Trinity's Sermon from Sunday

 

The Enemies of Faith: Entitlement a sermon on Luke 14:16-24
Joe Cailles, pastor, Trinity UMC
October 15, 2017, The 19th Sunday after Pentecost
 
Luke 14:16-24
Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’
 
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 
 
So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.”
 
Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
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Who are the enemies of our faith? What out there opposes what Jesus teach us and opposes what we say we believe? Who are the enemies of our Christians faith?
 
For nearly 2000 years, many Christians said that Jewish people were the enemies of the faith. Never mind that Jesus was Jewish. Never mind that the first followers of Jesus were Jewish or that all or nearly all the Bible’s authors were Jewish. For too long, the Jewish people were the enemy. To be explicitly clear here, the Jewish people and the Jewish faith are not the enemies of Christianity. In fact, we cannot be Christian and be anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Full-stop.
 
Within the last 2000 years, Christians have often looked at other Christians and said, “You don’t believe exactly like I believe. You’re the enemy.” A thousand years ago, Western Christians and Eastern Christians declared each other to be enemies of the faith, and five hundred years ago, Protestant Reformers and Roman Catholics divided and each said about the other: “You’re the enemy.” And a nasty strain of anti-Catholicism has existed in this country for generations. While I am not Roman Catholic, I am not and we do not need to be anti-Catholic.
 
Many today have said that Islam is an enemy of Christianity and an enemy of Christians. Surely there are some who call themselves Muslims who want death and destruction for Christians and for anyone including faithful Muslims who do not follow their twisted version of believe. The Muslims I have known and worked with and lived with, they are not our enemies.
 
One of the blessings of being a United Methodist Christian is that we don’t need to be anti-Catholic, or anti-Baptist, or anti-Semitic, or anti-anything to affirm and live our faith.
 
In our Gospel story today Jesus suggests that who the enemies of our faith really are, and we don’t have to look at other Christians or other religions to find them. The enemy of our faith is as close as our own souls and looking at us in the mirror. Jesus’ story in Luke’s gospel describes one the enemies of our faith as entitlement. That’s when we’re convinced that because we’re Christians we deserve special treatment or special consideration by God. Entitlement, in this case, means that because we say we’re Christians we’re exempt from God’s judgement. When entitlement infects our faith, then we become spiritually paralyzed, we won’t move forward and we can’t follow where Christ summons us to go. In the story Jesus tells he teaches us that humility and gratitude and constant confirmation of our faith will defeat entitlement.
 
Had we started reading the passage at an earlier point, we’d see that Jesus is at a dinner party and all the good people are there, the right sort, the best folks. Jesus’ own disciples are there, the ones who have said at least once in their lives, Here I am, I will go where you send me. They are there at the dinner with Jesus. Pharisees are also at the dinner party. A Pharisee is hosting this meal, and by their own community standards, the Pharisees are decent, respectable people. They are the community’s religious leaders who help folks follow God’s law. The New Testament often depicts the Pharisees as villains always arguing and disagreeing with Jesus, but at this point in the story everything is civil and polite. At this dinner, they’ve had polite conversation about healing on the sabbath and how one expresses humility and to whom does one owe hospitality. It’s been a good dinner, with lively conversation so far.
 
And then Jesus tells the story Joyce and I read, a story that on the surface is about a dinner and the guests who refused to show up after presumably accepting the invitation. As is usual with Jesus and his stories he talks about one thing, but as we dig just a bit deeper, Jesus is telling us about our faith in God and how we ought to be living our faith.
 
Jesus says, “Someone (God) gives a great dinner and invites many guests (the disciples, the Pharisees, and us today).” That’s how I imagine Jesus telling the story. Someone (indicating God in heaven) gave a great dinner, and invited many guest (like us here today). In this case the great dinner is our lives with God, our faith, our discipleship, our salvation. God invites us today to follow Christ to be his disciples.
 
Now Jesus is talking to folks who are good, religious folks. Pharisees follow God’s law and teach others how to follow God’s law. The disciples are following Jesus, just like we are today. Of course they get an invitation. Of course they are following God. Of course they can consider themselves righteous and “in” with God. If they are feeling entitled to the dinner and the feast God is throwing, well, who can blame them.
Except, they don’t follow through. In Jesus story, those whom God has invited and those who seemed to have accepted the invitation to follow, now, they aren’t showing up. And in Jesus story they all have perfectly good, perfectly reasonable excuses. “I’ve got some new land.” “I’ve got new farm animals.” “I just got married.” “I have house full of guests and they don’t go to church.” “I work hard all week, and I really need some time for just me and just for my family.” By and large, these are legitimate reasons not to come and everyone is polite and apologizes but they still don’t show up.
 
At this point as Jesus is telling the story, it’s easy for me to imagine the rather sudden change in the atmosphere, here. Jesus seemed to be starting out complimenting the Pharisees and his disciples, and now his story has a bit of a sting to it. “Is he talking about us, are we making excuses about not showing up. Is saying yes to God just once or once in a while not good enough.”
 
I wonder how we would feel if we were at this dinner party with Jesus? Would any of us feel ourselves convicted by Jesus’ words? Now, we all showed up here today to worship. And we know full well we could have come up with a dozen perfectly legitimate, perfectly reasonable excuses why today was just not a good day to be in church. But we didn’t. We’re here. Excellent. Jesus isn’t talking about us. Whew! Clearly, we haven’t let an inflated sense of entitlement keep us from showing up.
 
And honestly, I have a hard time imaging God getting too bent out of shape if we’ aren’t in worship every single Sunday, every month, every year. Though I will say, if you’re healthy and not caring for someone who can’t care for themselves, then show up and keep showing up.
 
The challenge for us who showed up here today, good on us!, is less about church attendance and more about living our faith and living out the values of love and generosity and forgiveness every day, every hour to all the people outside of Sunday morning worship.
 
If each one of us were to write up a list of our enemies, we could each of us have a list as long as our legs. Those who don’t vote like I vote, they’re on the list. Those who aren’t from around here, either this town, this county, this region or this country, they’re on our list. Those who have a different faith. Those who have no faith. Those who have that foreign sounding name and foreign accent, they’re on our list. Those folks who just don’t belong here like I do. They’re wrong. I’m right. That’s where our warped sense of entitlement emerges. When we’re so quick to divide ourselves into us and them. When we make perfectly sound, perfectly reasonable excuses on why God surely must bless me and damn them. That’s the enemy of faith right there, and that way of life is not the party God invites us to attend.
 
Who does show up to the great dinner party that the Lord hosts in Jesus story are the poor, the humble, the crippled, the lame. Those who have no power, no status, those who have been told, there is something wrong with you, you don’t belong. To them God says, “You are welcome here.” Jesus always has his hands ready to welcome those on the margin. Jesus is always breaking down social barriers to insist that God’s love is for everyone all the time, and those of us who follow Christ even beyond Sunday morning worship we should talk seriously his call to be in ministry with those who don’t look like us, who don’t speak like we do, and those who don’t have enough health and wealth and well-being.
 
And then in the story Jesus tells, it isn’t just the poor who show up. It’s everyone else. The invitation is now open, all are welcome. Religious experts, and religious beginners, Sinners, saints, those who know the Lord and those who just came to check it out. All are welcome. The Lord welcomes those who believe, those who doubt, those who struggle in the faith, those who stand firm in the faith. That’s all of us in the room. We answered the call today, and the challenge, the hope is that we constantly confirm our faith, we answer the Lord’s invitation every day and in everyday, not with a sense of snooty entitlement but with gratitude and humility, with joy and relief.