Any Excuse Won't Do
November 26th, 2017
Any Excuse Won't Do
The 18th. verse of Luke 14 which is our text for this morning sounds like it might have come from a 21st century writer. Yet, it comes from Jesus and it comes in the form of a story, which was not at all unusual for him. Since it is in the form of a story, let's tell it again.
A man prepared a great feast. He spared no expense on the food or decorations. He wanted to make it a most festive occasion. He had the means to do it, and the desire to do it. His excitement grew as all the plans were carried out. What a party they would have!
He prepared a guest list, friends, people who would enjoy coming. Out went the invitations ... You are cordially invited to my home on the third Saturday of next month for the day. We look forward to having you with us. The invitations were delivered by personal messenger.
And, early on the appointed Saturday he sent his personal emissary to the guests who had been invited. This was the last minute reminder in case they were inclined to be forgetful, or were confused about the time or place. The host wanted no slip-up. The personal invitation followed the written one.
Incredibly, they all began to make excuses to the emissary. One said that he had just bought a new piece of real estate and needed to go check it out. Please express my regrets. Another said that he had just been to the auction and had bought some livestock and needed to find out the condition of his new purchase. He wanted the host to accept his excuse for not being able to attend. A third said that he had just gotten married and therefore more important things than the party were on his mind and he knew the host would understand that he couldn't attend. So, the emissary came back and reported to the host.
Jesus says that the host was very angry. He told the servant to go out into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the beggars, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the poor, anyone, everyone, whatever their condition. Invite them to come to the party, everything is ready.
So, the emissary went out and found willing guests. They came trooping in, and a motley lot they were. They hadn't ever seen this much food in their lives. They just couldn't believe their good fortune, but you don't ask questions, you just start eating.
But, there was still room at some of the tables so the host again ordered the emissary to go out and find anyone he could who would come and fill up the banquet hall. If those who were invited don't want to come, then I will find some who do want to come. And those who refused won't have the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.
That's it. That's the story that Jesus told. It's probably familiar to you, at least the part about giving excuses. Have you ever set out to enlist volunteers? If you have, then you know all about excuses. That's really an art, you know. Some do it very well, others don't.
The rules of etiquette suggest an explanation might be in order. I mean, after all, you just can't say no. You don't want to hurt the feelings of the person who is inviting you. So you extend apologies, you offer explanations, you make excuses.
Henry Ford, the automobile maker, always used to say, Never explain. Maybe he had something there. But, don't people expect some sort of explanation? I mean, you have to say something, don't you? Is a poor excuse better? Better than what? When we have heard that explanation, we have said to ourselves, probably, Well, I suppose a poor excuse is better than no excuse at all.
This is the point at which I ought to acknowledge that this sermon is not aimed at any specific person, just as no sermon is aimed at any specific person, though I do plead guilty to having aimed some at myself in the past. This is rather more a matter of whether you hear the words as ones meant for you, or whether you don't. It is part of life to receive invitations, and it is part of life either to accept or decline them. And when we do decline, we generally make some sort of excuse. Perhaps we decline too quickly and too easily sometimes, and have reason to regret not accepting the invitation. We have but one life to live. And life does slip by so quickly. We cannot do everything. We cannot accept every opportunity. We cannot accept every responsibility. This is simply the way that life is.
The excuses given by the prospective guests in the story Jesus told are interesting ones; real estate, livestock, matrimony. Excuses are always interesting because they speak volumes about those who give them. They reveal at the very least our priorities. We think this is important, we think this is not so important, we think this is of no importance at all. If we really want to do something we will find a way to do it.
I'm not totally positive, but I strongly suspect that every decision requires the giving up of one thing in order to have another. This is true whether we're talking about business, home, marriage, or just eating. And what we want to do we will find excuses to do. After all, we do have to live with ourselves.
Now the excuses in the story Jesus told don't sound all that flimsy to me, do they to you? I would have let them off the hook. If I had bought a piece of property, I would want to see it ... or the livestock I just purchased. If I had just gotten married, I would have wanted to go somewhere with her. These were not poor excuses!
So, what's the point? It is this: that good things can come between us and Christ, not just bad things. The good can be the enemy of the best. If these activities described in the excuses in the story had been bad we would have recognized them right off. The test of life comes in being able to look at what is good - but to know that there may be something better.
It was what these prospective guests were missing which hurt. Here was the banquet, and they were missing it. The story goes on, remember? The host listened to this recital of excuses and grew very angry. The food was ready. The tables were set and decorated. The waiters were ready to begin serving the guests. And, nobody was coming? If the invited ones weren't, he'd find some who would. When we do not appreciate the invitation, it is our loss, not God's. The banquet hall will be filled whether we accept the invitation or not.
Now one of the things on my priority list not anywhere near the top is getting ready and going out to a movie. So, for years, I have come up with a list of excuses not to go to the movies. One, the manager of the theater never called on me. Two, I did not a few times, but no one spoke to me. Three, every time I go, they ask for money. Four, I went so much as a child, I just got my fill of movies. Five, the movies last too long; and six, they show them at the wrong time. Why don't they change their schedule? Sound familiar?
In contrast, I offer you reasons given by Theodore Roosevelt for going to worship. First, you may hear a thoughtful sermon. Second, you will take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible. Third, you take part in singing hymns which will move your heart. Fourth, you will meet and speak to good neighbors in church. Fifth, you will come away feeling a little more charitable toward the world. Sounds reasonable to me, as though coming from someone who knows from experience, who wants to go to church and isn't looking for an excuse to stay away.
A number of years ago now there was a story that came out of Cleveland about a man named Landry who was building a pretty good sized boat in his back yard in his spare time. He worked on it for years, painstakingly, until he had finished. He announced that he would soon set sail. He even announced the date. But when the day came he said that he would have to wait another day or two because the wind wasn't quite right. That went on for several days. Finally, he did set sail and enjoyed his handiwork tremendously. I have thought about being in Landry's place and I know what I would have done. I would have gone out morning after morning, put up my finger and concluded that the wind was not right that day. When one looks for an excuse, one can find it.
During WWII, Roosevelt and Churchill were pressing Stalin on some agreement, and Stalin gave a reason for refusing. Ah, said Churchill, that's not the reason you gave last time. And Stalin smiled and replied, When you don't want to do something, one reason is as good as another.
Look at the invitations we are offered. What will we gain? What can we give? What will we be missing? The invitation we are given is to the banquet of life ... abundant life ... that is the invitation we are given.
Whatever else you do, don't miss that! Are there decisions to be made in your life today? Are there invitations waiting to be accepted or declined? Are there opportunities about to slip away from you?
Maybe you have heard about openers ... here are some closers I want to leave with you today. If you are not a member of Christ's church, I invited you to be one. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I invite you to be one. If you are not investing something of yourself in the work of Christ in this world, I invite you to do so.
Why not today? Why not now?
If you are not spending a part of each day in prayer, I can invite you to do that. If you are not reading something from God's Word every day, I can invite you to do that. If you are not sharing what you have with those who are hungry, lonely, sad, angry, and confused, I can invite you to do that, too.
Oh, yes, we can all come up with excuses - but why make excuses - any excuse won't do. We know that. Why not let the Spirit of God usher you into the feast of life?
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