The Parable of the Dinner Party

Oct 15, 2012   //   by Joshua March   //   Worship  //  1 Comment

A man was very eager to celebrate a friend’s recent retirement. Knowing his friend’s love of fine cuisine, he decided to throw an extravegant dinner party for him. The man worked very hard and spared no expense to make all of the arrangements: a banquet hall at a fine hotel, a renowned professional caterer to take care of appetizers to dinner to dessert and everything in between, decorations on every door and table, and a phone call to each and every single one of the 60 guests who would attend. Feverishly he put all he had into the preparations until it was the day of the event.

He arrived very early in the afternoon even though the party wasn’t to begin until 7 pm to make sure that he could supervise every aspect of setup. After driving himself crazy as he agonized over every possible detail, the man stressfully began greeting guests as they began arriving at six thirty. And as the clock struck seven, the tables were set, the appetizers were served, and the conversation was lively. Everything was perfect. Every seat was filled.

Every seat except the one at the head table for the guest of honor.

His forehead dripping sweat, the man stepped up to the microphone and nervously announced that their retiring friend must be stuck in traffic and would arrive at any moment. Stepping away from the mic, his mind played over a number of scenarios that he repeated under his breath repeatedly: “maybe he got stuck in traffic? …maybe he had a family emergency?  ..what if something happened to him on the way here tonight?”

Seven thirty… and then eight and still the special guest had not arrived. The man once again announced that it should be any moment that the man of the hour would walk right in. Again, his mind would not let him rest, but anger replaces his concern, “…was it something I said–or didn’t say? …maybe he thinks he’s better than the rest of us now–doesn’t have time for me anymore!  Why didn’t he at least call?!”

Embarrassed, he sneaks away from the guests and angrily takes out his phone. His blood boiling, he dials his friend’s number. His friend answers the phone with a casual “Hello?”

“Where are you?! We’ve already started but you’re nowhere to be found!”

“Already started what? Where? What are you talking about?”

“Your party! Everybody’s here except for you. Why aren’t you here yet?”

“What party? You never invited me to any party.”

Ready to explode at his friend, the man’s mouth opened, but no words came out. He couldn’t speak more than a single, broken syllable as he frantically tried to recall the memory of him calling…or mailing…or texting an invitation to his friend, but none came to mind.

For all of his planning, time, and effort, he had forgotten to invite the very person he had intended to honor.


Ridiculous story, right? Think it’d be impossible not to invite someone to their own party?

Not so fast.

It may surprise you to realize that many of us occasionally do just this. And some of us do this repeatedly–every week:  just replace the ‘man’ with your name, the ‘friend’ with Jesus, and the ‘dinner party’ with ‘worship’.

Some examples may include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • The chore of getting the family ready and out the door to church in time (or late) may leave some too frustrated and frazzled to be open to the Lord’s moving.
  • The inability to dislodge from their minds distracted thoughts of family dinner, sports game, or other Sunday afternoon plans may prove to leave some with no room for what the Lord wants to give them.
  • The hard work and dedication that some put into their ministry–even arriving early Sunday morning to ensure that they are prepared and that every detail is perfect– may leave them too physically and emotionally drained from their ministry work to be able to focus on what the Lord might say to them.
  • Maybe yet for others, they think that the ritual of attending Church every Sunday is enough– but this ‘honoring’ the Lord with their presence alone leaves them unable to be vulnerable to how the Lord would touch them.

While each of our individual stories might be different, for all of our planning, time, and effort, we are, like the man in the story, left feeling hurt, confused, or angry at the Lord for not showing up at our personal or congregational worship when we didn’t invite Him to do so.

Now don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting that, like the friend in the ‘parable’, Jesus doesn’t know we’ve come to worship Him. But what I am suggesting is that just showing up to Church at 10:45 (or whatever time) without taking even a moment to prepare our hearts and minds for a real encounter with Him is not preparing any room for the Lord at our soul’s table.

Like the man in the story, we can get all dressed up and make sure that we look prepared on the outside, but are we prepared on the inside? Are we taking time Sunday morning–or any morning–to invite God into our worship? Are we casting away all other distractions and acknowledging His sovereignty in our lives? Are we giving Him permission to enter our hearts and minds to prepare us for an encounter with him? Are we acknowledging the needs that only the Lord can meet? Are we dropping the charade of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ so that we can be vulnerable with each other and have true fellowship in the Lord? Are we coming into our time of worship genuinely expecting the Lord to fulfill His promise and be present ‘where two or three are gathered’?

Now, I am not so naive as to suggest that this is easy. We live in an imperfect world that places ever-increasing demands on our time, energy, willpower, and other resources. It is understandable that the hurts and pains and stresses of the world cannot–and should not–just be checked at the front door. Praise be to God that He will meet us where we are! However, we also cannot yell at God, angry that He continually doesn’t show His face in our worship when we won’t take our eyes off of ourselves or reach out our hands to touch Him. You can’t gaze at the stars if you have your telescope  pointed at the ground. You can stare for as long and as hard as you want, but you’re not going to see a single star. We need to take our focus off of ourselves and allow the Lord to lift our gaze to Heaven.

May each of us accept this challenge to take the time and effort to prepare ourselves to encounter the Lord,  acknowledging our need and our depravity and inviting Him to replace them with His fullness and His love.

Let’s plan the party, let’s prepare for the party, and let’s have fun at the party, but let’s not forget to invite the Guest of Honor and then wonder why there’s an empty seat at the table.


1 Comment

  • Nice job Josh,
    We are all guilty of rushing in and doing what we need to do. We all need to stop and remember that we are coming to serve and worship the Master.



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