Matthew 22:1-14 Reflection by Anne Stewart
Recently I received an email inviting Martin and I to join a few other invited guests to a meal celebrating the people in The Village who had birthdays in October. We get these invitations every month.  By my calculation that makes twelve birthdays a year, each – so we must be very, very old by now!  We love these occasions, some are big, others are smaller, but the chance to sit round a table with a bunch of you and enjoy one another’s company and some fine food is always wonderful.

This month the invitation came from Jenny and Trevor Agnew. This is the second one we have been to that these two have hosted.  They put great thought and imagination into them and this year the theme was all things Italian.  We were invited to wear the colours of the flag – does anyone know what they are?  (red, white and green).  We produced food with an Italian flavour, which was awesome.  And Trevor had organised a game.  We each had a piece of paper with an Italian word, or few words – they seem to need a few to say very little – that made up a common saying.  On the paper there was also the literal translation in English and then what the saying meant.  We each read or tried to read the Italian and the rest tried to work out what the translation might be.  When it just got too hard or silly we were told the English literal translation, then we had to work out what the saying might be in our language.  I recall one that translated into ‘have a nail in your head’ – which to us means – you have lost your mind.  It was a lot of fun.  But because I had the reading from Matthew’s gospel in my head, the whole evening got me thinking.

 The parable tells us how it is with the kingdom of God, and gives us an insight into what the kingdom of God among us, and coming to us, is like. God is like a king who offers us everything we need to live life fully.  And sadly the world is full of people who say ‘no thanks’!  People who think they can do it on their own.  But because God is not like us, God doesn’t say well blow you, instead, God simply opens the invitation wider and wider until there is room for everyone. Then God tells the people to look beyond those they thought might come.  Invite them all, God says, bring the good and the bad, the rich, the poor, those like us and those not like us, there is room in my place for them all.

Did you notice that not once did God put any restrictions on who could come or who could not? There were no tests to pass, no barriers of any kind, no entry fee, no dress code, and no time limits – just the call to come and join the party.  How often have we heard that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love, nothing that can stop us from entering the party?  Yet, how hard do we often make it, knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, for others to join the party?

The openness and extraordinary scope of God’s invitation to us is something we constantly need to be reminded of.  There are signs everywhere of how much we struggle to fully ‘get it’.  We think we are here at worship because we choose to be here, often forgetting the prompt and nudges that God uses to invite us into this community of faith.  Occasionally (not that often) Martin and I fantasise about what else we could be doing on a Sunday morning, yet we know all too well the pull we feel to be back among God’s people in this place, we know the peace that comes from being here among you all each week and throughout the week. What would we do though, if no one came to something we had worked hard to make possible?  Would we give up in disgust or would we simply throw our arms open even wider?  Isn’t our task to be wide and generous?  Throwing our arms open even wider may mean we turn and change our direction, or we move from the place we stand to another.  But what it doesn’t mean is that we stand where we are, or have always been and moan because no one wants to be part of what we are doing in this way right now.  As the parable points out it takes a willingness to step outside our boundaries, and even find ourselves going to places we wouldn’t normally go.

Today, our Annual Meeting day, we celebrate and give thanks for the year that has been. We stop for a moment and think about what we do and why we do it.  It’s not to be better than our neighbours, or to have a bigger roll, or to maintain our survival.  We do these things because we have heard Jesus call us by name, we have followed and we are learning to open our arms wider and wider.

Here’s what some of you do in response to hearing your name being called:

You take time each week or fortnight to visit those who can’t get to us so easily anymore. You remind them that they are still a valued part of God’s family.  You open their worlds each time you take who you are into their ever-shrinking worlds.  You bring the light of the world and you in turn find where the light is already shining on those who have allowed themselves to be drawn into God’s wide open arms.

You visit and offer pastoral care to a list of others in our church family for whom you are their point of contact and ‘special’ family friend. I can’t overstate how important those relationships are when they are well attended to.

You bring music and play to young parents and their children. Teaching them that God’s party they are invited to, is fun and that God loves all of us – by that I mean, our minds, our hearts, our souls AND our bodies.  You show them a community of faith that values its young for who they are as they are, and that the people there know them by name – making them special.

You teach children after school, in school and early on Sunday mornings, about this God who has wide enough arms to hold all of them. You tell them about a God who knows them by name and loves them for who they are.

You invite people to know God and to express what they know in the business of being creative. You open their worlds with the possibility of what they can create and of how they can set free the creativity within.  You help them to know this God who continues to create and make new even when if we might be tempted to feel old and of little use.

You give generously of your time and your money to help spread the message of God’s wide open arms. You make decisions about how best to use what has been given and you are wise stewards of our provision.  You ensure our surroundings are hospitable and welcoming.

You enable contact and play through the various bowls groups, badminton, Zumba, and soon to be, table tennis. The chatter and banter that goes alongside these activities grows community and connectedness that we all need to live fully and well.

You cook and bake and host and wash up afterwards. You give food and things that people need to those who are struggling.  You appear before you are asked to open buildings, and set up chairs or whatever is needed for various activities.  You invite people into your homes and into our church homes and you feed them and make time for them.  You open your worlds to those around you which takes our relationships deeper and closer.  You are hospitable and you receive the hospitality of others – both equally important!

You bathe feet, cut toenails, massage and you talk to people as you go about this work. Those who come to you make themselves vulnerable by removing their socks and shoes and handing over the care of their feet to others and you honour them by the care and attention you give the feet and more importantly the person attached to them – despite the state of the feet being attended to.

You unpack, wash, iron and display clothes and open the doors to the community to come and find what they need at an affordable price. You prevent wastage and take recycling seriously.  You make the community welcome and create a safe environment where relationships can grow.

You meet together fortnightly to talk about social issues and to work together to find ways to act make the lives of others better. You care about God’s creation and our environment that is under threat and you want to change things.  You are passionate about caring for God’s party.

You gather together in various places and times to worship, to pray, to sing and to listen to God’s word and what it means in your lives. You provide music to move and engage us.  You lead our singing and lift our spirits.  This is not a passive thing, we are not here to be entertained – we are fed in order to grow, and develop in our faith life.  To know this God who has thrown his arms wide to draw us closer.

And in your families, work places and social groups you live out your faith in acts of loving and caring that others can see you are about something special.

This is why we do what we do… We are doing great things and we can do more. Why?  Because we hear Jesus calling us to live our faith, to join the party – every day, everywhere we are, in all we do.  We are there in that parable Jesus told – among the good and the bad that are drawn into God’s ever open arms.  We respond then to that call by joining with God to open our arms ever wider to anyone – those like us and those who are not like us.  All are welcome, all are loved.  The party is open for all.  And we are in the business of making invitations, of being invitational…