EPISTLE LESSON James 1:16-27
GOSPEL LESSON Luke 14:15-24
SERMON: “Let’s Throw a Party” I read a good story this week about a man who went into a bus station in Athens, Georgia to buy a ticket to Greenville, South Carolina. As he paid for his ticket, the clerk told him, “The bus is a bit behind schedule. Have a seat, and it will be here shortly.” So the man sat down, and then he noticed one of those novelty machines that claim to tell you everything about yourself. He thought it might be interesting, so he stuck in a quarter. The machine whirred and buzzed a bit, and out came a slip of paper: “Your name is Bill Jones. You are 35 years old. You’re from Athens, Georgia, and you are waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
“That’s amazing,” the man thought. “I wonder if it can do it again.” So he put in another quarter. More buzzing and whirring. Another slip of paper: “Your name is Bill Jones. You are 35 years old. You’re from Athens, Georgia, and you are waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
Now the man was really intrigued. “I wonder if the machine can see me somehow,” he thought. So he turned around, with his back to the machine. In went a third quarter, and he waited. A few seconds later, the same message appeared: “Your name is Bill Jones. You are 35 years old. You’re from Athens, Georgia, and you are waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
Well, now the man was determined to see if he couldn’t fool the machine. He spotted a drug store across the street. Quickly, he walked out of the station and over to the store. At the novelty counter, he bought one of those silly glasses with the big nose and mustache attached. And he bought a set of fake ears. Then he bought a cape. Finally, he bought a cane and gave himself a limp. He was convinced even his own mother would not have recognized him.
He hobbled out of the drug store, back across the street,
and back into the bus station One more time, he hobbled up to the machine, and put in a fourth quarter. The machine buzzed and whirred, and spit out the message: “Your name is Bill Jones. You are 35 years old. You’re from Athens, Georgia, and while you were fooling around, you missed the bus to Greenville, South Carolina.” (Brian K. Bauknight, “I Hate to Miss the Party” as told by Maxie Dunham)
Last week we read about Jesus talking about himself as the Bread of Life – absolutely essential for spiritual life and health and growth. Obviously Jesus couldn’t use a story about missing the bus in a culture where travel was mostly on foot, or if you were well to do, perhaps you had a mule or even a camel. But if you’ve ever had to commute to work on public transportation in a big city like Chicago, you know you don’t want to ever miss the bus.
Jesus used the image of a great banquet to tell us the same thing – while people are busy doing other things they can miss the bus – or in this case, the banquet, the party. It was an image with which his listeners were very familiar.
We kid around here about Presbyterians coming to just about any church event when there’s food involved. We have a great precedent for that. Jesus frequently ate with all kinds of people. He went to the Pharisee’s house when he was invited, and he invited himself over to eat with the short tax collector, Zacchaeus. He took a lot of criticism for eating with tax collectors, sinners and outcasts, and not fasting when the legal eagles thought he should.
In his parable, the party started out to be exclusive. There was a specific guest list. The Pharisees who were listening to Jesus’ story would have understood themselves to be among the invited guests. As a people in a covenant relationship with God, they would expect to be the invited guests, and they would be equally certain that the “riff raff” were not expected to come. But in this story, Jesus notes that many of the invited guests no-showed. They all had excuses why they couldn’t come. One had to go look at the property he had just purchased. (Would the land not be there in the morning?) One had just bought some oxen. (Okay, animals require some care and attention. Could he not have hired someone to feed and care for them for a few hours?) And another sent the excuse that he had just gotten married. (We’ll allow that most people don’t want to go anywhere on their wedding night except on the honeymoon with their bride.)
There seems to be increasing validity to the excuses given, but none of them are good enough to miss this particular banquet. And that’s the thing with excuses. We are pretty good at making them work for just about anything we don’t want to do.
Anyone can come up with an excuse if they really want
to. Excuses may even seem plausible on the surface. My friend Pat detests carrots. Really hates them. So I think I should share with her reasons she could give as to why she won’t eat carrots.
Did you know. . .
– nearly all sick people have eaten carrots. Obviously, the effects are cumulative.
– An estimated 99.9% of all Americans who die from cancer and heart disease have eaten carrots at some time.
– 95 % of people involved in car crashes ate carrots within 60 days of their accidents.
– 90 % of juvenile delinquents come from homes where carrots are served regularly.
– Among people born in 1839 who ate carrots, there has been a 100% mortality rate.
All of those statements are true. Are they valid reasons not to eat carrots?
There are things which we may be unable to do. There may be some things we have a right to choose not to do. A simple, “No thank you, I don’t really like carrots,” will do. But Jesus’ parable tells us there is no excuse good enough for missing the Master’s kingdom party.
The host for the banquet was angry, Jesus said. Everything was ready – food, drink, table set – but instead of guests he was getting excuses. He gave his servant orders to go into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. When the servant came back the Master sent him out again to drag people in. The goal: His house is to be full. This is no longer an exclusive party. And neither is the invitation to the Kingdom of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Paul wrote to the believers in Rome (Romans 10:9, 12--13): [This] is the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. . . “ 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Suppose a woman went to the doctor because she had pain, she didn’t feel well and it just didn’t seem to be getting any better. So the doctor gave her a prescription – actually the remedy was readily available – over the counter, inexpensive. On the way home she thought to herself, this can’t be much of a cure. “I’ve wasted my time and money going to see this doctor. I’m not going to waste any more on getting those pills, even if they don’t cost much. In fact, since
they don’t cost much, I doubt they’ll work.”
A couple of weeks later, she didn’t feel any better. If anything she was feeling worse, so she made another appointment with her doctor. “Did you get the pills I told you about?” he asked.
“No. I didn’t really think they would help much. I’m sure I need something much stronger than that. I keep feeling more and more tired, and burned out. I really need help.”
“Get the pills. They will help. In fact 90% of patients with your symptoms get almost immediate relief from this simple prescription.”
But on the way home, she thought to herself that it was just too much trouble to stop at the store. Maybe they wouldn’t even have them. They might be out of stock. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow, or next week or someday, but not today.
But tomorrow, more of her strength up and left her. The next week, she actually began to worry about the possibility that she could die. “I’m not going back to that doctor,” she thought. He doesn’t have anything new or exciting to offer me. So, she dragged herself to the phone and called for an appointment with a specialist, someone who really knew his stuff. That’s what she needed! After a long wait, eventually it was time for her appointment. She dragged herself into the specialist’s office. He wasn’t a participating provider, so she had to pay a bunch of money before they called her back to an examining room. But now she had the specialist! She told him how old and sick and burned out she felt. “Doctor, I am almost at the end of my rope. Please tell me what I need to do to get strong again.”
“Yes, of course,” said the great doctor. And he wrote out a prescription on his special prescription pad. With hope renewed the woman left his office and took the prescription to the pharmacy and gave it to the pharmacist.
“You don’t need a prescription for that,” he said. “Those are in a little bottle right over there on that shelf.” It was the exact same, simple advice her primary physician had given her. But she had waited a long time to get in and paid a lot for that specialist, so she decided to take the inexpensive, readily available, little pills. Within the week she felt better. In two weeks she had more energy. Her enthusiasm for life returned and she even began to get excited about what she could accomplish now. She began to think of projects given up long ago. She no longer felt that she might die, but envisioned a full and healthy life ahead.
The church is a lot like that woman. The prescription for strength and energy, wholeness and healing is quite simple. Most Americans have been to church, but many do not attend anywhere on a regular basis. Studies show that more than 80% of those who do not go to church would likely attend if invited by a trusted friend or relative. Here’s the prescription: Invite .. . someone – anyone. Invite them in. Let’s throw a party!
Remember -- the Kingdom Party is not an exclusive one -- Jesus invites us all. The Church is not a showplace for saints, it’s a place of redemption, healing, and hope for sinners. You can hire consultants or call in specialists, but the prescription will be the same. The good news is, it doesn’t add to the church budget. We don’t have to take special offerings because it doesn’t cost anything to invite friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, golf-partners.
The person you ask might say no. That’s okay. You are no worse off than if you never asked them. What if they would have said yes, but you decided not to ask?
September 16th is National Back to Church Sunday. You can use that as an excuse. You can blame me – “My pastor made me do it. . . .” The Lord wants his house to be full.