Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23)
I can tell I’m getting older. I feel things aching that didn’t used to ache. Above my ears, around the temples, the hair is grey. Move a little higher up and the hair is nearly gone.
I used to do things that my kids found amusing. Now they’re embarrassed. All of this bears witness to the relentless march of time and how that march leaves tracks on mind, body and soul.
Perhaps one of the most telling signs of age is that I am less prone to mock and ridicule certain elements of my upbringing. Mocking betrays immaturity. Those who bemoan or belittle how they were raised haven’t really grown up yet.
One such element of my religious upbringing and faith formation was the altar call. I’ve been guilty of a dismissive laugh when it comes to the altar call. I’ve seen it caricatured, seen it done badly, and maybe that has caused me some shame. The shame gave rise to the occasional expression of disdain.
The truth is that altar calls were an important part of my religious life. I’ve seen my Dad extend more of them than I can remember – always with pastoral sensitivity and genuine care for the people to whom he preached. Never coercive or manipulative. They were always called “invitations” in the churches of my youth. At one such invitation I made my own response to the truth of God’s love for me in Jesus Christ. Thank God for the altar call.
Mock as you wish, say what you will, the altar call or invitation embodies a bedrock truth, a truth at the heart of Jesus’ story of the great banquet: The party will not wait.
The story Jesus told pictures the Kingdom as a party or great banquet, but the emotional impact of the story is not frivolity. While there is certainly celebration in the Kingdom, this story isn’t meant to evoke effusive joy. This is a story about urgency. It’s time for the banquet. You’ve been invited. Come, for God has made everything ready.
But some don’t come. They have other things to deal with first. Fine – but the party won’t wait. You don’t get to reschedule. The master will see to it that people come to the party, even if he has to go t the most unlikely places to find guests who will respond. The house will be full, every seat taken.
Those who think they have a free pass to get in will be left at the door, and those who never dreamed they’d be at the table will be welcomed and seated. The audience to which Jesus told this story didn’t hear it as promise of good times. They heard it as a warning – and that’s exactly how Jesus intended for them to hear it.
“Just one more verse . . . one more verse . . . you come now.” It may be a bit cliché. But it’s true. The time to respond is now. The party will not wait.
Many of you have said yes to Jesus. You believe in God. But somehow you’ve not fully embraced the life of the Kingdom. Excuses are easy to make. Other life concerns seem so much more urgent. But the life that God offers is truly urgent. What keeps you from coming to the feast that God has made ready for you? Consider this a written altar call.
We give you thanks, O God, for your invitation. We thank you for the life to which you call us and for the way you make everything ready, giving us what we need as we embrace your Kingdom. Kindle urgency in our hearts that we may respond eagerly – and make us urgent in calling others to the party, that your house may be full and your name honored in this world. Amen.