Come to the banquet

The Rev. Francisco Cañasshares his prayer “we focus on the values and priorities of God’s kingdom.”

One advantage of having General Conference every four years is that we, the people called United Methodists, are compelled to appraise and quantify the level of our influence in all aspects of life throughout the vast reaches of the world.

At a time when change is happening faster than the blink of an eye, thousands of people — delegates, clergy and laity, staff of general agencies, media and volunteers — are getting ready to go to the sacred space of General Conference, sharply aware of the imperative to reformulate systems of contextualizing our mission and role in society.

Astonishing technological advances have literally reduced the size of the globe, shaping our perception of the cosmos as an entirely interconnected reality that challenges our current forms of “doing church.”

In this context of high-speed Internet, where more than occasionally, our virtual lives take precedence over our real lives, God calls us to find new forms of being the church. We must redefine basic concepts such as “community,” “neighbor,” “mission” and “redemption.”

Additionally, the massive and multifaceted phenomenon of migration, the resulting multicultural settings and the growth of multiethnic, multilanguage communities is happening across the oceans and not just in the United States. The need is global, the challenges are as huge as global, and great are the opportunities we have as builders of God’s kingdom.

Our mission statement of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” will not allow us to continue practicing ministry in a configuration that favors a particular socioeconomic sector of the population and, at the same time, excludes the vast majority.

From self-centered to compassionate

Luke noted (chapter 14) that at the time of the dinner, the master sent his servants to say to the invitees, “Come, for everything is ready now.” However, they all gave excuses.

One said, “I just bought a piece of land, and I must go and see it.”

The master was not pleased with the response of those he was counting on to be part of his banquet.

What a surprise that the priorities of the kingdom are always communal and not ego-centered! God’s kingdom has no room for uncommitted people, for business or corporate mentalities. God’s priorities, our priorities, must include those from the periphery, the blind and the crippled, who at a critical moment, will respond positively to our invitation.

To continue perpetuating the old rule of inviting only the people we know, who look and behave like us, will not produce the vitality and diversity that, by nature, belongs to God’s kingdom. As United Methodist people, we find the solid ground of our mission in God’s trust, love and compassion for the entire breadth of humankind.

Perhaps one of the greatest intentions of this mission statement is to move our denomination from an attitude of self-centeredness to a more communal, compassionate praxis of ministry that continuously helps us to reaffirm the great biblical teachings and emulate the controversial practices of our founder, John Wesley.

In Luke’s Gospel, we read that after the servant reported to his master, the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go back quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor; the crippled; the blind; the migrants; the yellow, brown, black and white, and the table will be full.” There still is room in our churches, and our churches must be full.

All was ready and still is ready

Jesus recommended, “When you give a banquet, do not invite your friends, your relatives or your rich neighbors, in case they will invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the migrants, those who are rejected and cannot repay. And you will be blessed.”

Henri Nouwen, in reference to this particular text, said, “The poor have a treasure to offer because they cannot return our favors. By not paying us for what we have done for them, they call us to inner freedom, generosity and true care.”

As United Methodist people, we commit ourselves to place priority on the meaning of the Gospel in all matters of life by affirming the uniqueness in each individual and in the diversity represented among communities and nations.

We, the United Methodist people, honor Christ by making ourselves accountable to one another regarding the unjust and unfair treatment happening around us.

All was ready and still is ready. I pray that our time together of confessing, praying and sharing will be a communally soul-searching and contemplative preparation to face our challenges and needs, first as individuals, and second, as part of this holy General Conference.

May we focus our vision and expectations on values and priorities that are in harmony with the teaching and traditions of our ancestors, and most emphatically, may we focus on the values and priorities of God’s kingdom.

And may we share a transformative experience of affirming and respecting all people.

*Cañas is the national coordinator of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, New York. This commentary was adapted from his sermon Jan. 20 at the Pre-General Conference News Briefing.

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