Monday, June 14, 2010

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
June 13, 2010

I’m sure all of us at one time or another has received that invitation in the mail. No, I’m not talking about the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes form! I mean that invitation in the mail to attend a big wedding, or dinner party, or event that is almost that one-of-a-kind type of affair. We put the date on our calendar, we think about what we will wear, who we’ll see there, who’ll see us there, and then we look forward to it with eager anticipation, knowing that nothing will stand in the way of our being in attendance.

Then, comes the conflicting event on the same day, and we are presented with the choice. Do we continue on as planned and attend the event to which we were bidden to come, or do we let the new item on our calendar begin to crowd out that event that we’d been longing for, planning for, praying for?

In our Gospel lesson from St. Luke, we are presented with this same dilemma.

Matthew tells this same story from the perspective of a man who holds a marriage feast for his son, and ends with that somewhat troubling episode of the guest being thrown out because he doesn’t have on a wedding garment. Perhaps I’ll preach on this parable from Matthew’s perspective next year, but this morning, I wish only to concentrate on the story as told by St. Luke.

We only hear of an unnamed man and his invitation to three particular individuals and their excuses for why they couldn’t come to the party. There are a couple of peculiar details here that jumped out when reading this passage. First, was the interesting sentence, “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.” I think the intention here is to jump to the conclusion that these people had originally intended to come, but were now so entangled in their own affairs that they had no time left to attend the banquet. It seems like all those who were bidden began to make excuses for why they should be allowed to miss the party, even though we only hear of the excuses of three in particular. However, for those of you who love numbers, it’s not a coincidence that the number of people who offer up excuses is the same as the number of times that the servant of the man goes out to bid people to come. Three calls and three rejections.

The second point of this parable has to do with the excuses themselves. None of these activities, assessing the worthiness of the purchase of oxen or land, or wanting to spend time with one’s wife is a bad thing. It would make sense that God would want us to be good stewards of our money, and make sure that what we do with what He’s entrusted us with is used to it best means. And most certainly, God would want us to nurture a new marriage, and do everything possible to ensure that a couple’s new life together starts off on the right foot.

The problem lies in the setting of priorities. These people had been bidden to come to feast with a “certain man” who we know in the parable to be God Himself, and they place more importance on creation than the Creator. They fail to recognize that this was one of those times that they needed to let go of their worldly attachments, and cling to God. That is one of the hardest things to do – know when it truly is God calling us, and when we are simply offering up excuses.

I was flipping through radio stations the other day, and happened to catch something on the Catholic Channel, and the host made a rather simple, and yet profound statement when he said something along these lines:

All my wandering thoughts are either morally neutral or morally negative. I can’t ever think of a time when I’ve thought to myself, honey, I’ve got to run and spend two hours Eucharistic Adoration, or calling up a few buddies and not invite them over to watch the ball game, but to spend time praying, meditating and studying God’s Word. It’s usually the other way around, and I find ways to keep from doing those very things.

Folks, that radio host was spot on, and I can probably think of at least 5 things since getting up today that have kept me from focusing on God and His will. This is clearly one of the very points our Lord wishes to convey in this parable.

Another point has to do with the two trips by the servant of the man to bid others to come into the feast.

Did you happen to catch who the master told the servant to go out and find? He said go out into the city and find the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind. When Jesus says to first go out into the city, he means go out first to the Jews who were in fact blind, lame, poor because those who were the religious authorities left them in that sad state. They were blind because their leaders were not leading them toward the light, but were leading them further and further into darkness. They were deaf because all they were hearing was not the truth of the Gospel, but rather the perverse teachings of a select few. They were lame because they were left in a crippled state, unable to leap for joy because they did not hear the Good News that the Messiah was here and was in their midst. The One who they had been longing for all of their life was alive, and amongst them.

Finally, the servant comes back and tells his master that there is still more room for more guests and the man then tells him to go everywhere, out into the high-ways and hedges and bring anyone who will hear and heed the invitation to come in and be fed. Actually, he goes further, as he tells the servant to “compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” We are those folk who were not just poor, maimed, halt, and blind. We are the folk who were completely on the outside, outcasts if you will. We are the ones who were commanded and compelled to listen to the words of the man and accept the promises that came through the Jews were for us to embrace as well. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.”

We have now received the invitation to come to the great feast, that invitation we’ve been long waiting for has arrived, and we now come to dine at the Master’s Table. There’s one final difference that actually makes all the difference in the world.

We don’t come to our Lord’s Table to simply be fed some cuisine that God has prepared for us. That would make our food ordinary, and we come to be fed something extraordinary. The master hasn’t simply been crafting something. Rather, he sets forth something far more intimate, far more nourishing – he gives us himself, His Flesh and Blood. For when He took the bread, and looking to Heaven he blessed it, and gave it to His disciples and said this wasn’t simply bread anymore, this is my flesh which is to be broken for you, go now and do this in remembrance of me. He picked up the cup of wine and told his disciples that this wasn’t simply a cup of wine, but rather it was his blood that would be poured out for them and for many for the remission of sins, go now and do this in remembrance of me.

One of the aspects of a dinner invitation is the opportunity to enter into the intimacy of breaking bread with someone else. Jesus takes this notion of intimacy to an entirely new level when He promised us that, “I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”

“A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper-time to say to them that were bidden, Come, for all things are now ready.” We have received the invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, come and receive the Bread of Life.

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