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Friday, August 4, 2017

Excuses and Calling

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
The Second Sunday after Trinity
June 9, 2017
Our Gospel for the day contains one of the great parables in Christendom, that of the Great Supper. The reason that it has such significance is that it contains themes that are central to our salvation and to the Christian faith in general. It contains such themes as: the Grace of God, our election in Christ, and our response to the call of God. All of these themes are contained in about eight Bible verses. If you ever doubt that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God, this passage should dissuade you from that position.

The setting is this: Christ is in the home of a chief Pharisee on the Sabbath, having been invited to dine with him. The Pharisees “watched Him”, trying to find a way to trap him in his talk. Recall, Jesus has just healed a man of the dropsy, after having asked the Pharisees whether it was legal to heal on the Sabbath or not, to which they gave no answer. He equated healing the man with pulling out an ox or an ass that had fallen into a ditch on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees were speechless, because the answer is self-evident.

Christ then instructs his listeners about humility, telling them to assume the lowest place at a feast, “lest a more honourable man” be bidden of him. After this lesson, a listener says, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”

This naturally leads Jesus into this truly remarkable parable in today’s Gospel selection. He begins with, “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:” Who is this “certain man”? We can safely assume that the “certain man” is God the Father. We can also safely assume that this symbolizes the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, where the believer and Christ are co-joined spiritually in ecstatic union eternally in Heaven. This has been symbolized by a banquet that occurs eternally.

What is interesting here is that St. Luke doesn’t tell us why the “Great Man” prepared the great supper. Perhaps, like God the Father, he just desired to do it. This is an aspect of the mysterious divine Will of God that we will never understand, except to acknowledge with humble hearts that God wants to save us! God, who is serene, unknowable, yet knowing all things, desires you to have eternal, blissful fellowship with Him. Why?

The Bible tells us God’s motivation for this is love and that “we love Him because He first loved us.” (1John 4:19) Even if we can get around the enormity of His love for us, the question remains, Why? Why does He love us so absolutely, so completely? No one has that answer, but perhaps some hints of it lie in this parable.

The Great Man sends his servant to call those who have been “bidden” to the supper. Who is this “servant”? It could have been one of the prophets: Jeremiah, Jonah, Isaiah, Zechariah or one of the others whom God sent to call Israel and Judah to repentance. Think of it. God sent prophets for several hundred years to speak to his people. Sadly, the vast majority of them were martyred. The “servant” could be also be a figure for Christ Himself, who was sent to preach to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This thought echoes the idea of the Messiah as the suffering servant in the Book of Isaiah.

At any rate, this parable was certainly preached against Israel, and more specifically, the Scribes and the Pharisees. These were the leaders of the Chosen People, those who had been given the Law, the Prophets, the Covenant and the Promises. They were to be a kingdom of priests, leading all mankind to righteousness through a right relationship with God.

We know what happened. In the words of the parable, “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.” For example, one man bought a piece of land and needed to go see it. He was too busy with business to care for God. Another had just purchased five yoke of oxen and needed to try them out. He was too busy with his new purchase to come to the supper. The last man had just married a wife and thus was too entangled in family and personal relationships to get involved with the supper.

The point is this: Israel was offered salvation and eternal fellowship with God, but rejected it in favor of worldly things. Actually, it got much worse, as Israel chose false, heathen idols over the one true God who brought them out of bondage in Egypt In the book of Ezekiel, we are even told that the Temple courtyard itself was filled with pagan statues and idols. Over time, Israel would utterly reject God.

What is God’s response to all this? Christ tells us that the “Lord of the manor” turns from his invitees to call the poor, the maimed, the crippled and the blind. He thus turned from the Chosen People to the Gentiles. Unflattering as it may seem, we are the poor, the halt and the blind. St. Paul reminds us that we, the Gentiles, are the “wild root” grafted into the true vine. He also tells us never to exult in our inclusion over the Jews, simply because those whom God has grafted in, may also be grafted out as well.

Yet there is room.” Even after the servant has scoured the city, there is still room in the Lord’s house. So, the Great Man tells his servant to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. When we hear this, we think of Christ’s all-gracious call from the Cross. Remember when He said, in John 12:32 “ And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” It also refers to Christ’s instructions in Mat 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”

This parable also hints at judgment. After the house is filled, the Great Man says, “For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” What this says is that those who exclude God from their lives will in turn be excluded with God for eternity. This is just, because God is just. He will not force Himself on anyone, but will continue issuing gracious calls until death overtakes the unbeliever. They, in turn, will continue in exclusion from God. Exclusion from God means exclusion from all good. That is, no warmth, no love, no mercy, no grace, no pleasure. Since God is all good, the opposite of God is all non-good. That thought for me is too terrible for me.

So, as incredible as it may seem, this little passage of eight verses is the Gospel in a nutshell. God creates something good, offers it to some members of mankind, who reject it. God then calls others, who accept his graciousness and are saved.

In the Bible, we see Israel rejecting God, embracing idols and falling away, only to be punished until they seek repentance. Seeing this we may be tempted to judge. But, we can’t do it. Just as Israel was to be the role model for mankind in righteousness, they are also examples of our human-ness. You see, we too at various times “begin with one consent to make excuse” in little and big ways.

The question is this, when God calls us, how do we respond? When God calls us to church, or to Bible study, or to a certain church ministry such as choir, or altar guild, or to ground work around the church, how do we respond? If one were to substitute modern excuses for those given in the parable, we’d find it is exactly the same as in Christ’s time.

But, on the positive side, when we do respond to God, we get to “taste of the supper”. We taste of the sweetness of God. We taste of the fulfillment of our being, or as St. Francis once said, we fill the “God-sized hole” in our souls.

Beloved, when we answer the call of God, and when we don’t make excuses, we will do the things that please Him. We will begin to live in the eternal “Now” and we will experience not only a sense of joy and serenity here on earth, but we will also be looking forward to that eternal, ecstatic, perfect banquet with God.

Luke 14:17“And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.”

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