Since the idea of owning this house came about last April, we’ve had many dreams of hosting people in our home. Not just hosting you and friends and family though. We dream of spending lavish incredible hospitality on the peoples who are unnoticed, ignored, and poor. Friday night, Dec. 6th, we hosted a banquet, designed after the Great Banquet in Luke 14. This banquet was not at all what we expected, though. We thought it was going to be fairly easy to throw a fancy dinner and that everyone would be fighting to come. Even though that’s not what Jesus’ parable says happened in the Great Banquet, we just thought ours would be different.
You know, that I was a better event planner I guess (which I am too detailed to be). Or that I had better relationships with the people I invited than in the story He told. Throughout my telling of our banquet on South Broadway, I will be sharing of the Great Banquet from Luke 14 as the two stories intertwine. Even if you know the story, I encourage you to read it, as it gives meaning and understanding to what we experienced last Friday.
This was a life changing experience and I couldn't edit out any more of our story of this Broadway Banquet. That being said, please feel free to skip to subtitles in BIG BLUE LETTERS if a part of our story is failing to capture you, I understand completely. Please also feel free to share our story with anyone who may be encouraged by it in any way!
PLANNING THE BANQUET:
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14
This is the core scripture that influenced BJ and I as we decided that we weren’t just going to ‘talk about’ hosting a banquet, or wait for a time when we were ‘less busy.’ We had many conversations with each other and the wonderful college group we facilitate. And since none of us grew up in a culture where fancy dinners and banquets were common, we were trying to figure out what throwing something like this could look like in order to live out the scripture.
After weeks of discussion and prayer and listening, we came up with a way we were going to make this happen. 9 people from our group, 11 people from the streets: a 20 person banquet. We hired a wonderful catering company, Blue Moon, to bring in one of their top menus which included (for each person) Pepper Rubbed Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Southwest Grilled Salmon with Lime Dill Sauce, Herb Grilled Chicken with Peppercorn Sauce, and so many sides, salad, bread, cheesecake and apple pie, and bacon and brie appetizers that we couldn’t even begin to devour all that we wanted to. We had hot coffee and cider to warm up all who had been out and about in the cold.
And four of our beloved guys, Nathan Borton, Dan Overholt, Luke Gilstrap, & Alex Sharp –they are each extremely talented jazz musicians. They decided they wanted to fill our home and hearts with jazz Christmas music all night long. Saxaphone, Drums, Cello, Guitar. It was the best live music I have ever heard.
We had all the Christmas trees up and lit, candles everywhere, linens, and antique china (some of which was my Great Grandma Helen’s—I think she would have liked how Libby and I were using it).
We had 5 servers: 2 hired from Blue Moon and 3 volunteer students, Libby Derby, Mary Beth Byers and Cassandra Williams. They welcomed our guests, took their coats, got them drinks, made them comfortable, and labored tremendously all night with washing dishes, serving all of us at the table, preparing and plating food. It’s humbling for me to even describe how beautiful they were as they loved on each of us in all these ways throughout the evening.
THE INVITED GUESTS:
And now the part you are all wondering about: our guests. Well, we decided to make 20 tickets, and they were color coded, numbered and had names on them. The college students and Legacy Ministries Staff we invited we asked to only accept the invitation if they were 100% committed to bringing at least one person from the streets that they knew or felt called to invite through intentional encounter the week prior to the banquet.
We knew that if 9 of us were committed to each bring one person then the responsibility would be spread out among us. We believed that there would be a number of guests from the streets who would not show up because they are not people of the calendar/clock. We had decided that we’d each pick up our guests at 530, and then if they weren’t there, we’d go find more people on the streets as dinner would be served at 630. We chose this order because it followed the order in the scriptures.
This didn’t seem like it would be a problem as we live on S. Broadway and have as much foot traffic in front of our home as any other downtown area. By Friday, the food was paid for in full, we had made the appetizers and desserts, the table was set, the candles were lit, the music was on.
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
UNWINDING OF CAREFULLY LAID PLANS:
Two people who were committed to the banquet table asked before committing if someone else would bring a guest for them because they were serving at the banquet through music and food. This was cool with me because another person asked for extra --taking a total of three tickets. All nine of our spots were filled until the day of the banquet. Until the day of.
I was so busy with preparation the weeks prior, the Lord knew I would have trouble finding time to bring someone in off the streets night. I had been earnestly asking him for weeks about who my guest would be, where to go to meet them, should it be a friend or stranger? Wednesday morning, the Lord reminded me of our friend Charlie. He’s 80 years old, a well known window washing nomad around town. If you want any window washed, Charlies your guy. He’s been our friend for 4 years, we met him at the Grade UMC Neighborhood Meal and he has always come over to wash windows at our house, get a drink, or ask for a ride to a friends house. You always know when Charlie’s come over because he rings the doorbell urgently at least 10+ times. After remembering Charlie, I was discouraged though, because I had no way to reach him. I hadn’t seen him for about 2 weeks. Later that night, during college group, Charlie rang the doorbell. I gave him a ride, and he accepted a ticket to the banquet. I was soaring at how the Lord had orchestrated all of this and revealed it in my heart earlier that morning. I knew that everything was going to come together as it was meant to, He was showing unfolding His banqueting table right before our eyes. I just forgot that promise when Friday afternoon came.
The day of the banquet, I was in an emotional tangle. I had had back to back events I was running with legacy ministries Wednesday, Thursday, and then the banquet was on Friday on top of seeing clients those days. Riviere had gotten a 24 hour bug on Wednesday night ALL night long with a 103.5 degree temperature and vomiting starting at 3am. All day Thursday she was an exhausted mess and so needy for her mama. I was busy making cookies, and lists, and putting together table settings, re-arranging furniture and lining up the rugs. Collecting chairs and candles and I didn’t have time to sit down and read books more than 5 minutes at a time.
I guiltily turned on Sesame Street just to keep her tiny hand from pulling on my finger while I was trying to finish one project. Once she does that, I can’t do anything but follow her to whatever she wants to play and she knows it. I didn’t get one of the pies made or any of the appetizers in advance. I had no idea I was needed to orchestrate the invitees and flow of the banquet so much, I thought my time could be spread out cooking and doing my usual thing in the kitchen until it was time.
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
One thing this scripture emphasizes is the lame-ness of the invitees juxtaposed with the anger of the master of the banquet. It seemed like it was written this way just to prove a prove a teaching point, until it actually began to happen, just like the story.
Let Downs 1,2,3, & 4:
I got a phone call about 3pm. My good friend who took 3 extra tickets, 4 including herself, called to say she had woken up ill that morning. She’s been battling illness for over a month now, and we had just led a caroling event together the night before. All day she’d been praying and trying to decide if she should come or not, so she called me to get my input. Unfortunately, my listening spirit--my right brain, it was turned off at that moment. Which I relayed to her and let her know I was not going to be able to help her, and that I was now in a position, since she hadn’t found anyone yet to fill her guest seats, to have to find 4 people in her stead if she didn’t come. I kind of knew in my heart that this was what was going to happen. I wanted my friend to do what was best for her, but on the other hand, BJ and I had invested so much time and money into this banquet, and I was feeling the pressure of the growing empty seats. She quickly called me back and texted me a few minutes later letting me know she was too ill to come, and was extremely sorry about the consequences of this decision for the rest of us.
The Delayed Help:
My sister Libby had come over right after class that day, and was in charge of putting to work the other two helpers who were to get there at specific times. Neither one of them came on time. Both were an hour or more late, I am not sure why, I couldn’t bear to ask, and by looking at my disappointed face, I don’t think they wanted to say why upon arrival.
CHRIST'S COMFORT INCARNATE:
All day, in line at the store, counting out the silver, moving furniture, I kept engaging with Jesus in my heart. I kept turning over to him these pressures, pleading with Him for peace and joy to replace the stress. He kept telling me, tenderly, “Ashley, I love you, you are my baby, you are my girl, all is well.” At my breaking point, there was a knock at the door. One of my mentors and a spiritual mother to me, Meme came over. She said God told her to come over this afternoon as she was rolling up her sleeves and ready to help. She took me aside and hugged me and I just cried out all my disappointment and stress I had been feeling. She said to me all the same things Jesus had been saying to me all day long, she was God incarnate to me for those few hours. I didn’t have much to say to her, she just knew that’s what I needed. Then Libby put her to work setting the rest of the table, with candles, polishing silver, etc. She hummed Christmas carols and kept reassuring BJ and I and the others that God was in this, and He would fill up His banquet table.
I came back in the kitchen sniffing, but feeling more connected to God and went back to work. Until the next call came in, from one of our committed guests, telling me they and another committed guest hadn’t found anyone and wouldn’t have time to find anyone to bring to the banquet because of something very important. They’d be there, but they wouldn’t be able to bring anyone.
BJ and I sat down and strategized. We reorganized our table map, who was coming, who had guests coming. At this point, we were back up to 9 committed guests, but only BJ and I had one guest each coming, only 11 people were going to be coming at it was 4pm. Dinner was to be served at 630.
I knew Charlie would come, he wouldn’t forget something like this, that's what I told myself anyhow. BJ went to go get our friend Rooster, who we’ve known for about 2 ½ years. We’d been praying to find Rooster and bring him to this dinner for over a week. He used to live at the community garden down the street from our home on Waco. And then later went to rehab and lived with Matt and Catherine, Myrna and Merle out in Augusta. But sadly, he returned to alcoholism and has ended up back on the streets. That morning, when Rooster and his buddy Kenny were asking for loose change on the Riverwalk in front of the Hyatt, a man gave them each a $100 bill. This was not good in the longrun. When BJ tracked them down that morning on the streets, this had just happened. Rooster excitedly bought BJ a cup of coffee and they spent some quality time together. BJ took them and their things to a motel they were going to get for the night, and dropped them off. After that Rooster probably called BJ 4-5 tiems to make sure that dinner was still on for that night. Kenny didn’t want to come out of embarrassment of still being drunk from the night before and got more and more angry with Rooster the more he asked.
When BJ arrived at the motel room around 5/515, they weren’t answering the door. He kept pounding and pounding because he knew they were in there, Rooster wasn’t answering his phone. Finally Kenny answered in a stupor and Rooster was passed out on the bed. They had used the remains of the well-intentioned money to booze up. BJ shook Rooster until he woke up to say he was ready to go, he sat up and then passed out again back onto the bed. BJ left, called me and was so hurt and angry.
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
HUNT FOR FINAL GUESTS:
At 530pm, we sent out three teams onto the streets, 2 in cars, and one on foot. I walked outside as they all took off in different directions in a flurry. I began prayer walking up and down the street in front of our home. I was wearing a cardigan, shirt and jeans. In front of our home, a man pulled over in a newish truck, asking, “Are you all right miss?” “yes,” I told him, “This is my house right here.” He responded, “Uh, huh, you want a ride anyway?” Disgusted that I would be solicited for sex in this time of prayer, I turned and walked up the driveway. Libby later reminded me our dear friend, Theresa Briscoe, who has opened up our eyes to the realities and evils of prostitution and sex trafficking had taught us that pregnant women are often sought out.
BJ came back shortly with a man and woman he had encountered walking downtown in front of Fidelity. I recognized the woman as she got out of the car, we had met the night before when we caroled her! Carmelina had been caroled by us, and then joined us with her two little nieces and we had been singing together around the Legacy house the night before. Apparently, 2 of our friends on Legacy Staff had both asked her to join us for the banquet but she had turned them down. Because Rivi had been sick, BJ hadn’t gone caroling and didn’t know Carmelina, and she didn’t know him. She was afraid he might be a serial killer until she got to our home and I greeted her at the car with great surprise! Two nights in a row we met this woman on the streets. It was amazing. The whole evening, she kept taking pictures of the banquet to send to her boyfriend because she knew he wouldn’t believe her if she told him about the banquet. She ended up coming to our church on Sunday morning and connecting with many people, telling everyone how God had answered her prayers through us and come to her through all of these encounters. Pray for Carmelina as she is homeless sometimes and coming up on a challenging time of one year of sobriety.
My on foot team Kenzie and Briana called and said they found a family of four who was going to come, but the parents were going to go home and get the sons. Sadly they never did show up and we had four seats that our fabulous jazz ensemble humbly filled. The on foot team brought back with them Mike, a man who seemed about 45-55 in age. He was….paranoid…. to say the least when he came. He said the only thing that brought him here was Briana’s smile. He walked around the main floor a lot, checking things out, especially lingering in the kitchen to see if we were poisoning food or making special Kool-Aid. Almost everyone we asked to come to the banquet had said no, because they were too suspicious or afraid to believe that we would truly invite them to a fancy dinner. Mike wouldn’t say much, at first, about where he came from or what his story was. He was too busy interviewing us to make sure we weren’t going to kill him. Slowly over the whole evening, Mike warmed up to us until he was like a long lost uncle. He shared with us that he was living out of storage unit. He sat next to us at dinner and talked about things he was comfortable with, like our heating system and other heating systems that he knew of. He couldn’t stop thanking us for the meal and wonderful candlelit evening. Mike was the last one to leave, taking plates and cups and anything he could to the kitchen, munching on leftover beef tenderloin every time he went in to drop something off. We sent him home with as much leftovers as he’d take.
My other car team, Nick and Hannah, were continually being refused and rejected. Finally, on N. Topeka by the Shirkmere, they met 27 year old Alicia. She had just walked out of her boyfriends house from a fight and was glad to get away. She held her bookbag close to her, but laughed all through dinner, enjoying the company and meal. At the end, she tearfully came to me, afraid to go back out onto the streets that night. Alicia was a good reminder that we had failed to think about this part of our banquet in a major way. The people like Alicia, Carmelina, and Shannon who had no where to sleep that night, how do we just turn them back out? Carmelina and Shannon asked to be dropped off at a warm vent by the library and for some blankets, which we gave out of our stash. We weren’t prepared. We found a women’s shelter that would take Alicia, but Hannah ended up inviting her to sleep at her apartment because they couldn’t find it that night. The next morning, Hannah took Alicia to a shelter that would take her early on in Newton.
BJ called me at 550 telling me he was bringing his new friend Tiger over from the park, who was from Sudan, and had just gotten out of jail two days prior with a bruised and cut face. Tiger had been sleeping in the park across the street from our house, he was a really tall, African man, BJ said he saw Tiger’s shadow in the park before he saw Tiger. Once Tiger saw him, he started walking away quickly, BJ started yelling for him to wait up. Tiger asked him if he loved Jesus, and BJ said yes, and Tiger said, “I knew it!” in his accent. Tiger was quite the storyteller at dinner as you can imagine. He shared an incredible prayer to Jesus before dinner began, and shared stories of how God had been protecting him over his life. After the banquet, we were able to set him up in a motel for the evening, but not with out a lot of effort. Sadly, most of the motels on our street refused to take him in, even though BJ had called a few in advance and when a white American was calling they had plenty of openings, until they saw Tiger, then they were “full.” After some searching, one took him in.
Ethan came in with his guest, Jeff Daniels. He was also an interesting fellow. My favorite part about meeting Jeff was his toast at the banquet. We were kind of nervous when he stood up and started clinking his glass. His toast was all about paying it forward, and how this was the beginning for each of the guests to pay it forward to others. We all cheered and raised our water glasses to celebrate together. This was quite ironic for Jeff to swig his water as he’d been asking me for alcohol several times prior to the meal. Later during the main course, he picked up BJ’s guitar while the musicians were eating and played for us for about 20 minutes.
Charlie showed up right on time at 6pm. He had gotten his hair cut and was dressed in a collared shirt and khaki pants for the occasion. He grabbed a chunk of brie in pastry when he arrived and sat and ate it like a sandwich with his cider. He ate and drank as much as he could that night, saying he was going to stop but then couldn’t resist the next course.
We started the banquet right on time. We had empty seats, which our musicians filled during the main course. I am confident that the King was pleased with His banquet. He was most pleased with his children. After all the guests were taken back to their requested location, BJ and I sat with our college students and legacy staff to debrief. We laughed and talked about the conversations that happened. People shared how they had felt attacked all day about the banquet, considering not coming. Some confessed they had felt like the people making excuses. BJ and I shared our experience of how we felt angry at some points like the masters, and unexpectedly so.
In the parable, it seems that Jesus is revealing God the Father as the master of the banquet. That night, we laid in bed and talked about how our Father was specially revealing his heart to BJ and I. He chose for the banquet to go this way to show us Himself in a special way. Because we opened our home, invested our time most and our money, we were the only ones in this circumstance who were the masters of the banquet. We know His heart more deeply because of it. I am still understanding His heart through this experience, I felt deep joy and laughter. I felt anger and betrayal. I felt waste of good food and a fine evening and longing to bring people who just wouldn’t and couldn’t come in, into my warm music filled home with good food to eat and warm drinks to drink. To offer them a comfortable safe place to sit, and be at peace in loving community. And was refused over and over and over again. I understand all the excuses, reasons, and rejections. They all make sense to me. There will be a feast, and it will start right on time. We are all invited to come, and after this feast, we won’t be returning to our vent on the cold street or storage unit. We will stay in the loving community of the Trinity. To come to the feast, we must allow the spirit to groan within us, to allow Christ’s intercessions of prayer come through us, and the fragrance of His covering love to emit all about us. He will draw them all in through us. This feast reminded me of the battle that ensues for our souls, those of us who claim him, and those of us who don’t. We all belong to Him, we all belong at the feast. But that doesn’t mean we will all choose to come when dinner is served. I want Him to break my heart like His is broken. I would rather experience this passionate heart of our Papa than experience numbness and mundane, predictable life that threatens to comfort me. We want to live with the King all of the way. This banquet dedicated our home to this. Our guests who prayed and toasted to our feast and at with us dedicated our home to the way of the people of light. All week prior to the banquet, the Lord brought us into the scripture following the banquet scriptures: