Psalm 34: 9-14
Army Major General Leonard Wood, who served during WWI, once visited the King of France and the King was so pleased with him, he was invited for dinner the next day. Major General Wood went to the palace and the King, meeting him in one of the halls, said, “Why, Major General, I did not expect to see you. How is it that you are here?”
“Did not your majesty invite me to dine with you?” said the astonished guest.
“Yes,” replied the King, “but you did not answer my invitation.”
Then it was that the major general uttered one of the choicest sentences of his life. He replied, “A king’s invitation is never to be answered, but to be obeyed.
An invitation often carries with it a bit of honor, acceptance, and trust. Think of the invitations you have received in your life. Of course, you were invited to birthday parties and school parties of one type and another, but then perhaps, you were invited, later in your life, to be part of a group that you’d wanted to belong to…a special sports team, or a select choir, or to be a cast member in a play production. How honored and accepted you may have felt. And on the other side of it, I’m sure you can remember the times you weren’t invited because that may have hurt you. The group you wished you wanted to belong to, and the work you had wanted to be part of, didn’t invite you. That must have hurt, for you remember it all these years later.
Invitations make us feel special. Later in life you may have invited someone special on a date – or you were the invitee, or your neighbor invited you out to lunch, or you were invited to apply for a great job with higher esteem, or you may have been invited out as a client to hear a promotion, to peruse a job site because of your special abilities or knowledge, or maybe to consider another position. An invitation tells us that you are the special one who can do this – that you belong here in this place.
Personal invitation, they say, is the best way of including someone. An invitation, made in person, says I think you belong here, or I think you can do this task better than anyone. What a blessing, I think, it is to invite someone to join us at church, to experience what a wonderful, loving, and accepting congregation is here at St. Stephen’s in Oak Harbor.
Invitations are heard in both OT and Gospel lessons today. Remembering that invitations carry honor, trust, and acceptance, and that they make us feel special, to what are you and I invited in these invitations?
Proverbs, a collection of sayings about Wisdom, was shaped by the sages in the schools of court, the temple, and in the cities of ancient Israel and early Judaism. An invitation from Wisdom, who is personified here, was to be invited into the essentials of Jewish life, essentials that had to be transmitted, taught, and incorporated into the lives of both individual persons and the community. Wisdom, a feminine presence, beckons. She calls to the simple and those without sense. She beckons to those who do not have what she offers…, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” It is a winsome invitation to the young, or to those without wisdom, in order that we may choose the way of God. The inviter, “Wisdom”, is, I think, not unlike a grandmother who keeps her house in order and summons all to a sumptuous feast that is familiar and welcoming to her young ones. Who would not want to attend this feast? She knows well the individual likes and dislikes of her grandchildren and can direct the attention of the youth to that which is most suitable for the building of faith and character, and ultimately, Wisdom offers the unconditional love of God. Her children, her grandchildren, are invited into the way that she herself has come to know.
Just think for a moment about your grandmother, if you have the blessings of fond memories here. Perhaps her home was a special place to you as a youngster, or, is, if you are a youngster now. Grandmothers prepare special foods – warm cookies, your favorite meal, a comfortable and familiar place to rest, rules that may be “bent” and never anything that her grandchildren don’t like. At my mother’s house, my children’s grandmother, it was roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding with warm rich gravy for special meals, and lots of games, especially Cribbage, and many family stories, and punning and laughter. My children, her grandchildren, live today with warm memories of these family gatherings and meals like that at Gram’s house. My children came to know many of the ways of our family in those times at Gram’s, and they helped to set a tradition in our family. What is your image of such a place where the same warmth, familiarity, superb food, and unconditional love, offered by God, is available and offered to you? This is the home of Wisdom, and to it you are invited, will be made comfortable, fed, and can then come to know the way of wisdom for your life.
Jesus follows a similar pattern as he prepares a household and a feast to welcome those who would come to him. The feast to which Jesus invites us is similar to the one to which Wisdom has invited us. It is an invitation to relationship, to further awareness of God’s love – and a call to live in that love.
You may have noticed that Jesus has been rather repetitious during the last month or so of Gospel readings from the Gospel of John. His repeated reference to himself as bread has been hard to miss. And you’ll hear it again next week too. Listen to the words from this morning’s gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” And “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” You may also have noticed that the language (and the Greek verb here for eat, the verb is phago…which means something closer to gnaw or chomp or masticate) contains words that are hard to miss, words like “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life….” Those words are rather alarming, when you think of it, because they sound rather – well, cannibalistic. Jesus asks us to consume him…
These words and images would have been scandalous to a keeper of Judaic Food Laws in the time of Jesus. Those laws would have strictly forbidden the eating of the flesh of a live being or the drinking of blood of a slaughtered animal. To a Jew of the first century, Jesus’ words must have been shocking. But, Jesus repeats that he is the bread of life and that we must feast on his body.
It is important to note also, that this is not a reference to the Eucharist, for Jesus would have said these words before the events of, and the establishment of, the Last Supper. When Jesus invites us to eat the bread of life, and does it repetitiously…we must determine what was he saying. How do we understand that? What effect will it have on us?
Jesus was talking about taking him into our bodies and minds and souls and life in the same way that we consume food. William Willimon, respected theologian and Methodist bishop, said this about these words from John’s gospel, “Ah, wouldn’t the Christian faith be easier if it were a matter of mere belief or intellectual assent! No, today’s rather scandalously carnal, incarnational gospel reminds us that Jesus intends to have all of us, body and soul. His truth wants to burrow deep within us, to consume us as we consume him, to flow through our veins, to be digested, to nourish every nook and cranny of our being….This God [in Jesus the Christ] is so scandalously, intimately available to us. Whoever knows this knows how to live forever.” Jesus invites us to consume him, and to consume him so that our lives reveal that we have taken him into every cell of our bodies. This is not a “holy club” to which we are invited, no, this is about the very essence of who we are and how we live in the world. This invitation is hard to avoid, because Jesus keeps calling.
A Canadian movie entitled simply The Gospel of John exists, I read this week. It travels through the fourth gospel, word for word, start to finish, and takes about three hours – a bit long for a movie. Those who see it, either love it, OR, feel battered by its repetition. Because, in the words of one viewer that the article I read quotes, “Will Jesus ever shut up?”
Will Jesus ever shut up? Will Jesus ever quit inviting us to be in relationship with him? To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to work for just living conditions and livable wages and freedom from oppression? Will Jesus ever quit inviting us to live into this Jesus Movement? The answer is, in my mind, no. Jesus just does not relent. The bigger question is, like the story of the Major General, how will you and I respond to his invitation? After all, an invitation insists on a response, and for that we are thankful to God.