I went to a different kind of church yesterday. Elevation Church is a form of “mega church” or “pop church” that sprang up in Charlotte a few years ago and has seen tremendous growth in membership. This was my second time attending, and the experience makes me think about what going to church actually means. There is no doubt in my mind that the worship experience at Elevation is one that makes people think about Christ in their lives, and I’ll seek to explain more about this church experience at a later date.
Yesterday’s message from Pastor Furtick was about accepting the invitation to the banquet that Christ has prepared for us. He started with the parable of the banquet found in Luke 14:16-24:
16But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;17and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’
18“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’
19“Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’
20“Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
21“And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
22“And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
23“And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.
24‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'”
(NAB from biblegateway.com)
So how does one go about accepting Christ in his or her life? The first step is to not make excuses. As the parable shows there are three who are initially invited to the banquet. But each one has an excuse. The first must inspect his field which he has recently purchased, the second must try out some new oxen, and the third simply has a wife which he must attend to. Pastor Furtick went on to examine the excuses more closely. To the first Pastor Furtick questions, “Who buys a field before inspecting it?” To the second, a similar question of “who purchases oxen (or car) before taking them/it for a test drive?” And to the third, he simply questioned the priority of relationships in the man’s life.
Translating this to modern times in a way that people, and especially students, could relate to, Pastor Furtick illuminated the problems as such: materialism, excessive busyness/caught up in responsibilities, and disordered priorities of relationships.
Many people today have replaced God with things. We strive to have the newest, the best, the most expensive things because we believe these things can bring us happiness or security. While in actuality the only thing that can truly bring us happiness and security is living a life in the footsteps of Christ. When we give ourselves over to a greater cause, a greater movement than ourselves, we humble ourselves before God and appreciate the gift of life He/She gave to us.
Excessive busyness is something all of us can relate to. Who doesn’t have a million things that they could be doing? I know that even when I don’t have a million things that I could be doing, I am searching for things to do. I constantly have too much on my plate. Does this detract from my relationship with Christ? Most certainly. One of the goals I set for myself coming out of JVC orientation was to be more deliberate in my prayer life. Try to incorporate the morning and evening prayer times that we had at orientation into my “real” life back in Charlotte. It is something that I have failed to do with any consistency. A lot of the blame can rest on me being caught up in responsibilities or being excessively busy. Some can rest on slothfulness too.
Finally disordered relationships. The man whom Jesus invited to the banquet had a wife to attend to. He could not come because his wife was more important. Who in your life comes before Christ? Shouldn’t the woman that you marry help you come closer to the Kingdom? If the wife you have chosen takes you away from Christ, then maybe she isn’t the woman you should marry? How many of us place relationships in our lives ahead of our relationship with Christ, with Church, with God? We do a lot of things to please other people. We seek acceptance from our peers, and we just want to be liked. But at what expense?
In sum, what is blocking you from accepting the invitation to the banquet of the the Kingdom?
This whole idea awakened in me a quote from Thomas Merton that I sat on for a while back in 2008…in talking about “atheists” Thomas Merton writes in The Seven Storey Mountain:
In a certain sense, these people have a better appreciation of the Church and of Catholicism than many Catholics have: an appreciation which is detached and intellectual and objective. But they never come into the Church. They stand and starve in the doors of the banquet–the banquet to which they surely realize that they are invited–while those more poor, more stupid, less gifted, less educated, sometimes even less virtuous than they, enter in and are filled at those tremendous tables.
The idea of knowing the Church, knowing Catholicism (or Christianity), in such a way that I know how it works, but not why it works was on my mind for one reason or another. I would feel confident stating that I know more than most Catholics about the Catholic Church. But in no way could I say the same thing about God/Jesus. Especially two years ago when I was most decidedly on the outside looking in. I was seeking that intellectual understanding of Faith, something I thought I could find through academics. And indeed I did to some degree. But it wasn’t until I accepted the invitation into the Church that I began to more fully understand what C/church actually is, what relationship with Christ actually is, what it means to follow Christ, and a whole lot more. When you move beyond the academics, and into the reality lived, your understanding evolves in such a personal way.
Christ has a spot at the table for all of us. Verse 22 from above says, “Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” Even after the invitations have been sent there is still more room. And this continues to be true. There is always room. Something that the atheists Merton speaks of undoubtedly know but do not believe. The invitation to God’s table is a standing invite. And as I am slowly discovering, there is more to learn from inside the banquet hall (church) than from outside. Eventually the intellectual atheists run out of room for discovery, and the only next step for them to continue learning about God is to accept the invitation.
Will you accept the invitation?