What would you do if you gave a party, and no one came? Jesus told a parable about a king who gave a party in honor of his son's marriage, but no one came! What would you do? Some years ago, a newly wealthy couple moved into a beautiful mansion in an exclusive section of Newport, Rhode Island, where the leaders of society lived. They planned a gala housewarming party, and issued invitations to all the names on the social register. But, because they were newcomers, the invitations were ignored and no one came to the party. The wife was so humiliated, she closed up the house, said, "This house will rot before I open it again to anyone," and moved to New York City. The husband died a few years later, and for the final 25 years of her life, she lived as a recluse in a hotel, seen by no one except servants. The king in Jesus' parable was also humiliated because no one came, but rather than withdrawing into himself and becoming a recluse, he told his servants to go and invite the street people!
This is a parable about a party. A party is the analogy Jesus most often used to describe the kingdom of God. A party is what heaven is like. A party is what the church is like! Does that image quite fit your understanding of the church? Insofar as we have allowed the church to be anything other than a joyful, happy, celebrating fellowship, we have done the church an injustice. We have failed to live up to the expectations of Jesus for his people. In other words, relationship with God, in community with other people who are likewise in relationship with God, is like a party!
When Maria Theresa ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the court was the scene of luxury and wealth. At the wedding of her oldest son, Joseph II, 300 people were invited to the wedding; not to eat, but just to stand and watch the royal family eat. And that was considered a great honor! You and I are not invited just to stand and watch. We are participants, invited to God's party as full-fledged guests. It might have been an honor to watch Maria Theresa eat, but it is much more fun to be eating and partying than it is to watch. It is an honor to be invited to God's feast, and you are invited!
You are invited, because when God throws a party, when God invites folks into the church, everyone is invited. Who is welcome? Everyone. The king told the servants to go out and invite everyone. Go to the streets. Everyone is welcome, even the unwelcome! In Jesus' parable, v. 10, Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. One guest was thrown out because he was unprepared, he wore his old clothes instead of a wedding garment!. Many are called, but few are chosen, Jesus concluded. But, the king did the judging, not the guests.
Our role is not to judge, but to invite. Everyone is welcome--weeds, warts and all! God will do the judging. We are not called to define righteous or unrighteous, worthy or unworthy. We welcome people of all colors, all life styles, all sexual orientations. We welcome people wherever they are in their sorrows or their joys, in their failures or their successes. We do not lay trips on people, expecting them somehow to live up to our expectations. Most people have enough trouble living up to their own expectations! And everyone includes children and youth. Children and youth are most welcome in church, including the worship service. The party is an adult party without children, and many adult parties need alcohol before they begin to sizzle with energy. When children are present, like in a family camp or our church retreat, energy is present without alcohol!
When God throws a party, everyone is invited, and accepted on his/her terms. I wonder how God feels when he gives a party, and no one comes! In an average church on an average Sunday only 1/3 of the members are present. The king was angry, the humiliated Rhode Island woman became a recluse. I wonder how God feels. Y'all come!
Perhaps one reason why some people are absent is they are uncomfortable in our worship service. Some people are uncomfortable in groups. On the other hand, some people need groups. Researchers tell us there are three levels of involvement: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group. Each of us feels most comfortable with one of these three levels. As I describe each of these groups, ask yourself which type of involvement best describes you. I will ask you to raise your hand later.
The first level of involvement is the intrapersonal level. These persons have a strong sense of autonomy. They do not need a group for their own sense of well-being. They prefer and need time and space for themselves. They derive their energy primarily from themselves. They prefer parties where they can choose to participate or not to participate. They do not like to be pressured, harassed, or forced into having fun. They prefer a worship service that gives them space and allows them to be reflective. They are quite content to walk in, participate in the service, and leave without being greeted. They want it quiet during the Prelude so they can reflect and pray. They like the sermon when it challenges their intellect, or causes them to really look at their lives. They like to hear the choir, but they prefer to have the choir sit in the balcony where the choir is less distracting. They like a formal worship service with lots of liturgy, so they can do their own personal worshiping.
The second level of involvement is the interpersonal level. These persons are rooted in connections with others. They want to be connected, and need to be connected with others. They are conscious of other persons and their needs, and they seek to form relationships with them. They derive their energy primarily from relationships with other people. They prefer parties where they have the opportunity to get acquainted with other people . When they come to a worship service, they like to be greeted; but they want the greeting to be more than "Good morning". They want to get better acquainted with the greeters, and begin to build a relationship. They enjoy making and meeting friends. They like to talk during the Prelude to catch up on what has been happening. They like the sermon when it has lots of stories about people. They like an informal worship service with singable and familiar hymns. They like to see the choir. They prefer to have the choir visible, rather than stuck back behind the lectern and pulpit, so they might connect
with the choir and feel like they and the choir are part of the service.
The third level of involvement is the group level. These persons identify themselves in relation to a group's identity. They find their meaning and enjoyment in a group. They derive their energy primarily from the group. (Those in the intrapersonal level derive energy from themselves. Those in the interpersonal level derive energy from relationships with other people. Those in the group level derive energy from a group.) They enjoy being part of a group, and they will work diligently for the success of the group. When they go to parties, they like the middle of the floor, so they can talk to everyone, and not miss any of the action. When they come to worship, they don't worry about the Prelude, whether it is quiet or not, because they are still in the narthex or in the Fireside Room talking. The best part of the worship service for them is the Coffee Hour after the service. In fact, for them the worship of God begins and ends in fellowship with others. They like music that unites the congregation, music that creates a sense of community. For them a choir is not necessary, as they like to do all the singing themselves. They put up with the sermon, and like it better when it includes jokes; but they really prefer a service where the pews are removed so they might sit around in circles and share!
Which is your level of involvement? (Please raise hands) How would you like to plan a worship service where each group feels comfortable? Perhaps we should have three services on a Sunday morning: one that is formal with little group interaction, one that is informal with lots of singing and interaction, and one that is group centered where people share in circles! Hopefully, our services are varied enough so you can feel comfortable, and want to participate. Hopefully, you will become aware and tolerant of persons on the other two levels.
Will you make a covenant with God to worship regularly? Will you go out of your way to welcome others and help them feel comfortable on their level? Some people don't want to be overly welcomed, others want to be hugged. A successful worship service depends a great deal on you, not just the preacher, choir, and organist. Sometimes old-timers unintentionally make it difficult for a visitor to participate. Try to remember what it was like when you moved into a new neighborhood, or went to a party where you knew no one, and everyone else seemed to be acquainted. Remember the first time you went to a church. Be sensitive to the needs of new people. Help them find the nursery. Help them follow the bulletin. Open the hymnal to the first hymn and hand it to them. Take them to the coffee hour with you. How can anyone here for the first time possibly find the Social Hall?
If you are a visitor here this morning, I hope you feel comfortable with us. We do want to help lessen the anxiety of entry. I'm glad you are here. We do want our church to grow. We want everyone to come to God's party.
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris