My People, God's People
Updated: Mar 12
In seminary, I read a book from the 1960s by an Episcopal priest named Gibson Winter, wherein among the many things he says, he says that people tend to make choices about where to shop, eat, live, work, worship based on the picture they have of themselves. These are subtle, almost unconscious perceptions, the basis of which is simply: do I think I could belong here, are these the people with whom I can see myself, is this the kind of place where I can see myself.
Winter says that this places a big role in where we choose to live, where we choose to work, and where we choose to worship. Perhaps you've been in the market before for a house or for a rental, and you went around looking at different places and simply got the feel that a house or a street or a neighborhood was too swanky for you, or too loud, or too garrish, or too rustic, or simply "not the part of town where you think you want to be". Or maybe you've applied for a job and gotten through the interview and visit and everything they've said sounds good and makes sense, but you just got the indescribable sense that this is maybe just not for me.
We do this with churches too -- it is hard and vulnerable work to visit a church for the first, or to go looking for a new church home, and the very first thing we get from a church visit is the vibe. You walk through the front doors for the first time and you sense -- is this decorated and shaped like what I think a church sanctuary is shaped like. Some people really like a Christ Lutheran sanctuary (this is the kind of church interior I grew up in), some people prefer the austerity of a St. George's, and other prefer the simplicity of an auditorium style seating with a big stage. You walk in for the first time and maybe you think,,, oh thank God there's an organ and not a drum set,, or you walk in and you think oh thank God there's a drum set and not an organ. You take a look around at the people and think, are these people who I could see myself belonging with, or perhaps you think, gosh I wish this congregation was more my age, albeit older or younger. You see the pastor and wonder, is this somebody who I can see myself connecting with and being cared for by, whose sermons and teachings challenge me or match by sensibilities about what we're doing here.
I don't say any of this to try to trap anyone and say, like, making perceptions bad, but rather to say making perceptions normal, imagining whether or not you'll belong somewhere is normal. And in this gospel reading this morning, the question of belonging is at the forefront, when you make your invitations to your wedding banquet, you invite all the folks who have given you a sense of belonging you whole life, you invite your people. And the hitch in this passage is that people who were invited don't come. And so the inviter makes the choice to open the doors of the banquet to anyone and everyone whom they find, the good and bad, the normal and the weird, the austere and the rustic, the organ types and the drum set types, into the same space so that the wedding hall was filled with guests.
If it was me, and my invitation list simply did not show up, I probably would've just cancelled my wedding and gone to live under a rock. But I'm not God, and in this passage, God makes the choice to instead invite everyone off the street so that the banquet can be filled, the invitation list grows to include everyone and the guest to include whoever accepts the invitation.
Again, what a challenge this gets to be to us -- I do not desire to party with everyone, or with anyone, I want it to be my friends, my family, the people with whom I share familiarity and backstory. This Gospel passage and God's open invitation gets to challenge us because if we're honest, the shape of the Christian landscape today is that we get to choose with whom we associate, and with whom we work and serve and worship.
We know that the long 2000 year history of the church has been rife with disagreement and tension, and that more than often, the solution to disagreement has not been reconciliation but schism -- we know that the early church grew into multiple branches, and then into a whole host of denominations, and even further into an almost micro-niche level of choice, I think there's something like 200 denominations officially registered just in the United States alone.
This diversity in option is well-reflected in Fredericksburg,,, think of how many options you have in this town within a 5 minute drive from this church Catholic and Episcopal and Methodist and Presbyterian and Baptist and Baptist and Baptist and Episcopal and house church after house church, the list goes on. We have the freedom to make a choice about where we want to belong, about who will be our people, we have the freedom to choose the church where we will belong according to our sensibilities around formality and informality, on whether the sermons are a crisp 9 minutes or an impassioned 45 minutes, based on whether everybody else likes the organ as much as I do and hate the drums as much as I do, based on whether the church and the pastor and the sermons are red enough or blue enough or purple enough or rainbow enough, based on whether or not the people in the room seem like my people enough.
And what that gets to mean for us is that the almost unconscious perceptions about who belongs here get to become conscious decisions about making space here for everyone that comes in our doors. Think about what would have to shift if this party very suddenly got a whole lot bigger -- if Trinity closed up shop and they all came over here. What would be different -- what would have to change? Or Fredericksburg Baptist, or Fredericksburg UU or Lifepoint,, what if those folks started coming here. How would we make space at the banquet. What if all of the teenagers and young adults that we've been wanting to be here suddenly descended on us like a plague of locusts. What kind of a wedding banquet would that be for us? Even in these gatherings that we have now, as Christians we get to keep one eye not just to the people that go to the church we belong to, and not just the people who would warrant invitations to our weddings, but to everyone we find in the main streets, everyone who could be here, the good and the bad and see them as guests together with us in the banquet hall of God.
At the end of the day, all of us -- all of these churches and people -- are responsible for the same thing which is the work of the Church. That work is to love one another as we love ourselves, to attend to the least among us as we would attend to Jesus, and to visit the lonely and feed the poor and be friends to one another.
And perhaps the artificial lines we draw in the sand prevent us from doing the hardest work of all which is giving the care that we give to our people, who do not look like or act like or seem like our people, to whomever comes through these doors on a Sunday morning, and to whomever we encounter when we exit them.