Two Evils and a Banquet

“Two Evils and a Banquet”

Jeremiah 2:4-13                   Luke 14:1, 7-14


          Through personal experience or observation everyone is aware of the joy of marriage.  We can probably say the same about the unpleasantness of divorce…and all that leads to it.

Jeremiah is telling us the story of a very unpleasant divorce.  All of chapter two of Jeremiah is just like the courtroom activities that make up a divorce hearing today.

Just before the hearing began God had gone through the photos of the wedding to his bride Israel.  He remembered how the bride adored him when they were first married.

But…God is now on the witness stand…in agony…the kind of agony that comes from broken love.  God remembers the faithfulness of Israel.

The children of Israel gave their hearts to God when they were married.  They rejoiced in the romance of redemption.

The proof of Israel’s love was that she followed God wherever he led…through the desert…through a land not sown.  His bride submitted to the guidance of her spouse.  Israel was young and in love and all she wanted was to be close to her husband.  Barren wilderness was the bridal suite…but Israel followed God from there to the Promised Land.

God was a faithful husband.  He kept his wedding vows.  God had passion for his bride.  He took her to love and cherish…treated her with honor and respect…setting her apart as holy.

God protected his bride.  If anyone threatened Israel or encroached on her territory…God treated it as an attack on his own person.  Ask the Egyptians or the Philistines.

God provided for his bride.  He gave Israel a beautiful home.  There was plenty of food in the pantry and in the fridge.

But…now it’s time to wake up and smell the burnt toast.  The honeymoon is over. How could this be?  It was such a beautiful wedding.  The honeymoon was so wonderful.  The bride was so devoted.  The husband was so faithful.  Where did it all go wrong?

God told the court that he did not leave his people.  They dumped him.  Why would anyone ever move away from God?  There is no explanation…nor excuse.  God’s bride separated from her husband for no apparent reason.

That would reinforce the old saying…If God does not seem as close as he used to…who moved?  Who moved in our lives?  Who moved in the lives of those we call leaders?  Who moved in the lives of those who shape our businesses… institutions…church…and government?

God claimed to be the one who was wronged.  God was the plaintiff.  He told the court that his bride followed worthless idols and became worthless herself.  This was the only legitimate grounds for divorce…adultery.  In this case it’s spiritual adultery.

The marriage was dying because of neglect.  God’s people no longer sought God.  They no longer asked, “Where is the Lord?”  They no longer told the mighty stories of salvation.  They forgot the love that had saved them.

Is God’s testimony familiar?  Do we express thanks daily for God’s gift…unearned gift… of salvation in Jesus Christ?  Do we share with others the stories of God’s saving acts in history and in our lives?

Few of us intend to fall into sin.  But it is only after falling that we realize we have drifted away from God’s love…moved toward divorce.

God’s people had swapped the glorious gift of his divine presence for idols made of wood and stone.  By taking up these dead idols Israel had bartered away the living God.  Think about that…the pagans never left their dead gods of wood and stone…but the Israelites left their living God.  What idols today get in the way of our living God?  Power?  Prestige? Stuff?  Money?  The isolated comfort of a lazy chair? A football team?  Some man or woman we see on a screen?

God was seeking the divorce because his bride had pursued two evils.  She had forsaken her loving spouse.  She had taken up with others.

Here’s the good news.  It’s called reconciliation.  God gave to his you and me…the opportunity to renew the vows and the relationship…with complete forgiveness.

As with many reconciliations there is a great celebration…a feast.  We are invited to that banquet by the host…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s a moveable feast.  It’s wherever you are…because that’s where Jesus is, also.

Though you may sit in a humble seat you have a place of honor at the feast.

It is a bountiful feast…the table set with love…with forgiveness…with healing…with comfort.

Let us take our humble yet honored seat …forsake those other idols…whatever or whomever they might be…and renew our vow to God.  Let us rejoice and celebrate in his willingness and desire for us to return to him….the spouse who provides and protects…and has promised to love us always…to be with us always.


Jeremiah 1:4-10 Luke 13:10-17

Some here today may recall the late 1960s song written and recorded by the brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb…the Bee Gees…in which they said…”It’s only words…and words are all I have to take your heart away.”
Words are one of the tools that God uses to take a heart away…and they were a tool he gave to the prophets of old…and to Christians today. Just like the prophets of old…like Jeremiah and Isaiah…you and I are called to use words and other tools to win hearts for God and for Christ.
Note that it’s not family background or influence…nor a time of crisis nor a time of peace…that make a person someone who takes a heart to God. The prophets of old came from all walks of life…from different social classes and from city and country life. They do have one thing in common…God stepped into their lives. God called them into service. God enabled them.
The story of Jeremiah’s call that we heard this morning is typical. Regardless of our circumstance it is also a story that speaks to us.
First…there is the sense that God is calling. God interferes…intrudes…comes uninvited into a person’s life. If someone had told me in my twenties that I would be here preaching today I would have laughed loudly at that person. But…here I am…God interfered in many ways to turn me from the path that would have kept me away from this place this morning. It took me a long while to hear the call. Jeremiah discovered who he was and what his life purpose was when he was stopped by God and God spoke loudly to him.
God’s call comes in different ways…different places…and at different times in life…for all of us. There is no one way that God calls. Does sensing that call make each of us a prophet like Jeremiah or Isaiah? Perhaps not, but does that call require a response? You bet it does. Christianity means action. Christianity requires action.
That response is the second step. Jeremiah was hesitant. Isaiah was hesitant. So was I. Are you hesitant?
In effect…Jeremiah said…”Look God, you’re making a terrible mistake…I’m the wrong person. I don’t know how to speak. I’m just a kid.” I said…”I’m not really sure. I’ve got other work to do. I can only do a little piece of your work, God.” If you’re hesitant…what words are you using? Are they an excuse more than reality?
The final step in the story of Jeremiah’s call…my call…and your call…is reassurance from God. Jeremiah was told to look beyond the resources he had…that he thought were limited resources. He was given a promise…a promise that he could bank his life on. He wasn’t given the promise of an easy path…nor a promise of instant success. He was given the promise that runs through the Old Testament and is renewed…quite clearly by Jesus…his last words in the New Testament….”I am with you always.” I was given the same promise. You are given the same promise.
Armed with that promise…and with the opportunities that God gives you…whose heart can you win for God and Jesus…with the words that God has given you. It’s only words…and words might be all you have to use to take a heart away….God’s words…and the heart of someone God has created…and known since their creation. God wants you to help that person know God…and his son…our savior Jesus Christ.
As mighty as they have been…and as mighty as they remain…it is not God’s word alone…that win hearts.
On that Sabbath…when the woman shuffled in and slowly took her place in the synagogue…no one took notice but Jesus. He called her forward…spoke to her…and touched her. With his healing power he spoke the healing words that set her free from her ailment…free from her separation from society…and free from the separation she might have felt from God.
The woman heard and felt love…love from God…love from God’s son. She was given this love because Jesus loved God and Jesus loved his neighbor as well. In our homes…our community…our state…our nation and our world today…all of them gifts from God…there are neighbors who don’t feel that love. There are people negatively affecting our neighbors just as the synagogue leader attempted to affect his congregation.
He was indignant that Jesus had healed the woman…because Jesus’ reaching out with love violated some silly rule…some silly tradition…some silly misperception of what should be and what causes bad things to happen.
This man had no heart to pity the poor bent woman. He ignored her until Jesus touched her. Who around us is being ignored and forgotten? It might be someone clearly disfigured like the woman. It could be someone who looks normal in every way.
The man in the synagogue couldn’t see the beauty of Christ’s compassion and rejoice with the woman’s deliverance. Like him…are there those around us who would rather give resources to weapons…acts of destruction…or perpetuation of hate…than use those resources to deliver someone from physical and emotional misery?
He fancied himself as a lover of the Law…and all of its silly details…a lover of tradition and all of its insensitivity to the changing world in which he lived…a lover of separation simply because of human differences. He wanted to protect the rules…the tradition…and the image. His love for the rules…tradition and image showed his lack of love for the woman…for his neighbor…and for God.
Fifty three years ago I was about to start my junior year of high school. I was excited. We had moved from the country to the big city of Syracuse, New York. I knew little about the school I was going to attend…other than it was in a new state of the art building on the rich side of town.
I was confused and amazed when I watched the TV news on August 28th, 1963. There on the TV screen were thousands of people in Washington, D.C. protesting the state of our nation…racial discrimination and unemployment.

I heard an eloquent, moving speech by a man whose name was not familiar to me…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said his dream was that his children and all children would one day be judged by the content of their character…not the color of their skin.

I had never considered that an issue. To that point I had never really felt or seen any prejudice in the all-white world in which I lived. All of that changed a week later when I entered my new high school. It was populated by a majority of Jewish youngsters.

Though many of them were from well-to-do families I heard them tell their stories of intolerance, prejudice and hate-driven actions. Two years later I heard many of the same kind of stories told by my fellow black students in the inner city high school to which I had transferred.

Yes…we have come a long way since those days…but there is much more to be done. Let us not be like the leader of the synagogue who challenged Jesus on that day. Let us not be like the white preachers whom Dr. King referenced in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. Those preachers…men supposedly of God…told him to slow down. The preachers felt truly justified changes were being sought too quickly.

Instead…let us remember…as Jesus demonstrated…justice and healing delayed…are justice and healing denied.

Let us not look at the world as it is and ask why. Instead…let us see the world as Christ would have it and say why not. Then act to make it that way.

The need for our words…or action…manifests itself in many ways…for many people…people who are God’s creation…our sisters and brothers. For example…As I was preparing this message I was also watching a Facebook exchange of views on a report that a nearby city had decided to forcibly remove homeless people from its downtown and jail them if they choose not to be moved to a homeless shelter on the edge of the community…a shelter built to accommodate perhaps one third of the city’s estimated homeless population. One of the participants in the exchange was a woman who with her words…and those of Christ…expressed strongly that this was not truly caring for the least among us…in fact she said that it was a demonstration of just the opposite. She used her Christian words and took action.

How would you respond to the news report? How would you respond to the action if it was taken by members of the county council right here in Greenville County?
What would your words…and your actions be?
Let us remember…it’s not only words…but words and acts of love that God has given you to take hearts away…to take hearts to him and to Christ. He also gives you the ability and opportunity to use them. Look for those opportunities. Seek them out.
And…remember the words that Jesus said…to take your heart away…”I will be with you always.”

Hear the Word

“Hear the Word”
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Luke 12:35-48

Just as God…speaking through Isaiah…told his people to “hear the word”…Jesus told the crowd…and you and me to…”hear the word”. That word…actually three words…”Serve” and”Be ready.”
Jesus spoke often of his return. Paul’s letters are filled with references to Jesus’ return. In the book of Revelations John begins with the warning that every eye will see him.
Jesus told us about the faithful and devoted servant…dressed and prepared for his master’s return from the wedding feast. They were also to keep the light lit. What Jesus was saying was…Don’t give in to fatigue. Don’t display any grouchy irritability. Don’t have an “attitude.”
That is how Jesus’ followers are to wait for him. It is not to be a passive…laid back wait…but one filled with active service to God and all of His creation…continuous preparation…and joyous anticipation.
We will be blessed if we are “ready”…that is, serving and ready to serve…dressed for action with the lights on. Why? Because we are going to sit down at the feast of feasts as guests of the King of kings. Eternity is not a sterile…plastic…basic existence. It is a great feast. It is laughter. It is jubilee and great fellowship…eternally…forever.
Those who are truly ready for Christ’s return are not lolling around quietly…nor are they sitting on the church steps dressed in pure white robes. They are alive and active….serving Christ…serving God’s people and God’s creation.
Isaiah told us of some ways to serve and get ready.
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.
Seek justice, not just for yourself but for others, also.
Encourage the oppressed and help them become free.
Defend the cause of the fatherless and those without any parent in their lives.
Plead the case of the widow and those who are downtrodden, without support and hope.
How are you serving? Are you ready?
In telling them of the wise homeowner Jesus said…like a burglar…the Son of Man will come at an hour when he is not expected. Paul wrote that he would come like a thief in the night. Peter wrote that the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
The point is…Jesus’ return will be unexpected…and many in the world will not be prepared. The networks will not have their cameras in place in preparation. The world’s leaders will not be prepared to officially greet him with pomp and ceremony. The false religions will not be prepared. But…the truly faithful will be ready because they have heard and obeyed the word. They will be ready because their sleeves are rolled up as they…in some way…labor for Christ.
Jesus could come today. Perhaps he will.
Now…this was electrifying teaching for the disciples. It set their minds reeling. So…Peter asked the question…”Is this parable for us…or for everyone?” Jesus replied that it was for the Twelve…and for everyone who would follow them.
Jesus said the reward would be given to those who are ready…wise…faithful…and serving. The servant who has been faithful in his temporary earthly duties will at the return of Christ be given great permanent authority in the eternal state. We don’t know the exact nature of this authority…but we can be sure that it will be joyous.
Jesus also spoke of the unfaithful and unwise servant…a drunken glutton who beats others…someone who abuses the divine trust… human life…and any part of creation.
Those in Christian leadership can say what they will…use every Christian cliché….hold the Bible like Billy Graham…say “the Bible says” and build a wide following…but if that person consistently behaves in an unchristian way…that person is not a true believer.
Everything will be revealed when Jesus returns…so we must make sure our life matches what we say. Everything will be put right. The real truth will be known at last.
Jesus tells us that in the end true justice will be given. Hear his words. Luke 12:47-48
47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished.
48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. (NLT)
Some people…by virtue of their greater knowledge…age…experience…and influence in the church will suffer far greater penalty for the same sin than an ignorant person will.
James rightly warned…”Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) Isn’t equity at the end of this unfair world a delightful thought? We need to praise God for being the judge whom nothing gets by. Praise him for his true fairness. And…of course…praise him for his grace…our only hope.
Jesus summed it all up in these words: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. “ (Luke 12:48 NLT) You and I have so much. We have the Word of the Old Testament. Let us hear the word and heed. We have the word of the prophets…like Isaiah. Let us hear their word and heed. We have the word of the covenants. Let us hear the word and heed. We have the word of the New Testament. Let us hear the word and heed.
You and I have the revelation…the gospel of grace…the life and teachings of Jesus…the witness and teaching of the apostles…2,000 years of the church’s testimony. We have abundant preaching. We have Christian education. We have thousands of books. We have a wealth of opportunities. Consequently…much is required of us.
Jesus’ message can be summed up in three words…”Serve” and ”Get ready”. His return is as sure as his incarnation. The second coming of Christ is as certain as the First Advent. He will come when least expected. CNN and Fox will not expect it. Wall Street will have no hint. The nations will have no clue. The world’s religions will disbelieve it. To these…he is coming like a thief in the night.
How can we be ready?
By living a Godly life…that demonstrates the abundant truth God has given us. As Paul wrote to Titus… (Titus 2:11-14)
11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.
12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God,
13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. (NLT)
We can be ready by joyful service. Hear the word of Jesus. Luke 12:35-36
35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning,
36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. (NLT)
Let us arise from our comfortable seats…come to the Lord’s Table. Fellowship with Christ…with our sisters and brothers. Be reminded of what Christ has done for us…for you and me…for each of us. Be refreshed by His love and grace.
Then leave this Lord’s Supper…rolling up your sleeves…turning on the lights…serving and getting ready.
Jesus is coming…soon…bringing you the opportunity to dine with him eternally.