Wednesday, September 05, 2007


LUKE 14: 18-20
This week I came across the following somewhat humorous re-telling of the story of Noah:
And the Lord said unto Noah: “Where is the ark which I commanded thee to build?” And Noah said unto the Lord: “Verily, I have had three carpenters off ill, Lord. Plus...the gopher wood supplier hath let me down—yea, even though the gopher wood hath been on order for nigh upon twelve months. What can I do, O Lord?” And the Lord said unto Noah: “I want that ark finished even afer seven days and seven nights.” And Noah said: “It will be so.”
But it was not so. And the Lord said unto Noah: “What seemeth to be the trouble this time?” And Noah said unto the Lord: “Mine subcontractor hath gone bankrupt. And—the pitch which Thou commandest me to put on the outside and on the inside of the ark hath not arrived. To maketh matters worse, the plumber hath gone on strike. This is not to mention the fact that Shem, my son who helpeth me on the ark side of the business, hath left to form a hip hop group with his brothers Ham and Japheth. Lord, I am undone.” And the Lord grew very angry and said: “What about the animals, the male and female of every sort that I ordered to come unto thee to keep their seed alive upon the face of the earth?” And Noah said: “They have been delivered unto the wrong address but should arrive on Friday.”
And the Lord said: “What about the unicorns, and the fowls of the air by sevens?” And Noah wrung his hands and wept, saying, “Lord, unicorns are a discontinued line; thou canst not get them for love nor money. And fowls of the air are sold only in half-dozens. Lord Thou knowest how it is.” And the Lord in His wisdom said: “Noah, my son, I do knowest. Why else dost thou think I am causing a flood to descend upon the earth?”
Now—might I venture to sayest that thy grins comest so readily because this story hit-eth home?
Sure it does—I mean, just like the Noah in this story, we human beings have been making excuses for ignoring or even disobeying God’s loving laws from the very beginning when Adam and Eve excused the first sin by blaming each other.
When someone joins a United Methodist church they are asked a series of questions. The last question was, “Will you faithfully participate in the ministries of this church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?”
We are called, as Christians and as members of this church, to a life of service to the Kingdom of God through the ministries of this church.
This is only fitting when we consider what Jesus did for us:
“He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day we rose from the dead.”
The host of the feast, who represents Jesus, was a generous man who went to great expense for his guests. He didn’t have to!
In the face of such generosity we find some pretty lame excuses. To this day people make shallow and ridiculous excuses such as these in verses 18-20. Let’s have a look at them.
1. “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” (The theme is: I did this; I must do this; excuse me.)
The Promised Land was the gift from God given to each family. Selling it in Jesus’ day was frowned upon.
In biblical days there were certain prescribed procedures for purchasing. One went out and walked over the entire property with the current owner. We did not have a better business bureau at the time and it was important to make sure that you’re getting the best value for the money. One did not buy property, and then go have a look at it. This was unheard of and a very lame excuse.
This does beg another point though. We can let the material things of this world get ahead of God. We want more, more, more and when we get it we look and say, “It’s mine! All of it is mine!” The problem with that is that everything you have is a gift from God.
We must always be seeing about this and that. But what must we do about the things of God. What about that, your greatest possession. In Matthew 6:19 we find Jesus saying:
"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” (The Message)
2. “I just bought five teams of oxen and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.” (The theme is: I did this; I must do this; excuse me.)
Back in the days of my pastorate in Kentucky, there were several coon hunters in our little church. They bought some expensive dogs that were well trained. When a man wanted a trained dog he would go out with the current owner and they would watch the dog hunt coons. Oftentimes they did this for several nights in a row. You wanted to make sure the dog would hunt before you paid good money for him.
The same is true of this excuse. Five teams of oxen costs about $20,000 in today’s dollars. You took them out and worked them thoroughly before you paid good money for them. This too, was a lame excuse.
Sometimes, as Christians, we let work get in the way of our walk with Christ. We are too busy with work to go to church regularly. We are too busy with work to be involved in the ministry of his church.
For some, our work is too important to take time away from it for the things of God. Let me ask you a question. What is more important than your relationship with God? When you stand before him in judgment, what will he say about your stewardship of your time, talents, gifts, and service?
There will only be two choices. The illustration is in Matthew 25. To the servant who made good use of what the boss gave him he said:
“Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.” (v. 23)
To the one who simply squirreled away his gifts he said:
“So take the money from him, and give it to him who has ten thousand.” (v. 28 paraphrase)
3. The third man said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” (Change in theme: I did this; so I must do this; I cannot come.)
The first thing we have to note here is that this man did not get married recently. Villages were small and there were few special occasions. Had there been a recent wedding, the host would not have scheduled a banquet so soon thereafter. Hence the man did not have a valid excuse.
This is the rudest shun of the three. Middle Eastern society maintains formal restraint in speaking of women. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus’ day, the words for women, sacred, and forbidden are all from the same root. Even in the nineteenth century a man away from home, if he had only daughters at home, would address a letter to the son he hoped to father. To address a letter to a woman would be improper. Middle Eastern men were, and often are, extremely reluctant to talk about the women in their family.
More than that, this was the main meal of the day. It would have come in the middle of the day. This guest is saying: “Yesterday I said I would come, but this afternoon I am busy with a woman, who is more important to me than your banquet.”
This excuse would be rude in any society. It is intensely rude in the Middle Eastern world and totally unprecedented. The time away from home would have been, at most, a few hours. Soon he would be back in the arms of his bride. Lastly, he does not even ask to be excused! This excuse was carefully tailored to insult and infuriate the host.
Clearly the man throwing the banquet is God or Jesus. His invitation is for us to come in and dine with him. We are invited to partake in his work and ministry. Sometimes our excuses are just as lame. Do you think you have a good excuse for not serving God?

The “No Excuses” Litany

Noah was drunk…
Abraham was too old…Jacob was a liar…
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses was a stutterer…
Gideon was afraid…
Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer…
Rahab was a prostitute…
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young…
David had an affair and was a murderer…
Elijah was suicidal…
Isaiah preached naked…
Jonah ran from God…
John the Baptist ate bugs and was fashion-challenged…
Peter denied Christ…
The Apostles fell asleep while praying…
Martha worried about everything…
The Samaritan woman couldn’t get an annulment…
Zacheus was too small…
Paul was too religious…
Timothy had an ulcer…
And Lazarus was dead!

My favorite sermon illustration is one I heard from D. James Kennedy, the founder of Evangelism Explosion. He tells of a Chinese farmer who purchased a new plow. His neighbor came over to ask permission to borrow the plow. The farmer replied, “No, my wife is combing her hair with it.” “Combing her hair?” the neighbor asked. “Well, no she isn’t,” answered the farmer. “But I don’t want to loan it to you and one excuse is as good as another.”
We all have our excuses why we don’t do more in ministry. We call them reasons but they are merely excuses. D. James Kennedy defines excuses as, “a fruit whose skin is a reason, but whose meat is a lie.”
We are to live our lives without excuses. Romans 1:20 says that in the judgment we will be without excuse.
I would like to share with you the words of an unnamed African pastor whose level of faith and commitment can teach us a lot.

“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of his. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of my enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till he stops me.
And when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me.”
We issue an invitation to follow Christ in his ministry and his lordship in your life. What’s your excuse?