March 31, 2019

The Problem with Excuses
Luke 14:15-24

Excuses. We all offer them. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but many times they’re our polite way of saying, “I really don’t want to do what you’ve asked.”

This past week I scoured the internet looking for good excuses and found these that people have used for missing work.
- I couldn’t come to work because I got my toe stuck in the shower drain.
- Or how about this one. The dog ate my car keys and he and I had to hitchhike to the vet to get them removed.
- And then there’s this one - seemingly legitimate, until you know the whole story. One man called into work and said he had to be out for the next few days because his mother had died. Unfortunately, this was the second time his mother had died, along with the 12 grandparents who had also passed away – all in a two year period. Needless to say, he didn’t keep his job.

I think the most amazing thing I discovered in my internet search was a website where you can actually order medical excuses on line. For only $24.95, you will be sent a medical excuse, on a doctor’s stationary, embedded with his watermark and realistic-looking signature. Yes, some people will do almost anything to get out of going to work.

While excuses are plentiful at the work place, there’s no shortage of excuses at church. We pastors hear all kinds of excuses for missing church, declining to serve, or being unable to financially support God’s work. As with other excuses, some are legitimate, but many are simply polite ways of saying, “I really don’t want to do what God wants asks.”

As you know, we’re in the season of Lent, a time set aside for us to do those things that will improve of relationship with Christ. Our Lenten Theme this year has been, “Lent, a Time for Giving Up.”

On the first week of Lent, I suggested you give up your grudges – your unforgiving spirits. Two weeks ago, I asked you to give up the presumptions you carry about God, the ones where you presume God will do what you want. Last week, Christine asked you to give up the blame game and to take responsibility for your own actions. Today, I’m asking you to give up your excuses; to give up the excuses for not doing those things God wants you to do.

Obviously, the problem of excuses is not a new one. As Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he talked about those who offer excuses. To get his point across he tells a parable. Listen to the following words of Scripture as Jesus helps us deal with our excuses. Our text is found in Luke 14:15-24.

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

To understand this parable we need to see it in its context. In the verses preceding this parable, Jesus had been criticized by the Scribes and Pharisees for keeping company with questionable people; namely tax collectors, sinners and even some Gentiles. Jesus tells this parable to give an answer to his critics.

Jesus' parable tells about a wealthy man who was giving a banquet. In Jesus’ day, when a wealthy person was giving a banquet, that person would announce the day of the banquet far in advance and ask for a response from the invited quests – kind of like we do with our RSVP cards. Then, on the day of the banquet, when the table was set and the meal was finally prepared, the host would send servants to summon the invited guests to the banquet. To accept the initial invitation then refuse to come when called was a serious insult.

As Jesus tells this parable he describes two kinds of people. There are the privileged and the underprivileged. The privileged in this parable are the Scribes and Pharisees, Jewish people who were given the original invitation to feast at God’s table. In fact, these Scribes and Pharisees liked to boast about sitting at God’s glorious banquet at the end of the age. Listen again to verse 15. "When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'" Obviously, the Pharisee was referring to himself and to all his Jewish elitist friends.

But as Jesus tells this story he surprises the Pharisees and likely makes them angry. You see, in Jesus’ story, it’s the underprivileged who are the heroes. These are the people invited to the banquet after the privileged had rejected the master’s invitation. These underprivileged were the people Jesus had been eating with: the Gentiles, the sinners, and the tax collectors; people who would have never been invited to a proper Jewish table.

In verses 18 – 20, Jesus lists the excuses given by the privileged. The first man said he couldn’t come to the banquet because he had bought a piece of land and had to go and see it. The second man said he had just bought five yoke of oxen and needed to try them out. The third man said he had just gotten married and needed to spend more time with his wife.

Obviously, these excuses were all invalid and would have been extremely offensive to any good Jew. No one with any social grace at all would have been that offensive to the master. But in essence, the Scribes and Pharisees had done exactly that. God had invited them to his table of blessing, but when Jesus came and gave them the final invitation, they turned their back on God by offering unacceptable excuses. So what did Jesus do? He went to the underprivileged and gave them God’s blessing.

Now, how does this parable relate to our own spiritual lives? Like the guests in Jesus’ story, we are the privileged ones, those who’ve been invited to be a part of Christ’s kingdom, and we are also the ones who accepted Christ’s initial invitation. We sent in our RSVP into Christ when we walked the aisle and were baptized. It was our way of saying, “Jesus, thank you for your invitation. I accept your invitation to be my Lord and Savior and I promise to come when you call.”

Yes, all of us who have accepted Christ’s invitation have promised to make Christ our priority. But what do we do when Jesus calls? Too often, like the people in the story, we start making excuses.

When Christ calls us to spend time in prayer and Bible study, we say, “Jesus, please excuse me. I would give you more time, but I’ve bought a new iPhone and I need to get used to it.”

When Jesus asks us to regularly attend worship we say, “Dear Lord, please excuse me. I’d come to church Sunday, but it’s been a busy week and I just need some time for myself.”

When Christ asks us to give our income to support his causes we say, “Dear Lord, please excuse me. I’d give more to support your work, but I need to use that money on my house, my cars and my new spring wardrobe. I know you’ll understand.”

And when Christ asks us to serve we say, “Dear Lord, please excuse me, with all the other things I’ve got going on, I just don’t have time to take on a new church job.”

We’ve promised to make Jesus our priority, but our excuses reveal that other things in life have become more important than our commitment to him.

I like what the old Evangelist Billy Sunday used to say about excuses. He said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Yes, our excuses are lies, lies we choose to believe.

Sadly, these lies we choose to believe often cause us to miss God’s blessings. Think back to Jesus’ parable. What happened when the guests gave their excuses and refused to come? They lost their place at God’s table of blessing. And the same is true for us when we offer our excuses to God. We don’t just opt out of God’s work; we opt out of God’s blessings.

Perhaps this will help you understand. For several years I’ve regularly walked for exercise. In the summer, I walk outside. In the winter, I walk on a treadmill. But seldom does a day go by when the voice of temptation doesn’t try to convince me to neglect that exercise. And when I’m tempted to neglect my walk, I can always come up with the best excuses. “I can’t walk because it’s too late.” “I can’t walk because it’s too cold or too hot.” “I can’t walk because I’m too tired.”

In the end, the excuses are plentiful but the result is the same. By excusing myself out of a walk, I miss the blessing. I miss the health advantages and the emotional balance exercise brings. I even miss the chance of living a longer, more productive life. In the end, my excuses rob me of my blessings. In the end, my excuses hurt no one but me.

Are you robbing yourselves of God’s blessings? Surely, the master wants you to feast at His banquet table. So why excuse yourself out of your blessing?

Excuses. We all have them and while they seem to let us slide out of our divine obligations, in the end, they do nothing more than keep us from experiencing the abundant life of Christ.

What do you need to give up for Lent? Give up your excuses and come to the banquet table of Christ.