YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED

“You Are Cordially Invited”

Luke 14:12-24

Rev. Armen Hanjian

Chilmark Community Church

November 1, 2015

This will be a good sermon because I am dealing with an area in which I am quite an expert – that of making excuses. It would have been a great sermon – – but I was pretty busy this week.

The Bible is a great book in many ways, particularly so in describing life. In Genesis, old Adam says, “Eve made me do it.” Eve says “The serpent made me do it.” And millions say “The devil made me do it.”

Recall the rich young ruler who was invited to follow Jesus. He could have been a part of the greatest adventure in history, but he made an excuse and went away sorrowful.

Once Jesus asked aloud:”…to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

Here, Jesus describes John the Baptist’s ministry and his own in vivid contrast. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say ‘he has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard.’” John’s ministry was stern like a funeral; Jesus’ ministry was joyous, like a wedding. The people Jesus was addressing didn’t follow either one. They were playing the game of religion in their own way and like irritable children, refused to play any game but the one they knew best: “I’m doing my religious thing so don’t mix me up with what God expects of me!”

The place in the Bible that makes most clear our inclination to excuse ourselves from God’s service is today’s parable of the rejected invitation.

A great banquet is planned. Matthew’s gospel refers in this parable to a king throwing a sumptuous wedding reception for his son – – not sandwiches and punch as we had at our reception, but the whole works. Lo and behold, the people who were invited chose not to come to the joyous feast.

Jesus was always drawing parallels. If there was a fishing boat around, he would say “I will make you fishers of people.” If someone pointed to the harvests, he would say “The fields are white with harvest but the laborers are few.” In Luke’s parable our vision is raised from this banquet and human hospitality to God’s hospitality with the implied question “Will you be there at God’s home?”

This invitation went to the most likely, the so-called “friends of the family.” This likely refers to “religious people.” How nice. Mr. and Mrs. So and So request the honor of your company. Mr. and Mrs. Thus and thus regret that they will be unable to be present.

Sometimes we invite because we have to. Sometimes we don’t go because we don’t want to. But certainly no one would decline an invitation to God’s banquet in heaven. Yet the folly is in this story: “Please present my regrets to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. I can’t come.”

Why did the guests refuse the summons to the feast? Why do people refuse Jesus’ summons to the joyful life? It is not because people are outright wicked. Rather it is because they are absorbed – – -absorbed in their own things.

All three men in the parable who sent their regrets probably repeated their excuses so many times that they thought their reasons were valid. The banquet might be dull and my own affairs seem to promise more happiness. Things are finally going better for me so don’t distract me with other affairs.

Let’s look at the specific excuses they give. They symbolize the successful secular society. “I have bought a piece of land and I must go and look it over.” This can represent our possessions and investments. Certainly we need land to live on and homes to live in and so on, but is that reason enough to ignore the God who made us when God calls us to God’s priorities?

The second excuse avoids the invitation by saying: “I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am on my way to try them out.” This can represent our attempts at maintaining our self-esteem. “World, look at my car, my house, my creations, my crafts, the power I wield.” God know, we need to build up our reserves of self esteem, but these are dead ends that lead to idolatry rather than life when leaned upon.

The third avoids the invitation by announcing, “I have just gotten married and for that reason I cannot come.” At best, the spouse and family represent our human centered comfort and at worst our cult of exploitive sex. God knows that we need to give attention to family and that sexual realtionships can be among the most beautiful channels of love. But even good things, when over emphasized, can lead to an unbalanced life which can lead to death.

Perhaps these are not our excuses for being slow in responding or for not responding at all to God, but our excuses are not so very different. Do any of these sound familiar? “We unfortunately had parents who were too strict – -or too lax – -or too distant — or too affectionate. Our parents conditioned us. “ “We were born during a difficult period that emphasized materialism and drugs and fear of war.” “We were too rich – – or too poor” “What we are is simply a product of our environment and our heredity.” “God made us this way.” “What ever will be will be.” “I don’t pretend to be religious.”

Our excuses are endless. The one that bugs me the most is when someone puts a label on something and thinks he or she has thereby dealt with the matter: “maladjusted and introverted” instead of dishonest and self-centered; “a spasm of re-adolescence” instead of adultery and so on.

One need only listen to conversations on the boat or in line at the post office to know what has absorbed our minds and hearts. The concerns are with boats and houses and sports and vacations. Any one who talks about human destiny or the claims of Jesus is thought of as odd; it makes others shuffle with discomfort. When death or sickness comes, we are tongue-tied because we are used to more trivial topics like the weather or the traffic. When a crisis has passed we return to casual speech with great relief.

Our misguided emphasis on the things that absorb us is not harmless. That way of life can lead to tragedy. That way can lead to broken relationships.

The parable insists that God’s plan will not be thwarted. God graciously invites, but God does not force. If you will not come, God will invite others. When “nice” people beg off, then God goes to those who are considered to be the wreckage of society And if the church becomes too comfortable and self-righteous and deaf to God’s invitation, then God may well take up some secular movement and use it to fulfill God’s glad purpose.

What then must we do? Can we respond to the invitation? Can we change? We keep thinking we are pretty much set, now that we are the age that we are. But don’t be fooled. Each of us is still growing –or slipping. We move subtly, often quietly. The slopes are gentle and easy. We compare ourselves with others rather than with Jesus. It is like riding in a car at 55 miles per hour and being oblivious to the fact that we are pat of a larger system in which the earth rotates at the equator ¼ mile per second while revolving around the sun at some 20 miles per second. At the same time the sun with its planetary companions including the earth orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy at an estimated speed of 200 miles per second. The sooner we realize that this is God’s world and that it is God’s will that is primary, the better it will be for all of us.

Yes, heredity and environment do affect us all, but they are never the final word. There is our free choice. The boy from a broken family does well. The family that has every right to produce criminals creates leading citizens. If there is a secret, it seems to be that if a person sees someone she wants to be like, she can break away from the powers that mold her. This is why the church holds before the people the person of Jesus Christ.

There is a proverb that the furniture store favors: “Home comes first.” It is nearly true and thus tragically false. For a home trying to feed itself is like a man trying to feed on his own body. It is a cannibalism that succeeds at first but finally yields to the law of diminishing returns. How can we be loyal to family and do our duty to God? How can we be loyal to our nation and differ with it when it is going astray? There are conflicting loyalties wherever we turn.

The only answer I have found is to have one over arching loyalty to the hierarchy of our loyalties. Jesus alone is worthy of such a place. He who said, “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” knew that putting Christ and his kingdom first would be the way one could best love his family.

When we look to Christ, then we love as he loved. Our love does not depend on how others behave. Thus, we put a stop to our “there are hypocrites in the church” excuse.

Once Christ is made primary in our lives, then we must get busy prioritizing. There is no end to our responsibilities – – so many people to help by our visits, so many causes that would benefit from our time and talent and resources. What is one to do? We can write down and then pick out the priorities. Which will do the most good for the most people for the longest amount of time? We can keep testing our actions by the fruit they produce. Not that we always have to be successful; we need primarily to be concerned with being obedient to God. Through the years, God has proved the abundant fruit-bearing capabilities of those who have trusted in their God.

When we prioritize, this will put an end to our excuses that we do not have enough money or we do not have enough time.

We should look to Christ, we should prioritize, and finally, we should relate to Christ’s people. That will speak to our excuse that we are tired. Every person gets tired while depending on his or her own strength alone. But where Christ’s people are gathered, Christ is present with the resources of God.

It isn’t often verbalized, but many are paralyzed with the excuse of being afraid: fear of what people will say about us; they might hurt us or reject us. We don’t need more of that. Keeping close to Christ’s people can help overcome fear – Christ‘s love casts out fear.

To those who are not 100% sure about Jesus Christ and the Christian way, I say: relate to Christ’s people. The faith of others will encourage us to act on whatever faith we do have.

Look to Christ. Prioritize. Relate to Christ’s people.

THE WEDDING BANQUET

A certain man held a feast on his fine estate in town.

He laid a festive table, he wore a wedding gown.

He sent invitations to his neighbors far and wide,

But when the meal was ready, each of them replied:

I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now,

I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.

I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum;

Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.

The Master rose up in anger, called his servants by name,

Said go into the town, fetch the blind and the lame.

Fetch the peasant and the pauper for this I have willed.

My table must be crowded, my table must be filled.

When all the poor had assembled, there was still room to spare,

So the master demanded: Go search everywhere,

To the highways and byways and force them to come in;

My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.

Now God has written a lesson for the rest of humankind;

If we’re slow in responding God may leave us behind.

God’s preparing a banquet for that great and glorious day.

When the Lord and Master calls, be certain not to say:

I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now,

I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.

I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum;

Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.

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