The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2011
The Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
Sermon: "What's Your Excuse?"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
What's Your Excuse?
No group of people have heard more excuses than teachers. The Toronto Star ran a contest a while back where it invited teachers to submit excuses they had received from their students. Here are some of the more original submitted:
- A student explaining why he was late: “I was kidnapped by aliens and interrogated for three hours.”
- Another student, telling why he had failed to turn in his essay: “The bus driver read it and liked it so much that he kept it to show to his passengers.”
- Another: “I got mugged on the way to school. I offered the thief my money, my watch, and my penknife, but all he wanted was my essay.”
- Mike, a 14-year-old, came up with this excuse for arriving at school an hour late with his pants soaked to the knees: “I was just about to board the city bus when I found I’d lost my ticket. Since it would take too long to walk to school, I hopped a fence onto a nearby golf course. I headed for a creek that crisscrossed several fairways until I found a likely spot for lost balls. Retrieving three balls from their watery graves, I then made for the clubhouse where I sold the balls for bus fare. And that’s why I’m late!”
By the way, Mike’s entry won.
Speaking of excuses: a wealthy father planned an extravagant rehearsal dinner for his son’s impending marriage. No expense was spared. An elegant dining room at the town’s most elite hotel was engaged. Fresh lobster was flown in and thick, juicy steaks were purchased. The finest linens were laid out with china and silver. An orchestra was hired and valet service was arranged. Then invitations were sent out to the elite of the community. “You are invited to a rehearsal dinner. R.S.V.P.”
To the surprise and dismay of the father, excuses came pouring in. Some of them were ludicrous. One man, a real estate speculator, had bought some property and needed to inspect it; at night, nonetheless! Another couldn’t leave his store. Others told of similar conflicts. Excuses, excuses, excuses! Not a single invitation was accepted. The father was angry. So he sent his employees out all over town telling them, “I’m going to have a banquet for my son. Take whoever will come. Rich people, poor people, respectable people, not-so-respectable people. I don’t care. I want that dining hall filled for that banquet.” His employees did just as they were told, and that night a festive occasion was had by all those who came to the rehearsal dinner.
You may recognize that story as an updated version of Jesus’ parable from this morning’s Gospel lesson from Matthew. There was a recent equivalent to that story, by the way. Kathleen Gooley was all set for her wedding, had given the caterer a $10,000 non-refundable payment for the reception, and suddenly found herself without a groom. Since she was out the money for the caterer anyway, she contacted shelters for the homeless and drug rehabilitation centers to compile her new guest list. She figured someone should enjoy the banquet.
The obvious meaning behind Jesus’ parable is that the righteous people of his day rejected the Christ. They were too busy doing good things that they thought were more important than responding to his call. Thus God opened the invitation to his banquet to all who would come, righteous and unrighteous alike. To any who will come, the door is open. That is the obvious message of the parable. It is also that we the truly good people of God are in danger of missing the banquet of life. What is our excuse? For most of us it is that most common excuse of all, “I don’t have the time.”
If we were to take a poll here about our most common complaint about life, it would most likely be that there is just not enough time. We are desperate to squeeze just a few more minutes out of every day. A new bride called a cooking magazine office and asked for the recipe editor.
“Would you please help me? She asked. “I’m cooking a special dinner tonight for my husband’s boss and his wife. I’ve never cooked a big dinner before, and I want everything to be perfect. I bought a nine-pound turkey. Could you tell me how long to cook it in my new microwave?”
“Hmmm…just a minute…” the editor said, as he turned to check his reference book.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, and hung up. As the coming holidays draw closer, I’m sure that many of us would like to find a way to cook a nine-pound turkey in “just a minute.”
There just doesn’t seem to be enough time. We can sympathize with Porris Wittel, a dock worker in Gillingham, England. For 47 years he hated his alarm clock. For 47 years that thing jangled him awake. On the day of his retirement he got his revenge. He took his alarm clock to work and he flattened it in an eight-ton hydraulic press. He said, “It was a lovely feeling.” I’ll bet!
So what can we do? How can we keep from missing the banquet despite our hectic lives? Let me offer just one piece of advice this morning: Don’t make God a priority in your life. You heard that right! Aren’t you sick to death of people telling you about which priorities to set and where? Very few of us are really frittering unconscionable amounts of time in inconsequential pursuits. Most of us are spending our time wisely and well and for good causes. So, don’t make God a priority in your life. And no, I’m not about to say “Make God THE priority in your life.” Instead, make God life itself. The difference is in here. When God is allowed to inhabit all areas of our lives, everything we do takes on new meaning. A new joy for living is given to us, because every moment is with God. All activities and ventures and duties and good works and efforts gain the potential of being an invitation to the banquet.
Consider the lives of those we think of as saints. Studying the lives of the great saints can help us in understanding how to make such living in God possible. But we needn’t think of only those whom the world readily recognizes as saints. There are those whom you have known personally, perhaps among friends or even in your own family who have set no less a saintly example. I am reminded of my grandmother, Fanny Ross Miles: though married young, who faced the hardships of the Old Wild West, who later with four children in tow and one on the way singlehandedly plucked her family from the fires of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, who shortly after the birth of her tenth child was suddenly widowed and had to enter the full–time work force to care for them, who yet had an unshakable joy for every moment of life, and a peace throughout her 86 years that her outward circumstances should have crushed. For her, to live was Christ.
The secret of the revolution in the lives of saints lies in the fact that their lives are centered in God. They refer even the smallest things to God. They live not just for God, but in God.
It is not a change in your outward circumstances that will somehow give you a greater sense of life. The difference is inside, not outside. When the Lord is only an ingredient of life, then life is a whirlwind. But when the Lord is life itself, then the peace of God that defies all explanation keeps the heart and mind at peace.
Friends, Jesus is the banquet of life. Every moment lived with him and in him is the feast. Don’t make the Lord a priority. Make him your life!