(Or “Our God of Second Chances”)
The invitation was warm and sincere, handwritten on beautifully embossed cardstock. It read:
A Joyous Dinner Celebration
It seemed harmless enough and the words “joyous” and “celebration” intrigued me. I didn’t know the host very well, but I had heard of him. He was said to be a learned scholar as well as a very accomplished artist. By all I heard, he seemed absolutely fascinating and it might just be in my best interests to meet him. Even so, I must admit, I got so wrapped up in my day, that by late afternoon I had forgotten about the dinner party. I didn’t have time to shower or even change my clothes. I just barreled up his driveway, half an hour late and in my haste nearly slammed into the back of his car. As I entered his home, I stopped in the entryway to look around. I had expected to be dazzled by his undoubtedly exotic taste, but was surprised to find things rather simple. The décor was not impressive, a bland color palette that did not impress or inspire. Nevertheless, he greeted me with an enthusiastic hug and though he didn’t speak much English, I was able to understand the warm tone of his welcoming words. We entered the dining room and, again, the humble wooden table wasn’t what I had expected. As he served the dinner, I picked cautiously at my plate. With genuine concern, he asked if the food was to my liking. Without thinking, I blurted out my disappointment. You see, the sumptuous feast I had expected turned out to be just some bread and water served with a flat unappealing glass of wine.
It wasn’t that I purposely tried to hurt the gentleman, but I wasn’t finding anything joyous or celebratory at this rather odd dinner party. I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying and as I became more and more irritated, his accent seemed to become thicker. Finally I placed my napkin on the table and pushed back my chair. In doing so, I spilled my wineglass and the dark burgundy liquid seeped into the carpeting. I really didn’t care anymore. I felt that I had been deceived, invited to an exciting dinner party only the find that I was the only guest and my host was as incomprehensible to me as the stars must seem to a firefly. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I even ran over a prize rose bush and knocked down his mailbox as I backed out of his driveway, vowing never to return.
I had not been a very good dinner guest and my host would have been perfectly within his rights to rescind any future invitations. Strangely enough, he kept his invitation to me open. He kept calling and would softly whisper “Come to me”. Sometimes he would add strange phrases like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” and “you will find rest for your soul”.
It would be twenty years before I would attend another if his dinner parties. This time, I knew that I wouldn’t understand much of it, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. He had been so patient and gentle with me and my soul definitely needed some rest. I approached the front door cautiously. I’d behaved so badly the last time that I had been here. I had ruined his landscaping, insulted his decorating taste, laughed at his culinary attempts and spilled wine on his rug. Timidly, I rang the doorbell. To my great surprise, his greeting was still warm and kind. He could see how sorry I was before I even apologized. He didn’t hesitate to forgive me and assure me that he was over it and therefore I should be to. I still found the evening to be a confusing blur, but his kind manner was irresistible. I found that as I spent more and more time with him, his accent faded and I began to understand his words. The simple furnishings were warm and honest and allowed me to focus on him rather than constantly distracting me. the dinner menu was still just bread and water, but such fulfilling, satisfying bread and water like nothing I’d ever tasted before. And that wine , which I had so carelessly spilled, he told me not to worry. He had spilled something for more precious just for me. I still didn’t quite understand, but now I found myself willing to sit at his feet and listen, maybe even learn.
As time passes I find that I love entering his house. I think what surprised me the most was his complete forgiveness. If I had acted so horribly in anyone else’s home, they would never ask me back – and rightly so! Yet, he welcomes me every Sunday morning and all points in between. Now I know that “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps 23:6) I am welcome there and so are you!