Excuses to Avoid a Wedding
Pentecost 21A Matthew 22:1-14 (Luke 14:15-24)
The nature of life is that we occasionally make up flimsy excuses. We often make flimsy excuses for something that we want to get out of. That is the nature of the human race. From time immemorial, people have made flimsy excuses in order to get out of things. That was true in the past about human beings and it is just as true today.
You have your flimsy excuse stories. I have my flimsy excuse story. To begin this sermon, I would like to tell you one of mine.
If you are a young man, you often need courage to ask a young woman for a first date. A guy is normally nervous when asking a young lady out for a date for the first time. For example, I remember so many years ago when I was going to ask out this young, blonde chick for a date. She later became my wife, and so I am recalling the first time that I asked her out for a date. I first send my emissaries, my friends, to approach Janet and let her know that I was a nice guy, the kind of guy that she may want to date. She was a freshman in college, and I can still see the first time I approached her there in front of her dormitory. “Hello, Jan, my name is Ed Markquart, and I would like to take you out for cokes tonight, if you would be interested.” She said, “I have another date.” I said “thanks” and got out of there as fast as I could because I can’t stand rejection and a “no” sounded like rejection to me. So the next time I telephoned her saying, “Jan, this is Ed Markquart and there is a big dance this weekend and I would like to know if you would go to the dance with me.” She said, “I am going home this weekend.” I thought, “Home? Get real.” I thought it felt like a flimsy excuse and my feelings were hurt, but not hurt enough not to telephone her a third time. I said, “Want to go to the campus café tonight for a coke?” She said, “I have a test the next day and I can’t.” I thought, “What does a test have to do with me?” Flimsy excuses, from my point of view, but perhaps not hers. Time went on. Pretty soon things started to reverse themselves and pretty soon she asked me out and later she asked me to marry her. OK, so it didn’t happen that way. But we are experience flimsy excuses. Flimsy excuses are part of life.
I had a friend by the name of Jory when I was in college and we were also high school buddies. I remember him at the end of the dormitory hallway, where all the telephone were, telephoning many a girl, trying to get a date and they had flimsy excuses. “No, I can’t go. My gerbil died.” “No, I can’t go. I have to clean my fish tank.” “No, I can’t go; I have to do my laundry.” Flimsy excuses.
Sometimes we want to make up flimsy excuses to get out of a wedding. We all remember those beautiful perfect Saturday afternoons, and the last thing you want to do is dress up in some fancy clothes and go to a wedding. You would rather be golfing or fishing or working in the yard. So you say to your husband or wife, “Can’t we figure out some kind of excuse so we can get out of this wedding?”
I would guess that all of us have fabricated an excuse or two during our lives. This is true about human nature. From the dawn of time, human beings have always fabricated excuses to get out of doing something that we didn’t want to do. Knowing human nature, Jesus told the following story.
But first, we need to set the setting. This particular story about the wedding feast is told in the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke and also the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas is not part of our Bible, but the wedding story for today is almost identical in the Gospel of Thomas. Many scholars think the Thomas’ version of this story is the oldest one. So I am going to blend all three accounts of this story into one story.
Jesus had been invited over to the home of one of the Pharisees who was a ruler of the
biggest outfit in town. I will call him, Simon the Pharisee. Simon the Pharisee had big money and he owned one of the big houses high on the hills of Jerusalem with all the other big shots of Jerusalem. Simon the Pharisee was the president of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Senate, and so Simon the Pharisee was one of the towns most important people and one of the biggest shots of Jerusalem. All the other big shots of town had been invited to this party in order to meet Jesus, the new celebrity in town. Jesus walked into Simon the Pharisee’s house and Jesus noticed how all the important people of town were trying to impress one another with their importance.
Jesus was blunt when he said to the rich leaders, “I notice that all of you are trying to impress one but it would be wise of you, when you come into Simon’s home, that you would be seated in the least prestigious chair at the far end of the table away from the host. Seeing you far away from the head chair, you could be invited up to sit near the head of the table…. Whoever exalts himself in this life will be humbled and whomever humbles himself in this life will be exalted.” And then Jesus bluntly said to the owner of the house, Simon the Pharisee, “And when you throw a feast or banquet, you shouldn’t simply invite all these middle class and upper middle class people to your party because they will just invite you back. Instead, go out to the allies and by-ways of life and invite the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame into the feast.”
Now, when one of them heard Jesus say this, he felt nervous and so he offered some inane comment, “Jesus, at the final banquet in heaven, it will be nice when all of us break bread together in heaven.” Knowing that this man was not part of the kingdom of God; knowing that this man’s heart was not close to God, Jesus then told the following parable to the man and all the mucky-mucks and big shots from town.
There was a king who had a son. This king was waiting for the day that this son would find the right woman to be married to. Time passed, and the king’s son found the right woman. Everyone knew that this was going to be some fabulous wedding. The text says that they killed the lamb and prepared a fine rump roast. They brought out the finest wine. They had planned this wedding for a whole year and now came the day of the actual wedding banquet. The food was being prepared. The roast beef was slowly turning on a homemade rotisserary over the coals. The rack of lamb was being basted with sauces. The wine bottles were opened. The feast was about ready to be served, and the king sent his servant out into the neighboring villages to tell everybody that the feast was now ready. … The servant went up to the first person and said, “The wedding banquet is all prepared and we are ready to serve. The rotisserary of beef is done; the rack of lamb is perfect; the wine bottles are uncorked; and the feast is ready to go.” The first person said, “I can’t come.” “You can’t come?” “I can’t come because I have a field where the rocks need to be picked up and hauled way and I need to build a fence around my field. I have a lot of work planned for today.” The servant said, “Don’t you realize that it is the king who is inviting you? The king. Don’t you get it?” The man replied, “I am busy.” … The servant went to the second person and said, “The banquet is ready to go. The roast is done perfectly. The rack of lambs smells delicious. The aromas from the wine bottles are wonderful.” The man says, “I can’t come.” “You can’t come?” “I have to get new yokes for my oxen. I have a new team of oxen and they need to have new harnesses made for them and be trained to work with each other. Today, right now, I have to work to do I don’t have time to come to the party.” The servant says, “Don’t you get it? It is the king who is inviting you.” “I understand it is the king, but I am busy.” … The servant went to the third person and said, “The roast is ready. The rack of lamb is perfect. The wine is sumptuous. And the feast is ready.” The man replied, “I just got married. We have to put all the dishes in the cupboards. The furniture needs to be moved in. The pictures hung on the walls. We just got married.” “Don’t you know who is inviting you? It is the king.” … So the servant went back to the king and said, “I hate to tell you but they aren’t coming to your party.” The king was angry and irate and said in a terse voice, “None of those people are going to join my wedding feast.” … The king then said to the servant, “Go back to the alleys and back streets and I want you to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame to my party. I want you to find the poorest people on the streets and bring them to the party.” The servant went to the alleys and the back streets and invited all the people he saw and those folks were glad for an invitation. They all came to the feast. The servant came back to the king and said, “I invited all of those people but there is still room for more people.” The king said, “Go back and compel all the people to come so that my house will be filled.” … Jesus finished the parable and looked at the Pharisees and asked, “Do you get it?” Blank. The Pharisees did not get it.
I would like to interpret this wonderful parable of Jesus for you. For the past number of days, I have had the pleasure of sleeping with this text in my dreams, living with it, having it soak into me. I have read some books and done some thinking and I would like to share some of what I have learned.
First and foremost, the purpose of this text is to be aware that to be a Christian is like being invited to a wedding feast. It is like being invited to a party where you will have a great time. That is what it is like to be a Christian.
Personally, I have experienced two weddings of enormous importance in my life. Some thirty-three years ago, my wife and I had a wham-bam wedding. It was such a blast that day. I still can see all my family, my aunts and uncles, all my friends, having quite a party. It was a great and happy moment; it was one of the happiest moments of my life. … Then a few years ago, our daughter was married to Steve, and I was able to dance with my daughter for the father-daughter dance. She played the song, “He is the wind beneath my wings,” and we danced together. What a grand moment. That is what it is to be a Christian. There is a groundswell to being a Christian, the joy of knowing that you are loved by God. The joy of knowing that God knows your name. The joy of knowing that you are going to be with God forever. There is a rich happiness to being a Christian. Being a Christian is not like being invited to a wake or a funeral or hanging out at a wake or funeral.
Some years ago, a friend of mine from church pulled me out into the parking lot to listen to a tape in her car. Darlene Malmo wanted me to hear her favorite Lionel Ritchie song. There was this song about life being like a party, “all night long.” She said, “I am going to party all night long with God.” That is what being a Christian is.
Some Christian say that it is not right to have such a mood of happiness and joy. Especially when there is so much starvation. When there is so much hunger. When there is so much suffering in the world, it is not right to be happy.
But that is not true. I think of the hymn, “This Is My Father’s World” and the great words to that hymn. “This is my father’s world, o let me ne’ver forget. That though the wrong be oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my father’s world, o let my heart by glad, for the Lord is king, let the heavens ring. God reigns, let the earth be glad.”
Yes, in this world there is so much suffering and so much starvation, but it is also a banquet. Joy, in the middle of suffering, is at the core of being a Christian.
What are the gifts or fruit of the Holy Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience. Often in the Bible, immediately after the word, love, you hear the word, “joy.” The word, “joy,” is the second highest on the list of Christian gifts.
Talking about this God centered joy and happiness has nothing to do with being a middle class American. It has nothing to do with owning a car, a triple car garage, and four bedrooms. It has nothing to do with owning a microwave, a computer and a washing machine. … One time, I was privileged to visit the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and got to know Sister Mary and her students from her school I saw smiles that came from way within their hearts. I visited our sister church in Haiti, and I had never seen such happiness on people and I was wondering where it came from. There is immense joy in the slums of Nairobi and in the paper shack towns of Puerto Prince, Haiti, but this joy has nothing to do with being a middle class person. This happiness has nothing to do with the accumulation of middle class possessions. It has nothing to do with the buying of microwaves, washing machines and cars. This joy has to do with knowing God, knowing that our hearts belong to God, knowing that you and I will be with God forever.
But then the text goes on to talk about people always making excuses. People are always making excuses why they do not want to be part of God. People are always making excuses why they do not have time to pray. People are always making excuses why they don’t want to be part of the church. People are always making excuses for why they do not want to help make the world a better place. Let me amplify.
People have thousand and one excuses, and the excuses are so old, but Jesus’ illustrations are so contemporary. What are the excuses that people gave Jesus? They bought a field. How contemporary. How modern. How appropriate for today’s world. “I got myself a house. I got myself a business. I got a cabin. I am busy taking care of my property. Or the example in the parable about the five oxen. Again, how contemporary. That is, I bought a truck. I got a new car. I got a new camper. I need to keep this thing going. Oxen take maintenance; cars take maintenance. Or the excuse in the parable that I just got married. We’re young. The new job. The new car. The new house. The new kids. People always have one thousand and one legitimate excuses of why they do not have time for God, for church, or to help the world become a better place. The excuses that we use today seem identical to the ones that Jesus gave.
Excuses have to do with God. At the heart of this parable is that we are invited to be in fellowship with God. You and I are inherently spiritual. We are designed in such a way that we are to be in fellowship with God. I read a sermon by Dr. Morris Wee on this text and he gave that sermon some forty or fifty years ago. He said that we were designed for spirituality. He said that we are not blobs of protoplasm. We are not itches on the epidermis of a pigmy planet. We are not first cousins to an ape which finally learns to shave. We are human beings. And how are we different than the animals? We are designed for a relationship with God. There is a grandeur to the human soul. We are made for fellowship with God. We are made for prayer. The other animals are not. We are designed to walk with God, talk with God.
And we say, “We don’t have time. We don’t have time. We are too busy, God. I’ve got a job. A family. I am tired. I don’t have time for you.” And Jesus said, “Don’t you know? It is the king who has invited you. It is the king who wants you to be there and be part of his life. You and I are designed for spiritual relationships and life is best when we are having that spiritual relationship with God.
We need help. We need help in our spiritual relationships, and that is the purpose of the church. You cannot be a spiritual person without spiritual people around you. I will say it again: you cannot be a spiritual person without spiritual people around you, helping you to grow in the spirit. That is the purpose of the church. The church is simply spiritual people who help each other grow in the Spirit of Christ.
And some people offer their excuses against the church, “O, I don’t have time. I don’t like the church at all. The church is filled with a bunch of hypocrites. All they want is money. I “got burned” by the church. I am so busy with living life: my home, my family, my work, my recreation. I don’t have any more time available. I have a thousand and one excuses as to why I am not involved in the church.”
Further, we are designed in such a way that we are to make the world a better place. My mentor, Dr. Morris Wee said, that we are to put our shoulders linked to God’s and work together to make this world a better place. People around us are starving and hungry and they are our brothers and sisters, and we are to help in making their world a better place. We are not to give up and say, ‘I give up helping. I abdicate. I quit helping others.”
Augustine, one our early church fathers, writing in about the year four hundred, comments about the wedding garments that the bride and groom wear for the wedding, the wedding garment that all people are to wear is charitable love. Charitable love for your neighbor. No, not just family love for your spouse and children. Augustine, in his sermon on this text, says that eventhe sparrows love their own family. That is no big deal. You love your family? Big deal. So did the sparrows. But you are not a sparrow. You are a human being. You are made in the image of God. You are made to make this world a better place. … And you have all kinds of excuses not to do this: “I can’t. I am busy. Taking care of my family. Taking care of my job. Taking care of my home. I have a thousand and one excuses so as to avoid helping the world be a better place.” Jesus said sharply, “None of those people will be part of my kingdom.”
Let’s summarize. The first part of the parable is an invitation to a wedding, and being a Christian is filled with the happiness, joy and celebration of being at a wedding party. The second part of the parable for today are the excuses people make. People have excuses why they don’t have time for God; people have excuses why they don’t have time for the religious community; people have excuses why they don’t have time to make the world a better place.
The third part of the parable is that God gets frustrated that people have so many excuses why they can’t come to his party, and so God sends out his servants to the alleys and back streets of life, to the poor, the blind, the maimed, and the lame (categories of people in the book of Luke), people from the gutters and side walks of life and bring them into the wedding banquet. The servant does this and comes back to report to God that there is still room in the wedding banquet for more people, and so the king orders the servant to go again and compel the people to come that my house may be full.
God wants his house filled … with the poor, maimed, blind and lame.
Let me give you an illustration. I am thinking about last Friday night, and what happened last Friday night was a literal fulfilling of this parable. It was family night with the homeless here at church, and there was a family staying over night with the homeless men at our “over night homeless shelter” here in the fellowship hall. As I talked with the homeless men that night, I said, “This is God’s house and God is so pleased that you are here in God’s house.” And according to this parable for today, God wants us to go to the streets and the alleys, the by ways and back ways, and compel the homeless, the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame to come into his house. When all the homeless men were here the other night, we were doing the meaning of this parable. God wants his house, this house, full of people from the back streets of life. … Another example. I came to church the other day and see all the classrooms filled with children from the Day Care, Preschool and Kindergarten. The rooms are filled with children, more than two hundred of them, and many of these children come from poor families, from the working poor of our community. And this pleases God.
I remember a congregation from years ago in Phoenix. This congregation had a bus that went around on Sunday morning and picked up people with wheel chairs. The congregation had gone out of their way to draw such “handicapped” people into their congregation by picking them up on Sunday morning and bringing them to church. They actually had a section in their congregation for people in wheel chairs.
Grace Lutheran Church is surrounded by people who live on the edge of poverty. 85% of the kids in our two neighboring grade schools are on federal lunch subsidies. The police chief of our fair city says that our fair city is not so fair, and that there are numerous poverty problems and gangs within our community now. We know the neighborhoods surrounding our congregation, especially up on Highway 99, have changed. We know about the growing number of apartment complexes in our area and the vast number of “working poor” people who live in them.
A question is: How do we as a congregation start reaching out to these poorer people of our neighborhoods and begin drawing them into our banquet, into our lives, into our worship services and youth ministries?
Jesus showed up at the home of the richest man in the town of Jerusalem. Simon the Pharisee was having a party for all of his wealthy friends, and his party became the occasion for one of the finest parables Jesus ever told. Amen.
CHILDREN’S SERMON: What are the normal excuses you children have for not saying your prayers at night? What are excuses their parents have for not saying prayers?
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