Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Second Sunday after Trinity, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Every now and then, someone asks me if I have a favorite text of Scripture. Well, I really don't. I have many. The Scriptures themselves have a completeness about them that makes it difficult to select one individual text. But the best gospel stories seem to include a picture of God's presence in the world, a perfect teaching moment and a reminder of who we are and what is expected of us. The wonder of the gospel is that it also casts us in several roles; we can see our own faces clearly reflected in the best passages of Scripture, passages that are given to us all.

 

Today's gospel message from St. Luke is a wonderful story. Simple, yet profound, it asks many questions of us. But perhaps most prominent is this: "have we truly accepted the invitation given to us by God?"

 

A certain man made a great supper and bade many.

 

This is a text of Scripture that we know well. But let's unpack that sentence just a little. Both verbs are in the past tense. The supper has been made. The invitations had been sent. The supper, in other words, has been prepared ahead of time. It has now been set out and is ready for the guests. The moment has come.

 

Whenever I attend a large dinner, I often think of this phrase: "a certain man made a great supper..." It simply presents itself, unbidden. The more we live with holy scripture, the more we become aware of the events around us, the more we become aware of God's world.

 

The last great supper I attended was a month ago. It was at our son, Colin's, graduation from college. This was a great supper indeed. An enormous tent had been set up on the lawn of the college's campus and chairs and tables had been placed inside. Fifteen hundred guests would attend this great celebration. Each table was carefully numbered. A limited number of tickets had been issued and each guest was carefully screened. Gate crashers would be kept to a minimum. Guests who dawdled were gently reminded by well-trained greeters that "it is time to make your way onto the great lawn and into the dining tent. No detail was left to chance. The food had been prepared so that it would be ready at precisely the right moment. The wait staff were readied for their roles within this vast gathering. Like many who had pursued an earlier theatrical career, I had once been a functionary at such gatherings. And I still marvelled at the precision with which the occasion was brought off, even as I cast an occasionally critical eye on the work of this or that wait person. In the olden days, I might even have been tempted to say to the odd waiter: "I can play this role better than you."

 

Putting on a great supper takes a lot of work. Certainly, that would have been the case of the great supper that was prepared in First Century Judea. St. Luke tells us that this particular meal was a sabbath meal. It was important to the man who made it. Indeed, it was important to God. The food had been prepared; perhaps it was even on the plates. But where were those who had been invited?

 

They had important things to do: one had bought some land, another a team of oxen, a third had recently married. Important things to attend to, certainly. I sat in a large tent at Bennington College, eating a dinner with my family. There was nowhere else I would have chosen to be on that particular evening. It was an important event. It was a time of great joy and we all were pleased with Colin's accomplishments. But what if I had chosen not to attend? What excuse would I have used? "Sorry, Colin, I am buying a great piece of land. The price is right and I can't pass it up. Sure you'll understand." Or, perhaps this: "sorry, Colin, I just bought a "68 GTO. It's a real classic and I want to take it on the highway and let 'er rip." Or, perhaps this: "sorry, Colin, I got married thirty-four years ago next month and, well, you understand."

 

How might Colin feel? And what would that say about me? God has given us everything. God has prepared this life for us, provided us with unlimited spiritual food. How does he feel when we choose to ignore the great sustenance that we have been given?

 

That first meal was a sabbath meal. Those who were invited to the meal were devout Jews, Pharisees who believed themselves to be closest to God. In this parable, Jesus holds up a mirror to them, showing the devout how they have ignored the table set for them by God. It is easy to take God for granted. The mirror is held up to the ancient Pharisees. But we must look into that mirror as well. How do we fare?

 

The servants try desperately to do the master's bidding before the food grows cold. Still, there are places at the table; still there is room for more. And the master tells the servants once again to go out into the byways and compel others to come in. And he adds, "...none of those men who were bidden shall taste of my supper." They had refused God's invitation. We wonder what they might do to feed themselves.

 

Finally, the banquet hall is filled. And everyone begins to eat. There are those present who had never tasted of such food. Where had it come from, they might ask. Over time, they would learn. There would be many sinners in the group that sat down together. There would be good and faithful people, too. And, as they began to eat of the food that God had prepared, the sinners would change. They would begin to know of the true spiritual food that comes only from God; food that had been prepared from the deepest wellsprings of God's own heart. And they would all marvel at the wonderful invitation they had somehow been given. And perhaps they would wonder too how anyone could turn down an invitation to the most glorious supper that had ever been made.

 

 

Let us pray; O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.