On Sunday September 1st our minister Trevor Dixon led our communion service at Wesley Chapel. We again used the Iona service which I think is more inclusive and challenging. We began worship as we sang, ‘With gladness we worship, rejoice as we sing.’ The words of the confession express so clearly the way we let God down; ‘We walk away from neighbours in need, wrapped up in our own concerns. We have gone along with evil, with prejudice, warfare and greed. God our Father, help us to face up to ourselves……’ Before the readings the invocation included these words; ‘O God, tell us what we need to hear…..’ and we sang ‘Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord. Our first reading was from the Old Testament in Proverbs 25v6-7 and first one from the New Testament was Hebrews 13v1-8, and 15-16. We then sang ‘Come down O love divine’ before the gospel reading taken from Luke 14v1-24.
Trevor began his sermon referring to his favourite soap (the Archers I think Kenton and Jolene), as 2 people are organising a wedding in a stately home but there is no room for all their friends, so arguments are ensuing about who can come! What will we do if we do succeed in having the pews removed and replaced by chairs with the space, Trevor wondered? He described how fraught it was deciding on the seating plan at his daughter’s wedding, in relation of who was to sit next to who and at what distance from the top table; it makes me glad that Cathy and her fiancé Ken are making those decisions as it will be their day on February 7th next year as to who can come to the wedding and/or reception due to limited space.
Trevor did not think that Jesus said all these things at the same time, but Luke organised them in that way to emphasise his message. The first occasion warned against the presumption that the guests are entitled to the highest positions, lest they be asked to take a lower place when the host enters. Jesus on the other hand advocated humility choosing the lower position, as he did not want them to see themselves as more important than they are. If they chose the higher position someone more important might come and it would be shameful to be asked to move to a lower position. Others should decide on their entitlement.
In the second illustration Jesus challenged the presumption of inviting guests in the expectation that they would invite us back. Jesus turned that assumption upside down and advocated the generosity of inviting those who were not likely to return the favour. If we only offer hospitality to those who can invite us in return, that is not true generosity.
The final parable is about the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven and those invited had accepted the invitation at first, but when the feast was ready, offered excuses about not being able to come. After all who would buy a field without first looking at it or a yoke of oxen without trying it out, or enter into a marriage contract without being absolutely sure it was the right thing to do? These people felt that their possessions were more important than the invitations they had already accepted earlier. Only those who had no concern about their own position would come to the feast; those outsiders, who would normally not be included, as they could not return the favour. Jesus tried to free them from all that stopped them accepting God’s generosity. Trevor asks us whether we are prepared to leave our possessions or activities, if asked, to respond to God’s generosity. Are we prepared to give up the seat of honour or face the embarrassment of being asked to take a lower place? Are we concerned with inviting only those right people to a celebration so that we can be invited back? Trevor says that it is not a true celebration if we only invite those who can reciprocate, nor if we seek the best seat for ourselves.
He reminded us of the words of the prayer of humble access before receiving communion; ‘We do not presume to come to this thy table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to pick up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy….’ Trevor feels it is not our right to do so, so we should not presume but recognise that we come as God has mercy on us and welcomes us to God’s feast in communion and asks us to be prepared to party together.
We then affirmed our faith in Jesus as we said the creed. As before, we were all asked to choose a prayer from the intercessions to pray, so we were all included and I found that I concentrated more on each request. We shared the peace amongst members of the congregation and sang the offertory hymn, ‘Jesus invites his saints.’ The first verse said it all:
‘Jesus invites his saints, to meet around his board; here pardoned sinners sit and hold, communion with our Lord.’
We received communion and sang the closing hymn, ‘Now let us from the table rise.’ I will conclude this worshipful service with the words of the final dismissal. ‘God, our loving parent, as we leave this place of peace, this space where we sought to encounter you, we know we don’t go alone; you are with us, before us, behind us, above and below us. We ask that in whatever comes our way, today and in the week, you will give us the resources to be ourselves, to respond in your name to others. Help us as we seek to enable others to find you in the world, to go gently through the world and live in your purposes. Amen.’