Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity – June 10, 2018
“A CERTAIN man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE wrong, or more likely, not done at all that you should have done, and when confronted with your failure to do the right thing, you compounded the felony by making up an excuse? The excuse is often worse than the offense, and yet we use this or that as justification for ourselves, hiding in the bushes like our forefather Adam, and blaming someone else. This goes a long way way back.
Not so far back however, the father of our country, George Washington, is quoted as saying, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” His associate revolutionary, Ben Franklin, echoed, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” As these were men of action, who risked their lives and fortunes to form a new nation, I’d say they were qualified to speak about excuses. Lord knows, they’d heard a lot of excuses.
Look at our behavior. There are things we should do, and don’t, and there are things we shouldn’t do, and yet do anyway. St. Paul lamented that he was just like that himself. It’s not just when you’ve fallen to temptation to misdeeds, or more often just simple laziness, that you’re tested. It’s when you’re done fooling around and are asked what you’ve been doing and why. That’s a further test, and the urge to cover-up is often stronger than our dedication to the truth. It may be stronger than our own knowledge of our selves, our hearts, our true motives.
We slur over the truth, sum things up in ways that protect ourselves. In a letter to his insurance company, a bricklayer explained the accident he had earlier summarized as being caused by “trying to do the job alone.” I recognize that excuse myself, and my own painful accident right over there, the extension ladder slipping its perch and my own broken heal were much like this fool. This man’s injuries were a little worse them mine…
In response to your request for additional information on my claim, you said to answer more fully.
On the date in question, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building. When I’d finished, I discovered I had about 500 pounds of bricks left over. Instead of carrying them down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a rope and pulley attached to the building’s top floor. Securing the rope at ground level, I went up and swung the barrel out, then loaded the bricks inside. I returned to the ground and untied the rope, holding tight to insure its slow and steady descent.
You will note in block 22 of my claim that I weigh 150 pounds.
Due to my surprise being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I forgot to let go of the rope. So, I proceeded up the side of the building at a rapid rate of speed. At about the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This is to explain my fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowing just a little, I continued ascending until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep in the pulley.
I held tight to the rope, however, as the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of it, dropping the bricks. The empty barrel weighed 50 pounds. I refer again to my weight in block number 22. As you can imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. Around the third floor I met the barrel coming back up. This is the reason for my two fractured ankles and lacerations of my legs and lower body. The collision slowed me enough to lessen my injuries as I fell on the pile of bricks.
Lying there on the bricks, I finally let go of the rope. Thus, the empty barrel again proceeded at a rapid rate of speed down the side of the building, which I saw at the last moment as I looked up…
Actually, this man was being pretty honest. Lack of a good working knowledge of physics seems to have been his problem, and he could have blamed his high school teacher. Someone said, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” John Burroughs
Excuses are where we run to when we find ourselves off base and uncovered. It’s our fault, but we desperately want to find ourselves a scapegoat, a reason, how it was really a good idea at the time, how everyone else was doing it.
Moses, confronted at the burning bush with the hardest assignment anyone would have, up until Jesus had to save the entire world, tried to find an excuse for not going: “‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’” Ex 4:10-13 It’s hard to fault Moses. He was assigned to go in Egypt with a walking stick and demand the most powerful man in the world to give up his workforce of slaves.
But when the children of Israel escaped, they were so used to living in a land of idols that they were tempted to return to idolatry while Moses was off on the mountaintop. When Moses returned, his brother Aaron was leading the worship at the golden calf. He screamed at Aaron, demanding an explanation. “You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” Ex 32:22-24 Of course. Sure.
The Gospel today illustrates God’s disappointment in mankind when He invites us to so rich a banquet at His table, so generous a salvation if only we’d humble ourselves to receive so high a calling, if we might find room in our busy lives to follow it. The banquet is free. It would be so easy to go. The guests in the story had already accepted his invitation, so the word went out to them to come, the party was ready. And they all made lame excuses. A new piece of land to see, some new cattle needed testing, a new wife. Excuses. Choosing the wrong thing and then justifying it with excuses.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans begins as the Apostle paints the fall of mankind. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Romans 1:16-25 He goes on to illustrate the course of sin from perverted sexuality to idolatry, malice, envy, murder, lies, evil invention, broken families, loveless and merciless lives.
And just when the Christian is congratulating himself for not falling for this tale of misery, chapter 2 opens: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Romans 2:1
Inexcusable. Sounds like condemnation, but that’s not it at all. It’s that excuses won’t work. When we are confronted with our sins, as we are every day, don’t run for excuses. We may think we’ve sheltered this little corner of our lives from God and everyone, but when it’s exposed we want to run back into the bushes and find story to tell in our “plausible deniability.”
St. John’s great Epistle is wonderful for our aching consciences, as we heard today: “This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and how we will be reassured in his presence. Whenever our conscience condemns us, we will be reassured that God is greater than our conscience and knows everything. Dear friends, if our conscience doesn’t condemn us, we can boldly look to God and receive from him anything we ask. We receive it because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. This is his commandment: to believe in his Son, the one named Jesus Christ, and to love each other as he commanded us. Those who obey Christ’s commandments live in God, and God lives in them. We know that he lives in us because he has given us the Spirit.”
Do you hear one word of reproach in that? In another place, John says, “If we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin. If we say, We aren’t sinful we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong. If we say, We have never sinned, we turn God into a liar and his Word is not in us.” 1 John 1:7-10
If we say we’re innocent, it’s plain as day we’re liars. Everybody wants to look good, and be approved. But we’re not that good, not so perfect, not so clean as we want people to think. But did God send His Son only for the worthy?
Those who claim to be “just fine thank you” aren’t going to want our Savior, and He can do nothing for them. The refrigerator must break down before Ginno’s sends out the repairman for a warranty service call. Our refrigerator is broken. Call already. Or, we can make excuses. “This milk will keep until tomorrow. I think it’s still cold, maybe it’s working and we can’t hear it.”
A society that lives in lies teaches us to lie as well. Honesty makes some people nervous. How can a fellow be so honest about his failings? His needs? His mistakes, misdemeanors and messes?
I’ll tell you how: you get tired. Tired of making excuses. Tired of trying to remember what lie you told to whom. Tired of dragging that heavy shadow of guilt and shame with you and making light of it, pretending you are what you’re not. It gets pretty tiring. And when one day you step out of the shadows and learn to be real, the weight just tumbles off of you and you find that forgiveness feels so much better than pushing falseness on the ones you love. Being without a guilty tail, or a fairy tale, makes us more human, and more able to be loved. It’s why Christ came.
So, what’s your excuse? Don’t you know that you’re loved? Don’t you know that most of the stuff you cover up is very apparent to the rest of us? We’re not so impressed by the image you project as we are accepting of your humanity, for we too are human and we have plenty of faults. God doesn’t keep score. He forgives all. Your sins are no longer the question, so give them up in prayer, in confession, in speaking the truth, in your own testimony.
Here is freedom, that we can be real with God and He will very swiftly forgive us. Excuses only get in the way. Excuses only waste time. I only hope God has a sense of humor for the times we made such foolish stories up about our failures: “I got the end of a Q-tip stuck in my ear and have to go to the ER to get it removed.
I tripped over my dog and was knocked unconscious.
I forgot to come back to work after lunch.
My cat has the hiccups.
I’m stuck in the blood pressure machine at the grocery store.
The dog ate my homework.
I forgot this was my first day on the job.”
I forgot to tell you that I’m sorry, Lord. I’m telling you now. I did it. It was my fault. Please forgive me. Thank you, God, for your forgiveness. Thank you for your Son. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for making me free.