“You did not choose me,” Jesus tells his disciples in John 15, “but I chose you.” This is the most direct, concise statement of God’s unconditional election for those of us who call ourselves Christians. Let there be no mistake—our salvation is not our own doing, so that we can’t brag about it, but rather it’s offered to us as a free gift, as relationship with God in Jesus Christ. God chooses us—not the other way around. That said, there still remains the question of what to do with all that. What do we make of the fact that God chooses us? How do we respond? Do we use the gift of relationship with God for good or do we squander it? Do we ignore it? Do we embrace it? As we go into the sermon today, consider what it means that God has already chosen you, told you he loves you and wants a relationship with you. What does it mean to you that God, the creator of the stars in galaxies so far away we can’t even imagine them, intentionally names you, calls you his own, and wants a personal, a person-to-person relationship with you, with you in particular?
Would you pray with me? May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
You want me to come over today? Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t today. My sister’s friend’s mother’s grandpa’s brother’s grandson’s uncle’s goldfish died. And yes—it was tragic.
Excuses. We know all about them. We’ve all received them. And we’ve probably all made them. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. An attempted explanation for getting out of doing something. I can’t today. I’m tired. I’m busy. Something came up. The baby threw up all over me, and we had to go home first. I’m taking care of my sick aunt. I didn’t see that text. I missed your call. The list goes on and on. Excuses are easy to make. And let’s be clear—I’m not talking about reasons why you can’t do something. You’re on your way to an appointment and you’re late because there’s an accident that gets you caught between exits for two hours—nothing you can do about that. That’s a reason. Or you had plans with someone else already when invited to go out. Those are reasons—justifiable explanations why you can’t do something. But excuses are hollow, meaningless, deficient explanations to rationalize getting out of doing something you otherwise feel you should do—or, just in fact, should do. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.
Today’s gospel text—I’ll be upfront with you—today’s text isn’t an easy one. I attempted all week to figure out how to make it say something that I knew at the outset it doesn’t say. The more I read this text, the more I realized it was a tough text, with a tough lesson—right out of the mouth of Jesus. But isn’t that what Jesus does? Too often we make Jesus out to be the mystical friend who gives us a free pass on everything, no expectations, but that’s not Jesus. Jesus loves us, and because he loves us, he has high expectations of us. This text shows us an example of those high expectations.
In today’s gospel, then, we have Jesus tell us the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his slaves to go get those who’d be invited, but we’re told that they weren’t interested. Not only were they not interested, they make excuses for why they can’t come. The text says, “they make light of it.” They treat it with indifference, shrugging their shoulders, and do something else altogether—one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. And then those who don’t even bother to make excuses simply off the servants sent by the king. The king’s rightly furious. He declares that those who were first invited weren’t worthy and so sends more servants to invite others—everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. They come, but when the king sees that some of the guests aren’t properly dressed, he’s again upset and has these guests thrown out into the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
There’s a lot that can be said about this text historically, theologically, and politically—all very valid things, but they’re not important for us right now. More appropriate for Bible study. The general, overriding motif of this parable Jesus shares is about making excuses why we can’t participate in the kingdom of heaven—often described as a great marriage feast. Jesus goes right to the heart of it. He attacks us when we make excuses for why we can’t live in the kingdom of heaven now. Remember, when Jesus took the baton from John the Baptist, his message wasn’t that the kingdom of heaven was coming. No—his message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven has come…has come. It’s already here, and we’re invited to be part of it. We’re invited to repent—to turn around, to reorient ourselves, to live in the promise here and now. It’s not something that’s yet to happen. It’s breaking in and around us even now.
What does life in the kingdom of heaven look like? What happens when we respond to the invitation to come to the great wedding banquet God holds in honor of his Son? It’s almost too glorious to describe—but imagine life to its fullest. And then go the next step. Life where instead of focusing on how little we have, we rejoice in our blessings—life as banquet with plenty of tender meat, the best prime rib, and choicest wine, none of that bottom shelf variety stuff that’s only two years old. Life in the kingdom of heaven now is focusing on what God has already done for us, and how we respond to it, instead of looking longingly at what God might yet do, only to miss the things we’ve been blessed with already. Life in the kingdom of heaven now is seeing joy in helping each other, in looking past our faults and offering to stand alongside each other despite misunderstandings and differences. Life in the kingdom of heaven today is taking time out of our busy lives for something far greater than ourselves—because we not only know we should, but because we’ve experienced firsthand how blessed it is to give than it is to receive. Living in the kingdom of heaven now is responding to God’s to invitation to join the celebration of life where every tear is wiped away from our eyes, where death and dying are no more, where mourning and crying and pain are no more.
To be sure—responding to this invitation isn’t necessarily easy. For some, it’s scary. Tears, death, sickness, jealousy, animosity, backbiting, selfishness, showboating—these are the things we know, and they’re the things that, although we might not like them, come naturally to us. They’re easy—scary easy. Instead of responding to the invitation to come to God’s celebration for his Son, we’d rather make excuses. Rather the devil we know than the devil we don’t. Anyone can make excuses. Excuses are easy and free, and they flow from our mouths like a river when we’re unsure, scared, or unwilling. Unfortunately, excuses don’t make things easier. Indeed, excuses actually keep us in the vicious doom loop that robs us of the very fullness of life God so desperately wants us to take part in with him. When we refuse to respond to the invitation to God’s celebration, we find ourselves, not in a place overflowing with lavish joy, but instead surrounded by deep darkness, in a veritable living hell—with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. Anyone can make excuses. In fact, we all do it. Isn’t it strange how a $20 seems like a lot when we give it for someone or something else, but nothing when we spend it on ourselves? Isn’t it strange how two hours seem so long when we give it up for someone else, and so short when we’re doing something for ourselves? Isn’t it strange that we we’re unsure what say to say when someone needs us, but we have no trouble when gossiping with a friend? Isn’t it strange that some things or some people we can immediately make time for, but for others we wait to see if something better might pop up before committing?
We all do it. On our own, we all fail to respond to God’s invitation to join the celebration. And yet—the invitation is always there. God doesn’t stop inviting us. And God prepares us for this celebratory banquet by getting us dressed up right. We have put on Christ. In him we have been baptized. In baptism, God discards our old mantle of sinfulness and redresses us with the dazzling purity of his Son. In baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and chooses us, saying, “You are mine, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit continually, day in and day out, reminds us of God’s invitation to abundant life, to the wedding feast that has no end. And day in and day out, the Holy Spirit urges, impels, and goads us to respond. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to overcome our fear of the unknown in God’s kingdom and to respond to God’s invitation, not with excuses, but with a sometimes resounding, a sometimes feeble, a sometimes tentative, a sometimes enthusiastic, “I will, and I ask God to help me.”
God prepares the banquet. God gives the invitation. God makes us ready. And God welcomes us for the sake of his Son, the one who first welcomed us with love, mercy, and blessing. And so—no more excuses. Now we join the celebration, at our Savior’s invitation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.