the significance, the sheer gravitas of this day at Wapping Community Church. Yes, the long awaited, much anticipated event has finally arrived. Today is Cow Chip Raffle Sunday…
Never in the history of Wapping Community Church has a group of people worked so hard and spent so much time and energy trying to predict the psychology and the physiology of a cow. And I never would have guessed before today that by watching a cow meander its way across a grid of grassy squares, trying to influence the cow’s behavior as though the cow cares for one second what I want it to do, I would be able to cross something off my bucket list.
I hope many of you make your way over to Foster Farm this afternoon. Grab some lunch while you’re there. Play a few games. Feel not even one ounce of guilt when you try to dump your pastor into the dunk tank. I think you’re going to have a good time. I also think it will be the kind of story you’ll tell your grandchildren someday. In fact, I bet they get such a kick out of the story you’ll be glad you didn’t miss it.
However, if you can’t make it over to Foster Farm this afternoon, don’t worry. We’re going to take lots of pictures and we’re going to film parts of the event. It’s one thing for me or someone who was there to give you the verbal highlights of this extravaganza after it’s over. But there are some things in life better captured in living color. In fact, if ever there was an event begging for a well edited YouTube video, today’s Cow Chip Raffle might be it…
Speaking of YouTube videos, if Jesus were to recount Luke’s parable of the great dinner in 2015, he might just film it, post it on the Internet, and check back periodically to see if it would go viral…
Consider a possible script for today’s Scripture lesson with me, starting with the setting. The one constant in the video would be the lavish banquet tableau, filmed in a cavernous ballroom and focused on a long mahogany table piled high with gourmet food and plentiful bottles of wine and champagne. Each place at the table is set with the finest china, solid silver eating utensils and gem studded goblets. With a huge crystal chandelier overhead illuminating every item on the table and more candelabras than you can imagine scattered throughout the room, polished so carefully you can see your own reflection.
In Luke’s version of today’s parable, Jesus sets the parameters of the banquet. And the formality of people’s rsvp’s gives you some sense of the magnificent event Jesus was describing. One wouldn’t respond with the words “I pray that you have me excused,” if this were your average church potluck.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right at the outset of this YouTube video a few credits would roll. Along with the title in gold letters and a bold and glamourous font. “The Unforgettable Dinner Party.” Followed by the opening scene. A woman and a man in the courtyard of a grand mansion. Surrounded by lush gardens with fountains bubbling over in sequence and the relaxing sound of waterfalls in the background, the two of them sit side by side in their wicker chairs making plans.
From time to time, a butler appears in the courtyard, ready to refresh their glasses of ice tea with a few more ice cubes or a fresh slice of lemon. Yet the more the camera focuses on the man and the woman, the more it becomes clear. There is nothing pretentious or pompous or arrogant about these two. The two of them appear to be warm, gracious, gentle. As first impressions go they appear to be filled with good, even honorable intentions.
As the couple sits and plans the banquet, they pass names along to the butler. And the butler in turn inscribes names on hand written invitations. “We cordially request the honor of your presence at our banquet. A limousine will pick you up at your home promptly at 6pm.” As the couple and the butler capture the banquet vision together, the to do list of last minute details quickly takes shape.
As soon as the invitations are properly engraved, the scene shifts from the courtyard of the mansion to the inside preparations. Mansion staff are busy washing the windows. Waxing the marble floors. Arranging freshly cut crimson roses in ornate vases.
Meanwhile over in the kitchen, master chefs create masterpieces. Roast quail and venison. Trays full of ripe fruits and wheels of cheese. Grilled vegetables on long skewers and homemade loaves of bread pulled out of the oven one after another, aromatizing the entire house. Not to mention cakes that would make the Cake Boss proud. Moist and light cakes stacked high on plates…swirled with chocolate ganache and covered with buttercream frosting and brightly colored floral accents.
This banquet has all the makings of legend. Until finally the day arrives and the preparations are done. The hostess makes her way down the spiral staircase in a burgundy gown highlighted by a diamond brooch. And the host greets her and takes her hand wearing a classic black tux with matching diamond cufflinks.
The two of them make their way to the mansion entrance in time to wave the limousines off to their destinations. And one by one, the convoy of stretch limousines heads through the gates and out into the countryside to pick up the guests.
At this point, the video zeroes in on the first limousine. It pulls up to a corporate building near Wall Street. And the limousine driver waits until a messenger comes out the revolving doors delivering word from the CEO. “I regret that I cannot attend…I’m in the middle of negotiating a big corporate merger and the deal can’t wait.”
So the limousine pulls away from the curb and sets off to a second destination. A large house in the suburbs with a well-manicured lawn in a quiet neighborhood. However, when the man comes out the door, he informs the driver, “I cannot attend the banquet for I’ve booked a week in my timeshare and I desperately need a week of vacation.”
A few neighborhoods away, the limo driver stops a third time. But he’s too late. As a young couple pulls out of the driveway, the bride leans out the window. “We wish we could attend the feast but we’re off on our once in a lifetime honeymoon.”
Soon thereafter, the video cuts back to the mansion. As each limo returns empty, the drivers tell the host and hostess the same story. They repeat the same excuses. They shrug their shoulders when asked for a reason. And they wait for further instructions.
But not one of them anticipates the next directive from the couple. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and the disabled and the homeless and the blind.” So once again, the convoy of stretch limousines heads out through the gates…setting off this time for the nearest city.
The same limo driver from earlier in the video drives this time past an overgrown park on the outskirts of the city and he sees two men sitting on a bench. Neither of them have shaved in days. They’re wearing frayed trench coats and tattered shoes on their feet. Their hands are dirty and little bits of food and coffee stains have collected in their beards.
Nevertheless the chauffeur stops and looks the two men in the eye. “Hop in…I’m taking you to a banquet.” The two of them roll their eyes and snicker and look away. Yet the driver will not be denied. And he jumps out of the driver seat so he can hold the door open. “Really…I’m not kidding.”
Next stop…a nearby alley where a young woman has just tucked her two kids to bed in the shelter of a large cardboard box. Understandably, she looks suspicious when the limo stops a few yards away. But one of the two men inside sticks his head out the window and reassures her in a familiar voice. “We’re going to an incredible banquet. Come on, bring your children and join us.” At which point there are five guests in the limousine.
A couple of miles later, the driver spots a young man in a wheelchair. The medal he wears around his neck is a badge of honor. And his two missing legs tell the story of how the medal was earned. “Come on…we’re going to a banquet.” And a couple of them help the man into the limo while the others make sure the wheelchair folds and fits into the trunk.
Their missions complete, the limousines return to the mansion filled with people. Ramps have been put out to make the mansion accessible to all. And as each guest gets out of their limo they’re greeted with drinks and appetizers.
One little girl is captivated by the diamond brooch the hostess is wearing. So the hostess takes it off and pins it to the little girl’s shirt. Not far away, one of the men compliments the host on his tuxedo. So the host takes off his jacket and puts it around his guest’s shoulders.
The parade of arrivals coming in to the mansion seems as though it never ends. But there is always room at the table for one more. Each guest takes their seat and they look around at their neighbors to make sure it’s not some kind of a joke. Trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, though, they get over their awkwardness and begin filling their plates and their goblets. And soon enough it feels like a real dinner party. People laughing and telling stories. People sharing jokes and tears.
When the meal is over, some get up to dance. And some remain at the table for a second helping of cake. But with the help of the light from the crystal chandelier and the mirrored reflections of the candelabra showing smiles on happy faces, the final scene does justice to the title of the video. For everyone in attendance it is an unforgettable dinner party…
Actually, it’s God’s unforgettable dinner party. Amen.