So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.
-Luke 14:23 (from the parable of the banquet)
So it's been a long time since there was a "Red October" in the northeast. Philly Phever has swept the region, with the Phillies advancing to baseball's World Series (and playoffs, for that matter) for the first time in well over a decade. Last night I watched them win game 3 with a record setting 5 home runs in just a few innings. It was so much fun. I'm proudly wearing my Phillies t-shirt today, and enjoying the buzz of nearby Philadelphia being the center of the sports world.
But I need to admit something. While I watched a lot of baseball when I was younger, I'm not a particularly fervent baseball fan these days. I enjoy it when I have time, but I wasn't really following the Phillies much until right near the end of the season, when the playoffs got closer. I couldn't name most players until last week. And.... I didn't even know who won the World Series last year!
I'm pretty sure that puts me squarely in the "bandwagon fan" category. A bandwagon fan is someone who hasn't been through the thick and thin with a team. Rather than being a loyal follower for decades, they hop in when there is the most excitement, often at the last minute. They haven't proven themselves. That's me. I joined the movement too late to be seen as one of the faithful. But I want to be a part of it now! Let me in!!!
There are webpages completely dedicated to helping you identify "bandwagon fans" in your life so that you can call out their lack of knowledge and history, and shun them accordingly. These folks are undeserving of your team, and they are certainly undeserving of any joy that comes from late season success. Go cheer on someone else's team, you fair weather fan!
Jesus tells this story in Luke about a man throwing a huge banquet and inviting all his usual guests. But a bunch of them make up excuses and can't (won't) come, so he sends his servants out all over town, inviting people that he doesn't even know personally yet! He's determined to fill all the seats and throw a party, and everyone is invited.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another story about a man paying a group of day laborers a fair wage, but then paying some guys who only worked the last hour the same total amount! The all-day workers are angry. But the employer gave them an absolutely fair wage... so why are they so upset that others got paid well too and can share in the generosity? And then, just to bulletproof text this thing (I made up that phrase), Jesus declares peace and salvation to a not-so-great guy who is hanging on the cross beside him. The thief just tosses out one phrase to Jesus, and Jesus is all like, you're in, friend.
Contrary to most religious teachings, the radical good news of Jesus welcomes the bandwagon fans who join in without enough proven history.
For Jesus what matters is always a posture of willingness, not a pedigree of perfection. Willingness was what opened the door to experience the celebration banquet. And on the cross it didn't matter that the thief couldn't recite all the right verses or give a family history of all his relatives that served in the priesthood. He wanted to join Jesus. It wasn't too late, and there was no snobbery on Jesus' part. Everyone who wants to join in, gets to join in. It's the radical and awesome and unfair and grace-filled and annoying and beautiful nature of God's kingdom.
That grace includes you when you are feeling disqualified and outside the lines, thinking you might not be good enough for the "in crowd." Do you desire to move toward Jesus and his love? That's enough. And that grace also includes your neighbor who might be struggling or overwhelmed with life, and the best they can do is just offer a "God, help me." The promise is that God will indeed come near.
Today, let's walk around with the awareness that every single one of us is invited to the celebration. So go ahead and hop on the bandwagon. Tune into tonight's game and cheer without shame, even if you've never prayed-- I mean cheered-- before. Well, maybe both.
Jesus, thank you for welcoming me and all the others who feel like posers today.