So, You Don't Go To Church Anymore? Here Is The Reason Why

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus tells us a story today about a great bountiful banquet and several groups of people who make excuses to not attend. Now, let me be very clear; the excuses given by these people are shallow and ridiculous.  And so, Jesus’ story is not dealing with legitimate reasons but shallow excuses, shallow excuses that are like the ones we use for not attending church services.  

You see, pastors often hear about every excuse in the book from individuals and families for not attending church.  There are a lot of excuses, don’t deny it!  But why make excuses to not go to church services?  

Perhaps, we try to think up clever excuses to justify our actions of skipping church, so we do not feel so bad.  But that still does not get to the heart of the problem. And that problem is much more profound.

If you and I take a moment and think about Jesus’ story a bit more carefully, something is not right. Think about it this way; the man who prepared the great banquet was not inviting a bunch of people over for cardboard pizza and stale nachos. He was not inviting people over for one of those free meals that you have to eat with a high-pressure sales pitch during dessert about investing in a pyramid timeshare program in the Caribbean Islands.  The man who prepared the banquet was not some lonely bachelor needing social interaction and had the idea to throw a party to get himself out of an emotional slump. No, this man invited people to a great dinner, which is why needing an excuse to not attend does not make sense.  

Now, when I say a great dinner, I’m not merely talking about a large Thanksgiving Dinner.  The Thanksgiving Dinners that many people have each year are child’s play compared to the great banquet that this man prepared. You see, if you were to attend a banquet – like the one mentioned in Jesus’ story – the first thing you would be given would be a brilliant white robe to be worn as a symbol of honor, along with a crown of flowers on your head.  Secondly, you would be led to recline on a couch near a lowered table, where you would be given the most exceptional wine to drink, along with beautiful smelling perfume to wear.  And then, while you waited for the food, entertainers would sing, play music, and dance.  And then for the food! Imagine the best food you have ever tasted, prepared totally for your enjoyment.  And after the meal? Do not even think about doing dishes or clearing the table. The servants do all that for you while washing your hands with water and wiping them with a cloth.  

So, back to our consideration of Jesus’s story. As already mentioned, several of these individuals had lame excuses to get out of the banquet.  But why?  The answer, they were acting as if the banquet was some sort of curse that they had to avoid.  Like a teenage girl who says to an obnoxious boy, “I can’t go on a date because I am washing my hair,” the excuses of the individuals show us that they believed that the banquet invitation was some sort of inconvenience rather than a great gift.

Dear friends, I’m convinced that the reason why so many people avoid church and think up silly excuses is that they perceive church services to be a curse - an inconvenience – instead of a great gift.

But let me tell you a little secret and insight.  Many individuals in America are entirely justified in wanting to avoid church.  The reason why?  Many churches in America do not function like a great banquet, where the Lord’s gifts are freely and joyously given.

Permit me an opportunity to explain.  

Imagine working five days out of the week to serve customers and to serve your boss. Then Saturday rolls around, and you have to serve the needs of your family through mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, and catching up on projects. And then the alarm goes off on Sunday morning.  You get up, put on your finest clothes, and drive to church to give your best to God.  

At the beginning of the church service, the worship leader comes out and asks you to stand and make a joyful noise to the Lord.  After a couple of songs, even though your coffee has not kicked in yet, the worship leader is crying out, “Now this time, really sing it!  Everyone get your hands up!”  Then, just when you think you can take a break, the pastor comes out, and you are given a list of ways in which you can be a better Christian and better serve God through a bunch of different missions and ministries in the church. 

After church is complete; you finish some errands, go home, and go to bed, to start it all over again on Monday.  

Lord, have mercy on all of us!  

Church services like this – and they do exist in every town in America - are not about handing out the gifts of God, but instead, take from parishioners. In these churches, it is expected that you come to church on Sundays to give your best to God through fervent prayers and vibrant singing.  And in case you haven’t given enough, the pastor gives you tips and pointers of how you can live your best life for God.  Tragically, instead of parishioners being a guest at a great banquet in the church service, they are tossed into the kitchen and expected to huff and puff in serving God. These churches expect their parishioners to come to church to be kitchen maids, hall boys, and cooks for the Lord – as if the Lord needs to be served by mankind.  Sigh!  

Lord, have mercy on all of us!    

Listen to what Christ says.  Yes, listen: 
 “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Baptized Saints, what this means is this: if the church services of St. Paul’s fail to be a great banquets that deliver God’s gifts to you, then this church is indeed a curse and should be avoided.  The doors should be shut and the building bull-dozed to the ground. However, when churches are faithful – when they are great banquets of the Lord’s forgiveness, life, and salvation – do not treat church services like they are curses.    

Dear Baptized Saints, keep in mind that the church services here at St. Paul’s follow a liturgy.  That liturgy comes straight out of our hymnals.  And in our hymnals, they are called Divine Services.  They are called this because the “Divine One” – the Lord – serves you!  In other words, every service here in St. Paul’s is like a great banquet where Christ is the one who intends to serve you, and you get to receive.     

What great news!  When you attend a Divine Service here at St. Paul’s, you do not clothe the Lord in an honorable robe, but the Lord clothes you in brilliant righteousness through baptism – covering your sin and guilt.  When you come through the sanctuary doors, you are not some scullery kitchen maid or hall boy who prepares a banquet for the Lord from a tiny dirty kitchen, but the Lord prepares a table for you and gives you His body and blood. And the pastor, as he stands in the pulpit, is not like a head cook that barks out kitchen orders to you, but instead, the one who proclaims the Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation into your ears.  

Baptized Saints, in the Lord’s Divine Services, He gives to you.  He gives you everything – nothing held back—grace upon grace for you to receive. A great banquet!    

And so, excuses do not make sense when you understand that church services are great banquets.  Furthermore, evangelism and outreach make sense when church services are great banquets with plenty of food and seats for everyone to receive.  Evangelism and outreach are simply going out everywhere to everyone and saying, “Come, everything is ready now for you!”   

And when you find yourselves not wanting to come to the great banquet of the Divine Service?  Well, that is just your old Adam that throws gloom over joy.  It is only your old Adam that hates the blessing of the Lord’s great banquet.  It is just your old Adam that is a stubborn killjoy that needs to be put to death at the doors of the great banquet hall.  Your old nature is foolish and deserves a kick or a muzzle, as you arise to feast at the Lord’s great banquet. 

So, dear Baptized Saints, rejoice!  You are blessed when you receive from Christ.  You are blessed – not cursed – when you come to this sanctuary, not to give God your best, but to receive God’s best in Christ for you. 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.   

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