Grace Presbyterian Church
October 1, 2017, Pentecost 17A
(World Communion Sunday)
The Ragtag Banquet
(plays a few notes from mbira)
This instrument goes by different names, depending on what part of the world is playing it, but in my grad school days I learned the name mbira. In more vernacular or slang terminology you’ll also hear it called a “thumb piano.” I could also describe it as an idiophone, which means that the instrument itself vibrates to make sound, and also as a lamellaphone, referring to these small metal “tongues” that make sound when plucked. It most likely originated in eastern and southern Africa, and it or its variants can often be found in those regions or areas populated by migration from those regions.
I’ll also tell you this mbira isn’t particularly “authentic,” since I got it at Epcot.
I can’t really play the mbira. I can pluck at the metal tongues and get sound to come out, but I can’t really do so in any way that makes anything you’d call music, and I certainly couldn’t do so in any way that would work for making music with other musicians. You see, an instrument like this is best used with musicians playing other mbira, and not in unison; in fact, the mbira is at its most mesmerizing and fascinating when it is being played along with one or more others, playing at cross rhythms to one another – two or more rhythmic patterns that on the surface, to our Western ears, seem to have nothing to do with one another or even to be incompatible with one another, but when the players “lock in” and are playing their melodies and rhythms, become utterly hypnotic to hear unfold. With the addition of other rhythmic instruments, it is transfixing.
In short, mbira players need each other to make the best music they can.
[Ed. note: in case you’ve never heard such music, here’s a YouTube sampler of it.]
It’s hard not to think of this and find all sorts of truth from which the church can learn. I do think today’s reading points us to one of those truths of life in the faith that might not be as obvious to us sometimes.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’s parable presents us with a king who is bound and determined to throw this banquet, no matter what. The preparations have been made, all is ready, and … the subjects of the kingdom, the privileged ones invited to the feast, start making excuses and begging off. When the king reiterates the call to the banquet, those privileged ones become even more determined to refuse the invitation, some responding with violence to the king’s servants who deliver the call.
Still, the king won’t be deterred, opening up the banquet to what might generously be called “the least of these.” Matthew even informs us that those servants brought in “both good and bad” to fill the banquet hall. But when one of the guests turned out not to be wearing the prescribed wedding garment (a robe the king would have provided for all the guests in ancient Middle Eastern cultures), that guest was cast out in the harshest way possible.
And remember how Jesus introduces the parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king…”
That’s uncomfortable for us. We’re shocked by the violence. We’re shocked at the treatment of the one unexpected guest who wasn’t wearing the right clothes. But maybe we’re most shocked at being thrown together with such a ragtag jumble of folks, “good and bad.” We’re uncomfortable at such extravagant, even overindulgent inclusion on the part of a king (or The King) whom we are convinced chooses only the Right People to be part of the banquet. Instead we have to share the table with people who might offend us.
So it is at this table.
Despite the church’s best efforts, God calls people to this table with whom we don’t really want to share the table, don’t really want to share “the gifts of God for the people of God,” people we desperately want to think we are better than.
And yet the church needs all of those people. Rather like those mbiras that only really work when all of them are playing those tricky and difficult cross rhythms, the church only really works when all of us – a whole world of us – are playing our parts, sounding our rhythms, and the Spirit is weaving and locking those seemingly disjointed and incompatible rhythms into something divine, a thing of ultimate and heavenly beauty.
It is God who gives us those rhythms, those gifts of the Spirit, those individual places in the body of Christ that are all needed in order for the body to live and move and serve. I is God that gives the “wedding garment” – the Spirit living in us and through us to be what we are called to be, to be part of the ragtag banquet that is nothing less than life eternal, the banquet of which this table is but a tiny foretaste.
Come to the table, put on your robe, and join the feast.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #509, “All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly”; #508, “Come to the Table”; #506, “Look Who Gathers at Christ’s Table!”; #511, “Come, Behold! the Feast of Heaven”
An addendum from the table:
These t-shirts you see on Aidan and myself come from that Multicultural Youth Conference this summer, way out in Texas, and contain the theme of the event, “Strange? – Gospel,” and a reference from Acts 17, in which the intellectuals of Athens ask to hear Paul speak because he said some “strange things,” and they want to know what he means. It’s good for us to be in a place where not everybody looks like us, where maybe even nobody else looks like us. It’s good practice for the kingdom of heaven.
I think the term “Strange? – Gospel” also applies fairly well to this parable we’ve heard today. It is certainly strange – all those invited guests of the king turning away their invitation, bringing in all the riffraff for the banquet (including us), the one guest thrown out for refusing the king’s hospitality. Strange, yes, but also gospel; it is good news indeed for those who are brought in for the feast, for those who put on the robe and gather at the table and feast in the presence of the Lord.
This clearly is not a banquet table. Still, here it does hold good things: a world of good things, in a way. Corn and sweet potato and a pumpkin from the good ol’ USA, yes, but also bananas and a pineapple from Honduras, mango from Mexico, papaya from Brazil, and even a golden kiwi from New Zealand are here. A croissant, a lovely French delicacy, sits side-by-side with naan bread characteristic of India. This of course barely scratches the surface of what good foods might grace that heavenly table for which we long in the deepest corners of our souls. Some of everything, from some of everywhere; it sounds like a feast from a King who throws open the doors and calls all subjects to come. It’s a good thing to remember on World Communion Sunday.
You are invited, after the service, to come and “partake” of the feast; grab something and take it home. Sometime this week, when you eat what you take, remember that ragtag banquet, remember that crazy king who brings us all in, and give thanks.