“A Marriage Made in Heaven”

johnsoncicelySunday was packed with good stuff, as usual.  Church in Watford – good to see old Harrow friends and welcome the Odediran family officially – was followed by a dash down the M25/M4 to help set up the service in Lower Earley (thanks for choosing the songs, Don).

Then a quick drive a couple of miles away to speak at a Tamil church – first time for me. Such a positive experience. This is a group who have shown much love to Johnson and his boys as they mourned the death of his wife and their mother.

Now we had something to celebrate – welcoming his new wife, Cicely.

The Tamil songs passed over me, but they were sung with joy. Then I had the opportunity to preach (with translation) and try a few words of Tamil given to me by Johnson: “Vanakam” (good afternoon) and “Alaittatarku nanri” (thanks for inviting me). I’m sure I murdered the pronunciation, but they declared themselves pleased with my attempt!

Anyway, this post is by way of saying “thank you” for the invitation and also for the awesome home-cooked Indian food afterwards. Penny was also grateful, since I was given some to take home to her. All-in-all a wonderful day and a fitting way to celebrate and welcome Cicely.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22 NIV11)

God bless,

Malcolm

“Harsh Reality”, Luke 14.24

Sometimes we get away with it, and sometimes we don’t. However, our choices tend to catch up with us in the end. We’re on the final instalment of our exploration of the parable of the banquet, Luke 14.15-24. The summary statement is this:

“I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Luke 14.24 (NIV11)

What is the sentiment here? Anger, resignation, disappointment? Perhaps a mixture of several feelings? The host has been insulted and lied to, but his response has been one of grace. The ungrateful have missed out, and the ‘undeserving’ have been blessed. Sounds like the kingdom of God to me!

Who is the host? On one level God, but on another, it’s Jesus. The “you” in v24 is plural, but there is only one servant. It looks as if Jesus is addressing the people around him. If he is Messiah, then it’s his messianic banquet that’s being described. I reckon this banquet belongs to Jesus. And his feelings here? What are they?

In light of what he says in Luke 13.34, “..how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”, I’d suggest his primary emotion of one of regret. “He…sees the deepest tragedy of human life, not in the many wrong and foolish things that men do, or the many good and wise things that they fail to accomplish, but in their rejection of God’s greatest gift.” (Bailey, “Peasant’s Eyes”, p110) He has no desire to see anyone miss out. Those who do so are self-excluded.

The good news is that there is still time to accept the invitation. The house not yet full because we are living in the “already but not yet” times (see Lk 13.28-29). We can come in, and we can do what we can to “compel” people to come in. Let’s celebrate that, and accept it.

That’s the theme of our sermon this morning, 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.

I hope to see you there.

God bless,

Malcolm

“Generosity and Grace”, Luke 14.21-23

StreetHave you ever cancelled an event due to lack of interest? Or attended one where the host clearly expected far more people to attend than actually turned up. Feels discouraging and deflating. How does our feast host respond to the social snubs of his peers?

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry….” (Luke 14:21a NIV11)

Try to imagine being the man preparing the great feast. How might he be feeling as the excuses roll in? Why might he be angry? Well, for one thing, the excuses are all pretty lame. The field would still be there the next day, as would the oxen, and the third excuse is still a choice. It’s not the wedding day, after all. The host has been lied to (they said they would come and did not) and insulted (see yesterday’s post).

How does our host respond? Even though justifiably angry, he responds with grace. He goes on to invite people who did not expect to be invited, and those who the previously-invited thought should not be invited.

  1. The Poor. “…and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” (Luke 14:21b NIV11) Here, “crippled” includes the loss of use of any limb, not just walking. What are they like? These guests may be messy and smelly and will need assistance to attend. “The poor are not invited to banquets, the maimed do not get married, the blind do not go out to examine fields, and the lame do not test oxen.” (Bailey, “Peasant Eyes”, p100), and see Luke 14.13. They represent the outcasts of Israel. Probably those who the pious Jews would consider ‘sinners’ amongst their number and unworthy of being God’s people. The guests who snubbed the host are anticipating (hoping) for an empty banquet and humiliation for the host. Their first objective is thwarted, but they probably think the second has been achieved – “they will taunt the host as one who is unable to put together a banquet without ‘bringing in this riffraff’.” see Luke 15.2. To whom might we be naturally prejudiced? The poor; politicians; refugees; the rich; adicts; the police; bankers; refugees?
  2. The Distant. ““ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:22–23 NIV11)  This is a lot of work for the servant – one man going all around the country lanes. These lanes were where derelict people lived, finding what shelter they could. We see here the master’s commitment to filling his house. “compel” does not imply force (what can one servant do?), but, “The slave was not to take ‘no’ for an answer; the house must be filled. There is little doubt that we should see a reference to the mission of the church.” Morris, Leon. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. TNTC. Why “compel”? Because the answer to such an invitation in that culture would be “no” as a matter of courtesy – it is an acknowledgment that I am of socially inferior rank and cannot come. I do not deserve it. Thus the servant must insist, and grace is illustrated. Grace is unbelievable! How is it that the host cares for me? I cannot invite him back. This makes no sense. Grace is so unbelievable that some special pleading is necessary for people to be convinced to come and that the invitation is genuine. Insistent hospitality! Are we as welcoming towards people different from us as is the master in the parable?

The command is not recorded as being carried out in the parable, indicating perhaps that this was the future mission to the Gentiles to be launched after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are the servants and are sent out so that people may come and enjoy the feast prepared by Jesus. If we come to the feast (accepting the invitation to the kingdom) we are going to be among the outcasts. Are we comfortable with that? Perhaps some do not come in because they do not want to associate with people they consider unworthy. But in having that attitude they demonstrate that they are ‘unworthy’. Luke 13.30 coming to pass.

One option was to cancel the banquet, but this man decides to invite some people not usually invited to such occasions. What do you think his motivation was? Is there something for us to understand here about the heart of God? What might that be? Are we ready to help people come into the kingdom?

We’ll discuss this in the sermon tomorrow. Come along if you can: 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.

God bless,

Malcolm

“Excuses, Excuses”, Luke 14.17-20

weddinginviteI’m going to a wedding in January. I was invited even before the couple got engaged, and then received an official invitation via email two weeks later. I was already going, but now I’m double-going. Some invitations we treat with greater significance than others. Let’s see what happened in this parable.

“At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14:17 NIV11)

A second ‘invitation’ was necessary because no one had a watch, and time was ‘elastic’. This second invitation meant “come now” because the meat was ready and would soon go off. Come within the hour. The word “come” is in the present imperative, meaning, “continue coming”, because it was assumed the guests were coming on the basis of the original  accepted invitation. It might be inconvenient, but you knew it was going to happen.

We get ‘invited’ in various ways, and on multiple occasions, but there comes that time when we must respond. Everything is ‘ready’ because Jesus has come, and now, for us, he has done all that is necessary for us to enjoy the banquet since he has died for our sins and risen to give us life. But many make excuses. Let’s look at these:

  1. Money“The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’” (Luke 14:18 NIV11) Fields do not change. Surely he would not buy a field without prior inspection. The dinner is at the end of the day. Is he really going to view a field in the dark? We might not think buying a field is a big deal, but in that culture it was and still is. Agricultural land was scarce. Some plots had proper names, and negotiations could last for years.The contract would specify wells, walls, springs, trees, paths, previous revenue for the plot and anticipated rainfall.  All this must have already been settled. It looks like excitement about material wealth got in the way of honouring an invitation already extended. It’s easy to forget that people matter more than things. Perhaps a modern equivalent might sound something like this: “I can’t come because I bought a house over the internet and I must go and inspect it.” You’d just not do that.
  2. Toys“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’” (Luke 14:19 NIV11) He could examine them another day – in any case he would not have bought them unless satisfied of their adequacy. Team of oxen were demonstrated in front of potential buyers either at market, or on the owner’s land. This is a wealthy landowner. Having this many oxen meant he had much plough-able land. One of his employees could test the oxen if they really needed trying out. One other thought – animals are unclean. Is this person saying that even an unclean animal is of more value to me that you, O host? It’s a little like saying, “I can’t come over because I’ve just taken delivery of a new smart TV and need to try it out.”
  3. Relationships. “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” (Luke 14:20 NIV11)  The rule that allowed a married man to stay at home during the first year of marriage (Deut. 24:5) was aimed at preventing him from going to war, not at social isolation. This excuse is as transparent as the others. It’s not the wedding day. A host wouldn’t plan a banquet to coincide with a wedding feast – no village could cope with both at the same time. In any case, he’ll only be away from his wife for at most a few hours. In this culture, to make a woman the source of the excuse was especially insulting. Men did not talk about women in public. Bailey (Peasant’s Eyes, p99) cites an example of a man addressing letters home to his hoped-for son rather than his two extant daughters. This third excuse is the rudest of the replies.

This feast is not a food bank where people turn up to get what they need then go off to pursue their lives as they wish. It is a banquet where people come to feast with the host – leaving other things behind. Devotion is essential in the kingdom.

The people listening to Jesus would have laughed at these excuses. They are lame, transparent and insulting. No one is fooled by them – they are calculated insults. How will the host respond? We’ll look at that tomorrow – and in the sermon on Sunday. Come along if you can: 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.

God bless,

Malcolm

“The Dining Deity”, Luke 14.16

img_0107God likes a banquet. He’s the dining deity. We looked at Isaiah 25 yesterday. Here’s another example: Psa. 23:5  “You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.” (MESSAGE) What does it mean to be invited to such a feast?

We’re back for another look at the passage I’ll be speaking on this Sunday: Luke 14.15-24. The second verse of the text has: “Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.”” Luke 14.16 (NIV11)

These guests have been pre-invited, as was the custom of the day. They know about the event and have accepted the invitation (otherwise the host would not call them to come). It would be the very hight of rudeness to refuse. At this point the host has killed a certain number of animals depending on the number of guests coming. Our host appears to be wealthy, and his guests are of roughly the same standing in local society (buying fields and owning so many oxen would seem to indicate this, vv18-19). The wealthy are invited to recline around tables on couches and feast on meat and other delicacies. An attractive invitation! But, who are these guests?

The first group, those who have been pre-invited, are those of Israel who the “prominent Pharisee” (Lk 14.1) would expect to see at the Messianic banquet. The second and third groups we’ll turn to in a later  article. The invited already know the host, have a relationship with him, live within his orbit, are connected enough to be invited, and have communicated their willingness to attend. Sounds like Israel, doesn’t it? Sounds like the scene in Luke 13.26-27, ““Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’”

These people are blind to what God is doing because they have a fixed idea of how He works. Do we have ideas that are too ‘fixed’? Symptoms might include: refusing to take risks by faith; seeing obstacles instead of opportunities -i.e.  thinking or acting as if they are too big for God to solve, or to use for his glory; being upset when the church is not as we think it should be in opinion areas; looking to others to sort out our problems and not being willing to serve God and people until such things are resolved; not praying with expectation…. Perhaps you can add some of your own symptoms.

Tomorrow we’ll go on to look at the response of the invitees in more detail, but for now, let’s ponder the wonderful news that God wants us at his banquet, and prepare ourselves to attend even if it’s not convenient, or what we expected – or, and perhaps especially, if we find people there we didn’t expect to see.

God bless,

Malcolm

“You can’t beat a feast”, Luke 14.15

dsc_0021I’ve dined well and I’ve dined poorly. Once or twice I’ve not dined at all (ran out of money in Pompeii in the ’80s, but that’s another story). There are also some meals we share with people that have greater significance than most. Wedding receptions come to mind. We don’t want to miss out on those. A special meal was in the mind of the person who ate with Jesus one day, “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 14:15 NIV11)

How did Jesus respond? We’ll be looking at that in the next few blog posts this week, and in the sermon on Sunday. Here are a few introductory thoughts. The person who says, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” clearly expects to be at the feast. Why then does Jesus tells the parable that follows? What is he hoping the dinner guest will understand?

We get a clue by connecting this parable with another from Luke 13.29-30. Liefeld points out that, “Luke 13:29-30 had shown that some who expect to be present will be excluded; this passage teaches that those excluded have only themselves to blame.”¹ There were some in Jesus’ day who were in danger of missing out not through misfortune, but sheer hard-headedness.

A second passage that informs us is Isaiah 25:6-9:

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”” (Isaiah 25:6–9 NIV11)

Now we can see to what kind of feast the man was referring – the kingdom of God as a banquet. There it is – for all people – “all nations”. The person who understood this would say, “Blessed are all peoples that will eat at the feast” – including gentiles. The fact that the man dining with Jesus keeps it individual – “Blessed is the one” – indicates he sees the promise from a Jewish-exclusive perspective. During the intertestamental period this passage was re-interpreted in ways that excluded gentiles. Jesus came to widen the scope, to correct the myopia, to raise the hopes of all those far off from God.

Loud and clear we hear Jesus say that those least expecting to share in the kingdom of God will participate, while surprisingly, those most expecting to be diners may be among those who miss out. What can we do to make sure we don’t miss out on this gracious gift? More in the next post coming soon.

God bless,

Malcolm

PS – the sermon on Sunday is on this passage. 10.30AM, Watford church of Christ, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Rd, Watford, HERTS, WD18 0DD

¹ Expositor’s Bible Commentary

When does a speech begin?

starting-a-speech-002eg 300w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-768x576.jpeg 768w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002.jpeg 1024w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />Who cares what other people think of us as we approach the lectern? On one level it doesn’t matter, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” John 2.23-25 NIV11

However, Jesus also said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matt. 10:16 NIV11 We have an obligation to be smart, but innocent. Hence, let it not bother you what people think in the sense that it doesn’t change your convictions. But have care as to how you come across in case your behaviour is a distraction from the message.

With those caveats and clarifications in order, let’s tackle the topic of when a speech begins.

  1. Preparing. A speech begins when people first become aware of you. What do the people to whom you will be speaking know about you? Are you a visiting speaker? If so, try to make sure the introduction is accurate both before you arrive and on the day. I’ve been introduced as having more children than I’m aware I possess and as being someone with a variety of qualifications – some of which were even true. What people know shapes what they expect. If they don’t know you, the way you act becomes more important because they are curious. If you are well-known, it’s less significant, but still important to visitors at the event.
  2. Arriving. Park your car considerately and enter the venue in a spiritual frame of mind. Pray in the car beforehand. Greet people warmly and asking questions rather than trying to ‘impress’ people with what you know and who you are. Genuine curiosity will make a big difference to how people listen to you – and your message. Surely one of the reasons Jesus had crowds hanging on his every word was because they had seen and felt his compassion. As someone said, “If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message.”¹
  3. Standing. Here we’re talking about getting from seat to lectern. Know where you’re going – pick a path avoiding microphone cables, music stands and instruments. Find out in advance which microphone you’ll be using. Familiarise yourself with the controls of any advancer you’ll be using for A/V resources. Decide in advance where to put your stuff (Bible, notes etc.) and check it will all fit. Walk to the lectern with your head up, not eyes focussed on the floor, or, Lord forbid, making last-minute changes to your talk. Look like you’re excited about getting up there to speak – because, hopefully, you are!
  4. Speaking. Look up. Smile. Deliver your first sentence with meaningful words you’ve selected in advance. That 10-second window is your opportunity to convince any doubters that their time is about to be well-spent. Catch people at the start and likely they will stay with you for the entire sermon. Miss that chance at the beginning and you’ll be behind the ball for a while, and it’s hard work coming back from there.

Conclusion

I must emphasise that this is not about looking impressive for the sake of it in some humanistic worldly sense. Rather, it is about looking like we mean business. From the beginning.

Do you have any comments or questions? You can email me, tweet @mccx, or leave a message below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

God bless,

Malcolm

¹ “Christian reflections on the leadership challenge”, Kouzes & Posner, Jossey-Bass 2006