Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pre-positions

There's a church down the street. It is neither my Old Church or my New Church, but I used to work at a living history museum with one of their lay leaders, so I feel a mini-connexion with it anyway.

They have one of those signs out front where you can put out the movable white letters on the black backdrop and either announce church events, or put a thought-for-the-period-of-time-before-you-remember-to-put-the-next-thing-up-there.

Back in September and October the sign said, "Everyone is invited at God's table."

For the entire time it was up, whenever I would drive by, I would do a little grammar-and-theology shuffling with that verse. Something doesn't seem quite right, but I still can't make it say what it seems like it should, to be both grammatically and theologically correct.

To me, "Everyone is invited at God's table," sounds like what we often do in the Church anyway. We sit around and look at everyone already at the table (as we assume, anyway) and yeah, we're all invited. The question is, to what? If we're already there, what's next? Going into the Divine Family Room to watch angel football?

Or maybe it's one of those assertions of the obvious: "See all those people at the table there? They were invited." Oh. I guess it's comforting to know there are no gatecrashers? I guess?

I thought maybe it should have said, "Everyone is invited to God's table." That could, I suppose, sound like we can just help ourselves to the table and leave. But when I first thought of it, it was in the context of the invitation through Jesus being open to everyone, and we just have to accept the invite. I suppose it could be further clarified by saying, "Everyone is invited to come to God's table," or to "dine at God's table." Or something.

My dad suggested it could say "Everyone is welcome at God's table," which I think probably says the "invited to" thing a little better, although it might imply, "under any conditions," which, if the conditions were without the received forgiveness of Christ, I think would also be erroneous.

In spite of all the brainwaves being invested in this conundrum, the letters on the board did not move. I still have questions, though. The first one is, do you think we as Christians act as if we're the only invited ones, sometimes? What do you do with the "many are called but few are chosen" verse, and are any of the above sign-posting suggestions valid in light of that? Are we actually supposed to do anything with that verse, or should we just treat everyone as if they were both called and chosen? And if we did that, what would it look like?

4 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Well, what about the verses about God closing the ears and eyes of some? Like when Jesus explains the parable of the sower in Matthew 13... Would that imply that there are some that God doesn't even TELL about the table? I don't know whether I lean towards pre-destination or free will, I just read those verses this morning, and thought it applied to this post. =) Good thought though! I agree that there seems something either theologically or grammatically strange about that sign. =)

Young Christian Woman said...

Well, the first thing I did was click on the verse for more context. Then I clicked to get the chapter for more context. I guess I'm a big fan of context.

For those who don't feel like doing that:
The parable which preceeds "For many are called, but few are chosen" is about a king who invites a bunch of people to his son's wedding feast. For those who haven't done a lot of Bible reading, the standard way of interpreting this would be King=God, Son=Jesus, wedding feast=heaven/consummation of our relationship with Jesus.

The king invites people who won't come. He's mad. He tells his servants to go gather up random people standing around and bring them; they do. (This is probably a reference to the offer of salvation to the Jews, through Jesus, who "came only to the lost sheep of Israel" (citation needed).) But one of those men isn't wearing wedding clothes, so he gets thrown "into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth" (read: hell).
Then, after finishing telling the parable, Jesus says, "For many are called, but few are chosen."

So several possibilities occur to me:
1. Because this man was chosen, rather than called, he should have had more respect for the event.
In other words, those who are brought into God's presence without anything to make us special or speak for us (frankly, all of us, or at least all of us Gentiles) should be treating God and our realationship with Him with reverence and awe.

2. He was "gathered up" for some reason, but not really a believer. This doesn't fit as well with called/chosen, but it matches some other parables--like the weeds that grow along with the wheat, the goats among the sheep, and the chaff with the wheat, where God separates out those who have not accepted Him from those who have. From this perspective, pretty much everyone was called, but only those who believed are chosen.

3. This guy thought he was following God, but in reality was not--much like those who called to Jesus on the last day, saying "Lord, Lord." He tells them He did not know them and that they are evildoers. Men (and of course, women) like that are probably those that think they understand, but do not; those that do not pray or pray by rote without seeking communion with God; those who want to be seen as Chistians but don't want to walk that walk, or also want to be seen as "tolerant" or "worldly" or "sophisticated" rather than holding to one "truth, way and light", keeping their "eyes on the prize," and becoming "fools for Christ."

and one more:
4. This man wanted Heaven, but not communion with Christ.
We are talking, specifically, about the wedding feast. The Church is called the "bride of Christ;" in heaven, we will have eternal communion with him. There are several Biblical references to clothes for believers; we are to be clothed or covered in his blood, and there are also references to being clothed in white linen. These may be equivalent, but there is also reference to white linen being the deeds of the saints, in Revelation I think (what's this look like, a theological essay? I don't have the time to go look up references right now.) I tend to steer away from "deeds" stuff, partly because I believe that we are saved "not by works, so that no one can boast" and partly because I am insecure about whether my works are truly good enough fruit--but James says that "faith without works is dead," and I can't ignore parts of the Bible, so perhaps this is about works and the man's faith is dead (if it ever existed).
Or perhaps--and this is the explanation I find more compelling--the man in the parable wanted heaven, but not Jesus. He wanted the feast, but wasn't interested in getting married. A lot of people think that Heaven is a lot of different things, but not all of them want what it really is--eternal communion with Jesus and praising God. Only much better than that sounds. I don't think that God calls people, they come, and He says, "How did you sneak in? You just don't measure up."

jeffsdeepthoughts.wordpress.com said...

As I think about the "everyone is invited at God's Table" thing, I think part of the grammar/syntax issue is this:
It seems like the point is supposed to be that lots of people have been invited to God's table. But all the sentence really means is that of the people who made it to the table, all of those were invited. It doesn't say anything at all about whether others were invited.
(As I think about this, it occurs to me that you pretty much covered this idea and all its theological ramifications.

Jenn said...

Thanks for the thoughts, everybody!

Elizabeth--I still think that somehow predestination and free will work together, though I don't know that I'll ever understand how. But yeah--those verses are tricky for me, too.

YCW--Welcome back . . . to chiming in, I mean. I guess maybe you've been reading for a while . . . Thanks for all the thought you put into that--it was a blogpost in itself, and very well thought out. ;) I think your fourth point is particularly insightful.

Jeff--yes. I did. You said it much more concisely, however.

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