Many years ago, I had the privilege of officiating at a funeral for a woman named Emily. During the funeral we all heard a memorable eulogy.
The person who spoke the eulogy told us that Emily was somewhat famous for opening her home to people, without question. She was described as a person who was Agenerous to a fault.
Isn't it interesting how we describe generosity as a Afault?
Anyway, the eulogy continued; Emily's home was often called “the stopping place. Family and friends who journeyed from Saskatchewan to the promised land of BC, looking for work, would stop at Emily's place. They would stay at Emily's home for a day or two, if they were on their way to another destination. But, there were family and friends who would stay at AEmily's stopping place, until they got a job and were established in the community. When they had enough money to go out on their own, they would leave Emily's “stopping place."
It was not just family and friends who stopped at Emily's place, often times, those people would bring someone with them, THEIR family member or friend, someone who was a complete stranger to Emily.
But, according to the eulogy, there was never any problem; Emily took any and all people into her home, without question. Sometimes there were others who questioned the person or people that Emily was housing at any particular time, but NOT Emily. The door was always open, there was room at the dinner table, there was always a bed ready. Everyone who walked through the door was welcome and found acceptance, no matter who they were.
The eulogy was over, and next up was the sermon. So there I am, preaching at Emily’s funeral, talking about her welcome and her “stopping place.” Suddenly, during a pause in my preaching, a middle-aged man stood up and said, “Thank you, Emily.” And then, he sat down.
What do you think? What are the odds that the fellow who stood up and said thank you, was one of those that Emily housed? Probably pretty high.
I was struck by the fellow’s sincerity as he spoke and I thought, “This fellow really NEEDED to say ‘Thank you.’”
It was a simple “Thank you.” How wonderful.
A simple “thank you,” which stands in remarkable contrast to this Sunday’s gospel.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells his followers a story, a story of grace and acceptance. The followers of Jesus are struggling with whom they should invite to be a part of their group. But their arguments did not stop there.
Eventually some of them took the argument to another level, a religious level if you wish. Some wondered: AWho is acceptable in God's sight, and AWho is going to heaven? Some of the people who were following Jesus at the time, applied the same rules to these questions as they did to the questions they had confronted over who could follow Jesus. They reasoned that the only people who were going to go to heaven, were those who followed all the rules that their society had set up and there were hundreds and hundreds of rules that were on the books. Some people worked very hard at keeping all the rules.
Jesus reacted to them by telling this story.
A king sets up a wedding banquet and invites all the right people, the people with the proper birth certificate, the people with the money, the people who kept all the rules. THOSE people did not accept the king's invitation.
In fact, the reaction of those invited is pretty stark. Our gospel reading tells us, “But they made light of it.” They also killed the bearers of the invitations. But the phrase that caught my attention was, “they made light of it.”
THEY MADE LIGHT OF IT!
The invited guests took the banquet and the hospitality and the graciousness of the king, for granted and they essentially refused to say thank you.
Sure they had all kinds of reasons or excuses for not showing up to the banquet, but I wonder what would have happened if they had simply declined and said, “Thank you.”
A simple thank you would have been fine, because I suggest that the king in the parable, EXPECTED a thank you.
Does that seem odd?
How do feel about being thanked? Do YOU expect a thank you? I think most of us are quite happy to SAY “thank you,” to someone, but to RECEIVE a thank you is not as easy.
I think a lot of people approach a “thank you” in a similar fashion.
Friday night we had a wedding in the church and after the wedding, a reception in the fellowship hall. It was a wonderful reception; the hall was beautifully decorated; lots of imagination, planning and work went into the decorations. The same could also be said of the food; wonderful finger foods, superbly and professionally prepared and presented.
During the reception, the bride and groom were thanking all those who had contributed to the wedding and the reception. As they NAMED those whom they were thanking, those who were being thanked, had reactions to which most of us could related.
You could hear and see responses like, “Oh, you don’t have to thank me,” or “It was nothing,” or “No big deal, happy to help.”
I am sure those people being thanked did not EXPECT to be thanked. You could see in their humble and somewhat bashful responses that they did not EXPECT to be thanked. I think most people are like that; we don’t EXPECT to be thanked.
However, I would suggest to you that the king in the parable told by Jesus, EXPECTED to be thanked. The king in the parable of the banquet expected to be thanked and I think that can be seen in his reaction; his reaction was swift and brutal.
Now, did he expect to be thanked BECAUSE he was the king?
Maybe, but I would suggest that such an expectation was also prevalent in the culture of the day. Such a culture and expectation may seem odd, but I have experienced such an expectation.
Ten years ago I was in Tanzania, Africa for 7 weeks during a 3 month sabbatical. During most days of the week, I was invited to the home of a parishioner for a lunch or dinner. Each of these occasions featured speeches, several speeches.
Before the lunch or dinner, the host would get up and make a speech and thank me for honouring him and his family, by accepting the invitation for lunch.
After dinner I was EXPECTED to stand up and make a speech, thanking the head of the household for inviting me and thanking his wife for a wonderful meal.
The thank you was EXPECTED and I was always coached by the host pastor on when to convey my thank you and how to convey it. The host pastor would translate from English to Swahili for the benefit of the host.
Every time I spoke my thank you, the host smiled and nodded his approval.
Why were the hosts expecting a thank you? Were they a little self-absorbed or presumptuous? No, the thank you was a sign of RESPECT. Throughout that whole culture in northern Tanzania, showing RESPECT was paramount and a thank you was one of the ways of showing respect.
A thank you was a sign of respect for the king in the parable; making light of his invitation was seen as a LACK of respect. Of course, the king in the parable is a fictional character, but Jesus uses that fictional character to describe God.
The parable is ABOUT God. Jesus notes the gracious manner of God, the open banquet table which is wonderful, but Jesus does add that there is a desire on God’s part to HEAR a thank you.
God is NOT like us. While WE might give it the “aw shucks” routine, God EXPECTS to hear “thank you.” God WANTS our thank you, our praise, our worship. As we thank God, praise and worship God, our relationship deepens with God. An appreciation of God, of all that God has created, grows within us. And often, as we appreciate God, our relationships with other people develop as well. A desire to share in the bounty, open up the table, is a product of our thanks and praise.
I saw a wonderful example of this on the news yesterday. A news item featured a family that was part of a program encouraged by Immigration Canada, inviting people to share Thanksgiving dinner with recent immigrants to Canada. The family was inviting 21 people to their table for Thanksgiving dinner. This involved 2 large turkeys and the next door neighbour’s oven.
The host family was excited; after all they said, it’s Thanksgiving, a wonderful time to share. One of the immigrant families was from Columbia and when interviewed they were extremely grateful for the opportunity to come to this country and the opportunity to take part in their first Thanksgiving dinner here.
What a wonderful way to thank God.
This is Thanksgiving Sunday and the gospel reading seems to suggest a lack of thankfulness and respect, with a desire to hear a thank you. A gracious God provides a wonderful banquet if you will and invites all to share in that banquet, from the food on our tables, to the grace, love and mercy coming from the meal at the altar. But God does not want to see ingratitude, or see us taking God for granted.
God expects a thank you; it is a sign of respect for God in light of all that God has given. Today we recognize the author of life and all that is good and we certainly don’t make light of it.
Thanks be to God!