HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Job 1:1 and 2:1-10
EPISTLE LESSON Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:5-12
MESSAGE: “He Still Sets the Table for Us”
I have always had a special place in my heart for the book of Job. I know, Paul wrote to Timothy that, “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but some verses, some passages, some books speak to us individually, perhaps because we all have our own personal circumstances. There are two reasons why I especially like Job, which scholars say is most probably the oldest book in our Bible. The first reason is that the book refutes the notion that when we have troubles it is because we brought them upon ourselves. Sometimes we do bring trouble on ourselves – we make mistakes, sometimes we intentionally do things that have serious consequences. But the reader knows from the first chapters of the book, that Job’s troubles were not because he was a bad, silly or foolish man. His troubles came precisely because he was blameless(C) and upright;(D) he feared God(E) and shunned evil.(F) He was a man of integrity which got him the unenviable position of become a test case between God and Satan.
Satan’s position was that if Job weren’t wealthy, healthy, happy and strong, he wouldn’t be such a fan of God, that if he lost his family, his farm and his fitness, he would curse God and die. And God said something like, I’ll take that bet. Just don’t kill him. Job didn’t do anything wrong. In fact he was doing things right. There’s a message here for us. When we see someone in need, someone in trouble, someone sick, or hungry, or homeless, while they may have had a hand in creating their situation, we cannot jump to the conclusion that anyone’s troubles are their own fault and they do not deserve for us to go out of our way to help.
The second thing I truly love about the Book of Job is that it teaches me that God can handle it when we yell at him. People talk about the patience of Job. In one sense perhaps he was patient – he never did give up, curse God and die as his wife encouraged him to do. Take the time to read the story and you will discover that Job is anything but patient with God. In chapter 3 he curses the day he was born. Skip down to chapter 29 and you’ll hear him pine for the good old days when he enjoyed God’s favor. In chapter 30 he rages at God: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me.” He bitterly bemoans his situation and then in the next chapter makes his case for not being responsible for his situation. He fairly yells at God for allowing all his suffering. One might think that Almighty God would just stretch out his hand and swat Job away for his impudence and insolence. If God had done that, he could have made an example of Job: Don’t you dare question God! But God doesn’t do that. It’s the patience of God we see, not the patience of Job. God simply, but clearly points out that Job doesn’t know everything that God knows. Job gets it, and is appropriately contrite for his presumption that he had either the right or the knowledge to criticize God.
There is a great deal of wisdom in this unique book in our Old Testament. It’s very easy to pass judgment on people, especially if we haven’t passed through their experience. People who have lost a loved one, suffered a major illness, lost their job through it being made redundant or lost a position of responsibility, often go through a valley of bereavement which can’t be understood second-hand. The Book of Job reminds us that human suffering is not necessarily chosen by the victims. There is still evil at work in the world.
Pair that together with the letter to the Hebrews in which we read that 11 “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Hebrews 2:11-12).
We are brothers and sisters of Christ, which makes us brothers and sisters with each other. Not forgetting that occasionally we experience a little sibling rivalry, part of the intent of the author of this letter is to remind us of our relationships with Christ and with each other. In the work of the cross and the power of resurrection, Jesus has completed the atonement (at-one-ment) of earthlings and God. This makes us brothers and sisters with Christ and with one another. He has elevated us to the same status as himself, each one of us a much-loved child of God.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us it is about more than friendship. We are brothers and sisters with those who are in Christ, children of God together; we are family of God in heaven who is big enough to handle our troubles, our doubts, our tantrums and outbursts.
So now the question for today becomes what does this all tell us about how to live together as the beloved brothers and sisters of Christ.
We are brothers and sisters of all of God’s children in the world, not just of citizens of the United States, not just one color, race or political persuasion. We are brothers and sisters of all of God’s children in the world, not just the well-to-do, not just the well-educated, not just those with whom we agree. And what does God’s word require of us? To “act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [y]our God.
The Table around which we are about to gather is the Lord’s Table. It is not my table. It is not North Kent’s table, nor even is it the table of the Presbyterian church. It is the Lord’s Table. Christ is the one who determines the guest list. He invites all who trust in him to come to the Table, to remember who he is and what he has done for us, and what he expects of us in return - to “act justly towards all of God’s children, and to love mercy, forgiving others as God in Christ has forgiven us, and to walk humbly with [y]our God each and every day.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Proverbs 1:20-33
EPISTLE LESSON James 3:1-12
MESSAGE: “Words with Friends”
Is there anyone here this morning who has played “Words with Friends?” How many of you know what it is? I probably wouldn’t have even heard of it if Alec Baldwin hadn’t made the news a few months back being kicked off an American Airlines flight because he refused to stop playing the game on his iPad when instructed to do so by the flight attendant.
I understand it is a game based on the familiar Scrabble board game. Players start out with 7 letter tiles and take turns building words with an opponent, scoring points according to the words and letters used. Apparently, it can be played on iPhones and iPads, on Facebook and Kindle, and several other devices. Up to 20 games can be played simultaneously, and you can play with friends on Facebook or be randomly assigned an opponent. Words with Friends has now become a phrase that names a social media “app,” instead of a description of a conversation between people who know each other.
The irony of the Baldwin incident, however, is that while he was continuing to share collegial words with his friends on the phone, he was allegedly using quite different words with the flight attendants who were just trying to do their jobs. Baldwin later tweeted (on Twitter, another social network) that American Airlines is “where retired Catholic school gym teachers from the 1950s find jobs as flight attendants” and those attendants “walk the aisles of an airplane with a whistle around their neck and a clipboard in their hands and they have made flying a Greyhound bus experience.” Those may have been among the more cordial words he said. According to American Airlines, Baldwin was “extremely rude” to the flight crew, calling them “inappropriate names” and using “offensive” language -- not friendly words, a theme suggested by the very app he was enjoying. The flight was forced to go back to the gate to deplane Baldwin which made the rest of the passengers wait. No doubt they had a few choice words of their own.
The third chapter of the Letter of James begins with a few words about the tongue. James compares this relatively small body part to the bit used to steer a horse and to a rudder used to steer a boat. Small parts that have enormous influence.
James first warns those who aspire to become teachers because “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (v. 1). Any teacher, in church or in school, must know that his or her words carry great weight and can very easily harm or encourage a student. And while “all of us make many mistakes,” it’s important for teachers to strive for perfect word choice that becomes a “bridle” for controlling the kind of loose and destructive talk that can inevitably leak out and cause destruction (v. 2). Indeed, like a bit in the mouth of a horse, a controlled tongue can guide a person’s whole “body” in what he says and does (v. 3). Some will breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I’m not a teacher – in the schools or in the church.” I hate to disillusion you, but a) most of you here today have served at some point, either as a deacon or as an elder, which makes you a leader, and b) anyone who knows that you are a member of a church will judge the church and its mission by your words. No one is off the hook on James’ admonition for us to watch our words.
James acknowledges that what he is telling his readers is not easy. “7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue.” Have you been hurt by words? or have your words ever hurt another person? You are not alone. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Everyone says things they shouldn’t. “If we claim that we have no sin, the truth is not in us. . .” So should we declare controlling our tongues impossible and give up?
The Apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question in his letter to the Christians in Rome (chapter 6), “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” And he quickly answers his own question, “2 By no means! We are those
who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
God gives us instructions for living, not because God is mean or wants to take our fun away. God gives us instructions for living because God loves us all, and wants to protect us. James says the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” And this is not the first time God’s word has told us not to speak untruths. Look up Exodus 20. This one is right up there in the big Ten (Commandments!), right after don’t murder, commit adultery or steal stuff. God gives us these rules because God loves each and every one of us and wants to protect us from unnecessary pain.
Remember when we were children, and some bratty kid at school or on the playground called us a name, or said we were ugly or stupid? What did we learn to say in response? “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” That little ditty may have helped us feel better for a moment. It may have even slowed down the kid who said something hurtful, especially if we were able to say it without tears. The trouble is, it just isn’t true. Sticks and stones can break my bones, and you’re darn tootin’ names can hurt us. Telling lies, spreading gossip, throwing insults, making verbal threats
can hurt and can do incredible damage.
How carefully do you monitor what goes into your mouth? For example, do you follow a low-fat diet? Do you track the fat grams going into your body? Do you watch the number of calories that you consume? Do you avoid refined sugars? Do you limit your caffeine? Do you eat only dolphin-safe tuna? Do you eat only food grown locally? Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Do you eat only free-range chicken? Do you shun high fructose corn syrup? Do you buy organic milk, fruits and vegetables? Do you use sea salt instead of table salt? Purchase only beef that’s produced without the use of growth hormones? Cook with olive oil instead of Crisco?
The bad news is that you can do all of those things, and you’ll still die – eventually. These practices may make you a little healthier, but their value is temporary. None of the foods that you are avoiding or limiting can defile you. They can’t soil you spiritually. They can’t make you any less pleasing to God.
Now, compared to the care you take in controlling what goes into your mouth, how careful are you to control what comes out of your mouth? Do you apply as much energy, and planning, and self-discipline to controlling your speech as you apply to controlling your calories, or your fat grams, or your carbohydrates? If not, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Because Jesus says that what it is what comes out of your mouth that defiles a person.
One final observation: Think for a moment about someone about whom you don’t really care whether you tell the truth or not. You hear some gossip, and this person isn’t your friend, so why not enjoy the feeling of importance of having something juicy to tell. We’ve read from James. I’ve sent you to Romans and Exodus. Now I’m going to send you to the gospel according to Matthew 25. Pick up the words of the Lord, say at the 42nd verse:
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 ”They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 ”He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not
do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 ”Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the
righteous to eternal life.”
Do we think that Jesus was only talking about specific acts of giving food and clothing, visiting the sick and prisoners? No.
James points out 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
If we spread gossip, tell lies, or say unkind things to or about anyone, we are telling lies, spreading gossip and saying unkind things to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I took German for my foreign language in high school, and the class met in the exact same room every semester for the 4 years I was there. There was a plaque on the wall I saw every day I went to school. “Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth into gear.”
Before you speak an unkindness ask the questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
Friends, be sure the heart of Jesus is engaged before putting mouth into gear.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
EPISTLE LESSON Acts 2:42-47
MESSAGE: “This Thing Called Church”
If you are a guest this morning, we’re glad you’ve joined us on National Back to Church Sunday. I have good news for you! Sociologist’s studies over the past twenty years show that those who attend church regularly
So you couldn’t have picked a better place to be this morning.
Acts 2 is the story of the very first church, which started in Jerusalem in 33 AD. Two thousand years ago, a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus burst on the scene with a mission that has changed the world. Everywhere He went Jesus touched the hearts and minds and lives of people by telling stories, reaching out with compassion and painting verbal pictures of life and love, of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
His teachings so riveted audiences that they went without food to hear Him tell about the God who knew and loved them personally. He welcomed everybody – rich and poor, children, young people and the elderly, the blind, the lame, the sick and the healthy, women and men, friends and strangers, the popular and the outcast. What Jesus envisioned was so valuable that He encouraged children to come to it, the poor in spirit to seek it, and the rich to be willing to let go of everything they owned to enter into it. “The Good News of the Kingdom must be proclaimed,” He said. People would walk for miles to hear Him speak about it.
For three years, Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and then, to the shock and dismay of every hope-filled follower, He was mocked, beaten, and put to death. His disciples huddled in fear and depression. They had envisioned Jesus delivering Israel from Roman oppression and rule, and establishing a political kingdom on this earth with Him as the King. Now with His death, all hope seemed lost.
But three days later Jesus rose overcoming the power of sin and death. He opened their minds to see that the kingdom He had been teaching about for three years was not a political kingdom, but a far greater one, a spiritual kingdom—the rule of God in people’s hearts.
His story was powerful and compelling. People from everywhere were drawn to it. And they called this new movement “The Church” – in Greek, ekklesia – those who are called out. This thing called “church” was like nothing anyone had ever experienced before. Those who came to hear about Jesus met together in their homes, sharing with one another what they had seen and heard, what they remembered of his teachings. In the very first church, described in our lesson from Acts, the people devoted themselves to teaching, to fellowship, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to praying for one another. The atmosphere of welcome and excitement was so electric that a sense of awe and wonder was with them every time they met.
The Bible records that miracles took place in that church. One of the miracles was that people had such heartfelt love for one another that they willingly sold their possessions and goods, giving to anyone in the group who had a need. This new thing called “Church” was so compelling that the Bible says the people in the church met together every day—sometimes they would go to the Temple for public worship. Most times they met in homes for more intimate friendship.
Members of the church ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They praised God for letting them be part of this amazing group. That early church was so irresistible—so contagious—that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They became part of God’s family that Jesus had preached about, prayed about, and died for on Good Friday.
Friends, what we read about in Acts 2 is how God envisions the Church, not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world, including right here in Plainfield Township. As we talk about the direction of this church almost 2000 years later, we would do well to take a good look at the early church.
I had occasion last week to talk with our representative from Michigan Office solutions. They’re the company that leases and takes care of the equipment we use to print stuff. He reminded me of the fact that when you make a copy of something, it’s not as clear and sharp as the original. Then you make a copy of the copy, and the second copy is not as sharp as the first copy. Each successive copy is just a little less. These days, technology has improved to the point that we don’t really notice much deterioration. But there are times when it is a good idea to go back and take a good look at the original.
How does a church become like that original church in Acts 2? That church pursued five purposes that when implemented can make any church compelling, powerful and influential. So listen carefully, because this is what God wants NKPC to be like, too. And it can happen starting today – if we commit to pursuing the priorities the first church did. Are you ready for this?
1. They committed to authentic community. In the Jerusalem church people got real. They owned their mistakes, admitted who they were, took off their masks and asked and extended forgiveness. Community can be powerful because God Himself designed us to be in relationship with others. Most of us want just once in our life to be in a group where we are known and loved and served and celebrated just for who we are.
If you are taking notes, write this down: The church is meant to be a place where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be. How did they do that? The text says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. Consider a few examples, and you’ll see the power of devotion. John F. Kennedy devoted our nation to putting a man on the moon and, as a result, changed our perception of what was possible.
On a personal level, a few years ago Michael Phelps devoted himself to the sport of swimming and, as a result, earned a record number of Olympic medals. Bill Gates devoted himself to Microsoft and earned enough money to cure several worldwide diseases. Billy Graham’s devotion to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led him to travel to almost every country in the world, something he’s done for more than fifty-five years.
Put a church full of people together who are devoted to the well-being of each and every one and to the gospel of Jesus Christ and you’ll have an organization that can change our community, and perhaps our nation and world.
The Church, energized by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a relational commitment to one another, has a power to change lives like nothing else on earth. The proof is found in numbers. Community is such a strong force that today more than two billion people worldwide are part of this thing called “The Church.” Here people can feel loved and accepted in ways they had only previously hoped for.
The second compelling purpose that the very first church engaged in, was:
2. They gave God wholehearted worship.
My favorite theology professor in seminary used to say, “If people can stand for a touchdown at a football game, why shouldn’t they stand for a baptism?” Worship is a lot like our response to a touchdown. It’s about giving recognition and appreciation. One of the things that made the first church so attractive was its members all possessed a clear understanding that it was God who had made them, given them breath, saved them, and provided for their daily needs. So they assembled every week and they worshiped God.
The text says, “They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” When the Lord’s Supper was served, they didn’t take it for granted. When someone needed prayer, brothers and sisters laid hands on them and prayed fervently for God to come through. When God answered their prayers, they gave Him full credit. The church is where God gets the glory He deserves.
3. They took their spiritual growth seriously. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Every time one of their teachers was teaching, they were dialed in. Why? Because in that church, they believed that personal spiritual growth was important. Jesus had touched them, and they wanted to become as much like Him as possible. Lots of people take their golf game, their bank account, or their career seriously. Yet, the most important thing—our relationship with God—can often be neglected if we’re not intentional about it. Ultimately, giving yourself to spiritual growth brings the greatest payoff.
Here is a good point to put into your notes: The church is where you can become the best you you can be. Look at the person next to you for a minute. How many of you think they could get better? (Raise your hand.) Okay, now how many of you think you could get better? (Raise your hand.) None of us have arrived. We all need to grow, don’t we? That’s why we have Sunday school even for adults and Bible Study. God made the Church: so you could be with God and His people and learn about God and God’s ways.
4. They invested in positive priorities.
They invested their time, talents, and treasures in what really mattered.
In the Acts 2 church, because they had a sense of community and a sense of gratitude to God and a desire to become more like Jesus, the text says, “All the believers had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” They had control of their finances so that when a need arose, they not only could meet it, they got excited about meeting it. When other members of the church were in need they sold a piece of property or tapped into their savings. They lived in the anticipation that Jesus could return at anytime, so they let go of their stuff and reached out to help others and share the Good News with others. They invested in positive and eternal priorities – in other words: People.
The church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity.
The fifth compelling purpose of the first church is explained at the very end of our main passage. Acts 2:47 says that as a result of all the things going on, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
5. They invited others to join them. After all, who wouldn’t want to be part of something where people were genuine and authentic, where God got the credit, and people were becoming more and more kind and generous? Inviting people to that church was easy because the people loved their church. They loved their church because they loved each other and treated each other as they would like to be treated.
Here’s the final thing to write down: The church is where people get adopted into God’s family.
This first church lived in the reality that they were entrusted with the message of the Gospel—the Good News that had the power to change people’s hearts. They had the privilege of telling people God loved them, that Jesus died for them, and they could have a relationship with Him. Second Corinthians 5:19 puts it this way: “… God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That was their message then, and it is ours today.
The reason we participated in Back to Church Sunday was because we want our church to be like that church. And we’re committed to working to become like it: An authentic community of faith that worships God wholeheartedly, is growing spiritually, is investing in positive and eternal priorities, and is inviting our family, friends, neighbors, community, and the world to become part of God’s family!
Let us pray together: Lord Jesus, some of us have invited you into our lives before, and for some of us today is the first time. We come to you, learning to acknowledge that we all sin and are in need of a Savior. We are learning to trust you to be our Lord and are filled with awe and gratitude to know that God loves each and every one of us. Help us to forgive and receive forgiveness for past transgressions and to live for you from today forward. In your name we pray. Amen.
On Sunday, September 9th, for a change of pace and special “Kick-Off Sunday” worship service we had a “Hymn Sing.” On previous Sundays worshipers in the congregation were given an opportunity to request some of their favorites. Most of them chose traditional standard hymns of the faith, which were woven into the fabric of our worship.
Many of the hymns are directly based on Bible verses. Here are a few examples of what we did.
Psalm 46:1-3, 11
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
“On a Hill Far Away” (“The Old Rugged Cross)
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”
“This Is My Father’s World”
Time with the Children:
“Jesus Loves Me”
Whether or not you like to sing, we would love to have you join us for worship.
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.