Priorities and excuses.

Homily 481 – 25th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 12, 2021
Epistle: (257) Colossians 3:4-11
Gospel: (76) Luke 14:16-24

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

We are forced this morning to face the question – what is our excuse.

Now, consider the event. They had been invited to the banquet of an important figure – in St. Matthew’s version of the parable, this person was a King, and it was the wedding of his son.

Maybe we have no modern equivalent because we have no royalty in our land. When one goes back in time and learns about society, the King was a figure that people depended on for safety and protection.

Medieval society was maybe the pinnacle for that kind of life. Of course, we rejected the idea of feudal society and moved into the Enlightenment, where the individual was the supreme, not the King.

I wish I could come up with a comparable. The president is mentioned from time to time, but that brings to mind something I’d prefer to avoid. Maybe the CEO of the company we work for?

In any event, probably the most powerful, influential person we can imagine. Maybe it is different for each of us. But it is important to understand and imagine the person who holds the most influence in our lives.

And imagine how hard it would be for us to say no to that person. I don’t know how relevant it is anymore, but to me, that is like saying no to my mother when commanded to come to dinner.

That’s what the people in the parables were doing – saying no, I have more important things to do than this.

More important than you.

In the narrative of the parable, one bought a property that needed to be inspected. One bought the means of production and needed to make sure it would be OK. One had a very important family obligation – a honeymoon.

So, these individuals thought transacting business and interpersonal relationships were more important than the most important person in their world.

They put their priorities on themselves. As a result, they lost something precious – not just a banquet, but eternal salvation.

That’s what the parable’s banquet is. In Matthew’s version, where it is a wedding, it isn’t just any wedding – it is our wedding. We are the ones marrying the King’s son.

And we are saying this “thing”, this “task” is more important.

We prioritize our excuse over the most important thing in our lives. And maybe we don’t even realize it.

We get – I get – so wrapped up in the world and my day job and my relationships that we – I – ignore the truly important stuff. I become Martha, busy with serving, and neglect the most important part, which is Mary sitting at the Savior’s feet.

Maybe one of the reasons we experience this passage for the Forefathers of Christ is so that we can, once again, hear the message of the prophets in a different way.

The message is the same as the prophets. We have one, and only one, priority, who is God, and Our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything else, everything, is secondary.

I will admit that understanding is scary to me. If I am honest, I don’t like putting my trust in God. That is my confession to you – forgive me.

I’d much prefer to put my trust in the employer-employee relationship with my day job. Perhaps one day our giving will be sufficient to pay for a priest that doesn’t need a day job. I’ve said before that is the goal I have for this parish and my successor.

Then the priest will need to rely on God, and the goodness and faithfulness of the people of God, to support him, and he can feel free to prioritize the things of God over the employment prospects in the world.

The troubling thing for me, if I’m honest, is that God doesn’t share that view. He doesn’t agree with me. My excuse is just that – an excuse. An excuse to prioritize my day job over my obligations to God.

So – God tells us that He is the priority in our lives. Can we live that way?

We can. We absolutely can. It takes a while to get ourselves there. There isn’t to my knowledge an instantaneous way of getting there. It requires practice.

For me, I can look back over episodes in my life where I just knew I was abandoned, and would never be able to care for my family or myself again.

And yet – each and every time, God provided a path. Wasn’t always comfortable, wasn’t always enjoyable and easy. But God provided a path.

Look back at the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms. In the hours when the people of God felt abandoned, what did they do? What were they told to do?

The prophets said to them – remember. Remember the deliverance of Daniel from the mouths of lions. Remember the deliverance of the three holy youths in the furnace. Remember Jericho, how the walls fell. Remember all the battles of the Maccabees, when the angels were seen on horses with swords ready to fight the battle.

Remember the deliverance from Egypt. And the destruction of the armies of the pharaoh.

Remember. And trust. Find those places in your own life and your own history when times were difficult. And remember that it was God that enabled us to move forward.

Then celebrate at the banquet of the King.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.