Friday was a long and dark day for our country. The senseless violence that we saw on the news reminded us that life is quite precious and that any moment of any day can be our last on this earth. 26 precious people created in the image and likeness of God were struck down by one sick individual. We are reminded that the world can be a very cruel and exceedingly evil place. We often have trouble making God real in our lives and we sometimes fall into the opposite trap of thinking that evil does not exist. Friday we were reminded of the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians as he writes “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). It is natural to mourn and also to pray for the peace and comfort of the victims families, our communities and our country. Our heartfelt prayers on behalf of others are powerful.
I planned to preach to you today about the 9th commandment, but as I was writing the sermon I stumbled across the tragic news of the school shooting and thought to focus on today’s gospel reading. When I read this gospel one phrase kept coming to my mind over and over, “this is the solution for our society.” One of the most powerful parables ever taught by the Lord is this parable of the man who gave a great banquet. Let’s hear these words again…
“A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But, one by one, they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”
What is this banquet to which everyone is invited? It is the joy of a relationship with the Holy Trinity and the saints, those who are righteous in the sight of God. It is a banquet that begins here on earth and is fulfilled clearly in the act of worship, the act of Liturgy. The man giving the invitation is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is it so difficult for us to grasp the words of the Lord? He cannot force us to enter the banquet of joy and life and love. He can merely give invitations. Each and every one of us is forced into making a decision about whether or not this invitation is truly important for us. We see that the Lord recognized every excuse in the book. One man said, “sorry but I have a field that I have to tend.” Another man said “sorry but my animals need me.” The next one said “sorry but I have a wife and she doesn’t like going to church.” Perhaps if the Lord were preaching today He might have mentioned some different excuses. One man might have said “I’m sorry, but I am busy running my business.” Another might have said “I cannot come because my child has sports today.” Another might have said “I am busy baking and shopping for Christmas.” Another might have said “I would come but I was up late posting on facebook.” The Lord Jesus Christ does not care about our excuses. We are told that He keeps commanding His servants to go out and find more people “that His house may be filled.” He doesn’t want our excuses, He wants our hearts.
Some will tell you that the cure for the school shootings is more gun control. Others will tell you that the cure is to have armed teachers and guards in all of the schools. Yet others will tell you that the mental health system failed due to lack of funding. But why does it take us so long to remember the truth? We live in a broken world. A world that we created for ourselves when we chose sin, madness and death over God. Jesus of Nazareth, a truly innocent man was murdered in a horrific public display. What makes us think that God does not understand suffering? God knows our suffering intimately. The mother of God stood at the foot of the cross and witnessed it all with a broken heart.
For weeks we will talk about solutions to violence. Don’t believe everything you hear. There are no solutions. There are band-aids. No laws can stop evil. No punishment can stop evil. No philosophy can stop evil. No psychology can stop evil. No medicines can stop evil. No politicians can stop evil. We call One our savior and that is because He alone can stop the evil…one person…one relationship at a time. St. Seraphim of Sarov reminds us to “acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.” Think about dedicating yourself to the teachings of Jesus Christ, to preaching His name and teaching others about the joyous life that God has offered to each and every person. Don’t be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His words because His words offer life to others. The Lord is the source of life and joy and peace and healing for all of our brokenness. Have we done our part to bring others to this healing?
St. Paul tells us that the days are evil, but the Lord offers us a banquet as the only possible solution. May the Lord give us hearts that are eager to accept His generous invitation! AMEN.
The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 14:16-24