Written by Becky Durham
(This is the sermon I will preach this morning, March 3, at Presbyterian Church of Henderson, KY. Â This parable is based on Proverbs 9.Â At the end of the sermon is an adapted version of Isaiah 55:1-9. )
On the top of a high hill, there stood a large house. It had been built so long ago, no one could remember what the hill had looked like before it appeared, except for Sophia, the builder of the home. She remembered the hill the hour before she had carefully begun constructing her residence on its summit. It was sturdy, stone. The large porch on the front of the home had seven columns that stood strong and tall and supported the structure. It was not the biggest or grandest house anyone had ever seen, but it was quaint and inviting even still.
Sophia lived in the house with her husband, Justin. She could remember what the land had once beenâ€”fertile and lush with a river that flowed through the valley. Now, not much of that beautiful land still existed. The river had all but dried up and the people of the valley were hungry. The sun shined harshly and the vegetation could hardly survive.Â From her porch, Sophia could look down and see the suffering and the need of the people living in the land. It troubled her and she looked daily for ways she could help make their lives better.
From her porch, Sophia could also lift her eyes and look at the hill directly across the valley. On that hill, stood another house, large and decadent and trimmed with gold. The home belonged to Anoia.Â Anoia had not built her own home. Rather she had found some of the more desperate people living in the valley and had promised them food, water and money to construct it for her. She was beautiful and cunning and good at making promises, whether she planned to keep them or not. They had expertly completed the work, but Anoia had tricked them and managed to pay them much less for their labor than they had been promised.
Anoiaâ€™s land contained the source for the stream that had once flowed below. She had successfully diverted the water, stopping almost all of its flow to the town, and was able to enjoy all she neededâ€”for drinking, for showering, for laundry. Her garden grew so fantastically, there was no way for her or her household to eat all of the food it produced.
Anoia was a good secret-keeper, however. Sheâ€™d walk through the city square and speak to the townspeople. â€œOh, itâ€™s terrible this year, isnâ€™t it?â€ She would ask a hungry woman buying her ration of flour at the market. â€œI wonder if weâ€™ll get some rain so our garden might grow!â€Â Anoia would then buy her own ration, even though she didnâ€™t actually need it. â€œOh, my, I just donâ€™t know how Iâ€™ll have the energy to get back up the hill,â€ Anoia would complain.
At her home, Sophia was excited. She had managed, after years of learning and trial and error, to grow enough food in her small garden to have the first sizeable harvest since the drought had come.
As she showed her husband around the garden, she had an idea.
â€œI want to have a banquet,â€ Sophia said. â€œI want to invite the townspeople to come and to share this harvest!â€
Sophia shared her idea with some of her friends. The owner of the vineyard had been employing some of Sophiaâ€™s techniques with her grapes and was experiencing a generous harvest herself. She offered Sophia wine to serve at the table.
The cattle farmer had been sharing some of Sophiaâ€™s land for years. She had allowed him to create a small pasture for his decreased herd and the cattle had been enjoying the best grass they had in some time. He offered her milk and meat to serve at the banquet table.
Together, they created invitations.
â€œThis is what I want them to say,â€ Sophia said. â€œIs anyone thirsty? Come and drinkâ€”even if you have no money! Come and take your choice of wine or milkâ€”itâ€™s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will eat the finest food.â€
Sophia took the invitations to the city square, where she and her friends distributed them to everyone in the town.
â€œCome visit me!â€ Sophia would exclaim. â€œCome and eat my food and drink the wine Iâ€™ve been given! Come share my table and bless me with your company!â€
One man growled, â€œFood and wine? This is surely another trap. This lady is just like Anoia.â€
The owner of the vineyard began to speak up against the man and correct him, but Sophia tugged on her friendâ€™s arm. â€œDonâ€™t bother. He wants to hate us. It wonâ€™t do any good.â€
Sophia handed some invitations to children that had gathered in the square.
â€œWe can come to the banquet?â€ A seven year-old girl with red curls asked in disbelief.
â€œOf course you can,â€ Sophia told her. â€œYou are welcome in my home. Bring your friends!â€
There was a blind man, begging at the gate of the city. Sophia took his hands in hers and placed in them an invitation. â€œThis says you should come to my house for dinner,â€ She told him. â€œIâ€™ll send my friend to take you there.â€
â€œLady,â€ The blind man said. â€œI donâ€™t know you, but your voice is kind. I will come to your banquet.â€
Anoia caught wind of Sophiaâ€™s plans to host a feast. â€œHow dare she!â€ Anoia wailed. â€œMy house is larger and finer and my table is bigger.â€
So, not to be outdone, Anoia began to create her own invitations. â€œCome into my home,â€ she told the townspeople as she handed them out. â€œMy home is more elegant, grander than Sophiaâ€™s. Come enjoy what my table has to offer you!â€
Among themselves, the townspeople began discussing which invitation was better.
â€œSophia is so kind and trustworthy,â€ one argued.
â€œBut Anoia is rich! Look up on that hill at her beautiful home! Surely the best food and entertainment will be found with her.â€ Another pointed out.
â€œAnoia is a fraud and a liar,â€ one man warned. â€œYouâ€™ll only regret the time you spend with her.â€
The arguments continued, but the townspeople began to choose which hill they would climb that night.
At home, Sophia prepared for the banquet. She set the table with her finest linens and best dishes. She used the produce she had grown and the meat and the milk and the wine sheâ€™d been given to create a feast fit for royalty.
At 7:00 sharp, the doorbell began ringing and Sophia welcomed the townspeople who had responded to the invitation into her home.
The little girl with curly red hair was there, along with her brother. The blind man begging at the city gate had come, escorted by the cattle farmer who had gone into town to bring him. The seats at the long table filled up with people hungry for the feast that Sophia had prepared.
The people in attendance marveled at the delicious offerings and there was eating and laughter and dancing well into the night.
Across the valley on the opposing hill, at Anoiaâ€™s home, the doorbell rang as well. A majority of the townspeople had determined that the better choice was to join her for dinner and had come to the large house trimmed in gold, hoping for the most elegant of banquets. Their hostess had been dressed well and had spoken seductively in the city center. Surely it would be her home that would offer the best entertainment and food.
The guests led into the dark dining room were expecting to find wine, milk, bread, meat and vegetables.
What they found instead, was a sparsely covered table and an unkind hostess.
The townspeople looked at each other, filled obviously with regret. It was too late reverse their decisionâ€”they had missed the dinner at Sophiaâ€™s to come here instead.
As children of God, we have gifts. We can graciously and openly share our gifts with a world in need or we can squirrel them away for our own benefit. We can buy into the idea that itâ€™s better to be number one or we can seek ways to make anotherâ€™s life better.
As children of God, we make a choice every day. We can attend the banquet thrown by wisdom or the buffet offered by folly. From a distance, the second will often look more exciting and lavish, but as we get closer to being truly wise we can see that Wisdomâ€™s feast will always be more filing.
As Godâ€™s children, we are invited to living water, offered freely, flowing abundantly, able to meet every need that we have. Yet so often, weâ€™re lured instead by the ponds and pools of our earthly lives filled with fleeting riches and temporary happiness.
As children of God, weâ€™re invited to a table. This table is simple, topped with ordinary elements or bread and of juice. Yet, when we come to this table together we commune with God almighty, the creator of heaven, the creator of earth who sacrificed his only son so that we may commune one day at a banquet table set in Godâ€™s own Kingdom.
Are you thirsty? Come to the water.
Are you without money? Come buy and eat.
Do not spend your money for that which is not bread,
Â Â Â do not labor for that which does not satisfy.
Listen carefully, and eat what is good,
Â Â Â and delight yourselves in richÂ food.Â
Incline your ear, and come;
Â Â Â listen, so that you may live.
God will make with you an everlasting covenant,
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
Â Â Â and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because theÂ LordÂ your God, the Holy One of Israel,
Â Â Â has glorified you.Â
Seek and find the Lord,
Â Â Â call upon God who is near;Â
let the wicked forsake their way,
Â Â Â and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to theÂ Lord, and find mercy,
Â Â Â and to our God, who will pardon.Â
For Godâ€™s thoughts are not your thoughts,
Â Â Â nor are Godâ€™s ways your ways.Â
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
Â Â Â so are Godâ€™s ways higher than yourÂ ways,
Â Â Â and Godâ€™s thoughts than your thoughts.Â (Isaiah 55 adapted)