So, What's Your Excuse For Not Going To Church?

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We all make excuses.  Excuses are reasons that we put forth for not doing something that others may expect of us.  Excuses are explanations we give for not doing things that we are responsible to do.  In other words, we give excuses to others as a way of justifying why we cannot fulfill a request or expectation. For example, if we are invited to a get-together and we cannot go, we typically say no and then give an excuse.  If we are late for work, we give an excuse.  If we fail a test or exam, we put forth an excuse. 

You see, excuses are reasons we put forth as a way to protect ourselves against blame and shame.  And so, we share excuses with others to help them understand our circumstances.  While there are indeed legitimate excuses, more often than not, the majority of excuses we use are used are nothing more than mechanisms to shift the focus away from ourselves to something else.  More specifically, because we do not want to be blamed for our failures and because we do not want to feel the shame of being inadequate, we point towards another reason or towards something else that is out of our control.  So, if we are late for work, it isn’t due to us but due to our alarm clock that failed to go off.  If our homework is not done, it is because our dog ate it. And so forth. The point being, we use excuses as self-protective mechanisms to help us feel less burdened, less anxious, and to help us get off the hook.   

There is another side to this as well.  We use excuses to get out of things that we do not want to do.  That is to say; excuses can be pretty handy because they help us get out of things that we do not like to do or do not feel like doing. 

Take for instance the three people in Jesus’ parable from this morning’s Gospel reading.  A man had a great feast and sent out invitations, “Come, everything is now ready!”  But three guests responded with excuses.  To be honest, they had no interest in coming because they had more important things to attend to, so they began grasping for excuses. 

The one guest had purchased a field and needed to see it.  Another had bought five yokes of oxen and needed to check them out.  And the third had just been married and had some commitments regarding his new marriage that were not clearly defined.  The point being, they all gave shallow and ridiculous excuses.  They gave pathetic excuses.  How many people would you know who would be so foolish to buy a field without examining it first?  How many people do you know who would spend $12,000 for five pairs of oxen without first knowing what they were like?  And for the man who was just married?  It seems that his honeymoon was over and besides that, being married without kids is a flimsy excuse – married with crazy kids, yes, but being just married, no. 

Each of these three guests gave wobbly reasons, fake excuses so that they could get out of doing what they did not want to do.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise to us that the man who invited everyone to the grand banquet became very angry. The three guests had their different excuses; however, beneath their excuses was the same reason – rejection.  So, the man dis-invited these guests and sent his servants to find others from the streets and the ditches, the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.  The man sent his servants out to invite people who would be grateful for the feast that was prepared.  Those three guests who had been invited were out; they would never share in this great gift. 

Dear friends, to this day people make many shallow and ridiculous excuses just like the guests found in our parable.  Like the guests being invited to the great banquet, the Lord invites all to the great feast of Salvation!  He invites all to His Divine Service to receive the forgiveness of sins that is offered freely in His Word and Sacraments.  He invites all to the house where the banquet is held. He invites all to come to church; however, many people do not come.  Many have excuses for not going to church.

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that whenever Christians are gathered together, there you will find the great banquet.  In other words, the preaching of the Gospel is the main course of food.  The servers are the pastors.  Christ is the food.  Through the mouth of the pastor, the food is laid on the table and served to those invited.  Through the pastor serving the guests, the bread and wine are laid upon the mouths of those invited.  In other words, the food of the banquet is Jesus – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.[1]  Yes, the banquet is here in our midst.  The great banquet that is talked about in our parable is right here in this church service.  And like the parable, so many people have made up excuses for not coming to church. 

Today’s parable is so very applicable to us in our day and age.  So many people cut themselves off from the Sunday Divine Service – the Lord’s great feast – and the reasons and excuses abound.  Some of the excuses are valid, but these are the exception, not the norm.  Most of the excuses sound like this:

The church service is too early.  Sunday is my only day to sleep in.  I have too much to do.  I just want one day to myself. I don’t like the pastor.  I don’t like the people who sit in front of me.  I can’t sit that long.  The services are too confusing. I have a conflict with sports.  I had a fight with a person in the church and won’t set foot in that church until they apologize. It isn’t relevant enough.  I am just not fed. I don’t like the music. I don’t want to be judged. My children get bored. It is my only day to hunt. I am just too busy.    

As you can tell, these excuses are easy to come up with, and they are familiar because we have all used them at one time or another. The fact of the matter is this.  We can let the smallest of things keep us away from church, and we use the most foolish things as excuses for why we do not go to church but for some reason these excuses do not apply to other things in our lives.  That is to say; we do not think twice about traveling hours to and from a sporting event in the middle of winter but will hesitate to drive 5 minutes to church in the same conditions. We do not think twice about driving hours to a 3-hour concert and getting an expensive hotel but recoil at a service that goes over an hour. We complain about church being earlier but do not flinch at waking up early to go hunting.  We never complain about sitting 2 ½ hours through a boring movie but certainly will groan in the pews after 30 minutes.  We put aside our conflicts with other people and will even sit next to them to cheer on a sports team but refuse to go to church because of a past conflict with another person.  Our busy schedules are not able to carve out enough time for an hour church service, but we can conveniently carve out several hours for haircuts, doctor appointments, get-togethers, lunch dates, and so forth. 

Dear friends, I am truly convinced that the devil and his cohorts spend much of their time coming up with excuses for not going to church.  They then go around dispensing these excuses with the intent and purpose of keeping us from going to church.  They want nothing more than for us to stay away from the Lord’s banquet of His Word and Sacraments.  They want us to stay away from the church because the want our faith to starve. 

Tragically, we quickly buy into these excuses because deep down we just do not want to admit that we do not want to be at the banquet. We are fools because our sinful nature wants nothing to do with the Lord’s banquet and yet we are too fearful to admit this – so we go the way of lame excuses.  Furthermore, deep down, we begin to resent the Lord’s banquet. Our sinful nature sees church as a curse that ruins our Sunday plans and makes us feel guilty. 

Oh, friends, how we need to repent of our excuses!  How we need to repent of seeing church as a curse.  How we need to repent of seeing the Lord’s great invitation as an inconvenience!  How we need to repent of our slothfulness regarding church – our laziness and our apathy towards the Lord’s free Word and Sacraments! 

Repent dear friends!  Yes, repent.  The Lord’s Word and Sacraments, His gifts of the Gospel, are not curses!  They are gifts!  When the Lord invites you to His banquet to receive from Him, He does not do this to inconvenience you or curse you – He does this because He delights to give you the good gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Baptized Saints, the way of the Lord is the way of gift, not a curse or an inconvenience.  The way of the church is the way of gift, not a curse or inconvenience.  You have been invited to the great banquet because the Lord delights to give to you.  You have been made a member of the Lord’s Church because the Lord considered it worthwhile.  Indeed, Christ Jesus, Himself has redeemed you from the devil, death, sin, and hell, and taken God’s wrath away from you.  And today, He pours out His forgiveness, life, and salvation upon you.  You are forgiven! 

Dear Baptized Saints, the Lord loves to give to you.  And He gives you His gifts each Sunday at this Divine Service!  Therefore, as His dearly redeemed, continually receive from His Word and Sacraments in this church.  For in this church the Lord longs to strengthen your faith as He forgives you of your sins.  It is in this church where your faith is fed and nourished as you partake of the great banquet of the Lord – the banquet that each and every one of you have been invited to partake of. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 243.

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