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Proverbs 24.30-34

Luke 14.15-24

Good Excuses

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

I, um… I’m not really sure how to tell you this – it’s never happened to me before in my forty plus years of ministry, and it is rather embarrassing.  Do you know, how, as you get older, time seems to get away from you, and the things you had hoped or planned to do somehow just don’t get done?  How you get so caught up in the day-to-dayness of life that important things seem to just slip right by you?  Well, it finally happened to me this week and – I may as well come right out and say it:  I don’t have a sermon for you today.

It’s not that I didn’t try, mind you.  Here is some of the research I did during the week for this morning.  I was inspired by something one of you had said to me a few weeks ago, “You know what I have never heard a sermon about?  Usury!”  And I thought, You know that’s right – I’ve never preached a sermon about usury, or the practice of charging interest on a loan or bill, before.   So I decided I’d start right there and began wondering if usury is one of the seven deadly sins, and discovered that it is not, but do you know what is?  Laziness.  Can you imagine?  Laziness?  What’s so sinful about laziness?  The Bible refers to it as sloth, or in the church’s classic Latin, acedie.  And from there, well, I got sucked down a rabbit hole.  I mean, pride and envy I can understand, gluttony and greed – is usury greed, I wondered? – and lust and wrath certainly belong, but laziness?  Why it’s practically an American virtue!  But the more I read, the more I got off topic, and more time went by and here it is Sunday morning and here we are, without a sermon.

I’m not lazy, in case that’s what you’re thinking.  In fact, just the opposite is true. This has been a busy and exhausting week!  I told you about my sister in the ICU – she is doing better, thank you to all who reached out, and has stepped down to begin rehabilitation.  And I did have two funerals to prepare for this week, one on Friday in Wethersfield and another yesterday north of Boston, so no, thank you very much, I have not been slacking.

Besides, for us sports fans, it’s been wall-to-wall baseball for much of the week.  I mean come on, four games on Tuesday and four games on Wednesday, baseball from noon ‘til bedtime, and clicking back and forth between channels because even if neither of New England’s favorite teams is playing you don’t want to miss any of it?  I mean, my poor clicker thumb is strained and I’ve had to go to PT just to keep up with the playoffs, so there is that on top of all the rest of it.  Way back when my younger daughter was just beginning to figure out what a television was, it was during the NCAA tournament she asked me, “Dad, is basketball always on?”  Well this week, it’s been baseball, and how in the world am I supposed to write a sermon when the Phillies are on a tear?

I’m sure you understand.  As busy people yourselves, you have surely been caught up in what I’m describing, when every now and then life just seems to conspire to overwhelm you and as a result there is always something you aren’t able to get to.  At the end of the day or the week you find yourself with a haggard list of things you meant to do but just didn’t have the time.  In fact, I can not count the number of times I’ve heard, in one form or another, “Alan, you know how it is:  it was a busy week and I didn’t get to half the work I wanted to, and we’re painting the upstairs and the gutters need fixing and I have a yard full of leaves to rake, and Sunday morning is the only time I have to get it done, so you won’t see me this Sunday morning.  I’m sure you understand.”  Well, to be honest with you, I did not understand, even when I nodded my pastoral head in sympathetic agreement; but now I can say that I understand perfectly.  A bit too perfectly, I’m afraid, but at least I know that there will no hard feelings from any of you this morning, just because it is my turn to say, I’m sure you understand.  I just don’t have a sermon for you this week.

And since I am told this condition only gets worse with retirement, remind me never to retire, OK?

Besides, one of the reasons I’m sure you won’t mind is that I’ve noticed that ours is becoming a world that celebrates mediocrity.  It seems you don’t have to excel any more to be respected, you don’t even have to do a good job with any regularity.  All you need to do in this day and age, it seems is to just get by, to do as little as is absolutely essential, and you’ll still get that pat on the back.  Or you could join the House of Representatives, fire your boss and stop going to work altogether.  Poor work is tolerated, middling work is rewarded, and excellent work is looked upon with suspicion.  So the way I figure it is, if I can just stand here and chatter away for a few more minutes, at least some of you are bound to think it is the finest sermon you’ve ever heard, even if I haven’t preached one.

Nor can I help but notice that both this morning’s scripture lessons pretty much explain themselves.  Why would I need to say much more about them than we have already heard?  Daphne made the words of the Proverbs perfectly clear, did she not? 

“I passed by the field of one who was lazy, by the vineyard of a stupid person; and see, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.  [Huh.]  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed warrior.”

See?  The meaning is so obvious, who needs a sermon to interpret it?  It describes the lazy person with a hundred good excuses, the person who never seems to have the time to do the minimum of what is requi…  Hmmm.  Maybe that wasn’t such a good example after all.  Daphne, who asked you to read that thing in the first place?

Let’s go to the New Testament lesson instead.  Now here is something we can all relate to.  An invitation went out to attend a grand and glorious dinner party, with the familiar notation, “Regrets Only.”  And then much to the host’s mortification, those regrets began to roll in one after another!  One person begged off because they had just bought some land.  What, is that land going to go somewhere while you have dinner?  What kind of excuse is this?  Another invited guest just bought five yoke of oxen and had to try them out.  I get it, when you buy something new you want to try it out right away, but come on.  Unless it’s your oxen on the menu, go to the party, the animals can wait.  The newlywed?  Well, I’ll grant that the newly wed bride and groom have better things to do on their wedding night than have dinner with neighbors, but you get my point:  how often have we used home, business and family as good excuses for things we’d rather not have to attend to.

I’d be willing to wager many of us wish we had such good, convenient excuses handy on occasion.  How often do we find ourselves in the parable of the great and grand banquet, when we are invited to something we really don’t care to attend, and instead of simply saying, “No, thank you,” we rack our brains for a good rationalization – er, I mean, a good reason – why we regrettably cannot attend?  And what a great relief when that invitation comes, and we discover to our delight that we really do have something else to do, a good, solid, legitimate airtight excuse?  Yes sir, nothing like being able to plead extenuating circumstances to relieve us from doing something we really did not feel like doing in the first place!

Which is not to say I didn’t want to write a sermon today.  I really did.  In fact, I wanted to write a great sermon, the best sermon you ever heard, the finest theological treatise ever to emanate from this esteemed pulpit.  Except George likely beat me to that on more than one occasion… But I did have a lot of good ideas for this week.

I thought about our dishwashers and garage door openers and the half dozen remote controls for our TVs that are supposed to make life easier, and our smart phones and smart ovens and smart refrigerators and our Rings, all of which have made our houses and homes smarter than we are, somehow.  Which explains why whenever I press the preheat button on my oven the channel changes to ESPN.

I thought about how some of the most pressing issues in contemporary education are which books to pull off the library shelves to save us the trouble of actually having to read them, and who should use what locker room and whether our children should be exposed to something as controversial as American history, all to keep ourselves distracted from the hard issues of education and equal access to information.

I thought about the ways some of our churches have traded prophecy for politics and would rather talk about who should be excluded rather than included and have turned Jesus from a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew into a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant because we are much more comfortable with people who look and act and think like us so we don’t have to think for ourselves.

But I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking I’m trying to confuse the issue and make you forget about my own sloth by pointing fingers at everybody else, and making you feel like there’s something amiss about the laziness that keeps us from trying our absolute best to reach God’s potential.  I remember reading an article that referred to this way of thinking as living in a kind of moral California, where you do your own thing and go with the flow, where demands and expectations are few, and being laid-back becomes a full-time chore, if not a civic duty.  It is not for nothing that what are called “sins of omission,” of not doing the right thing when the opportunity arises, don’t get nearly as much attention as sins of commission, when we do something that is clearly wrong.  I mean, who has time to keep track of all the opportunities for good that we let slip by?  You and I have better things to do.

So even though I didn’t have time to write a sermon this week, I know you’ll understand where I’m coming from, that you’ll cut me a little slack, and that you’ll soon forget this minor peccadillo, since you have probably been in a similar situation yourselves once or twice.  And if all goes well this week, and I don’t have too many interruptions, and if you all stay healthy and the phone doesn’t ring off the hook, and if all my teams win this afternoon, I will almost certainly have a proper sermon for you next Sunday. 

If I get around to it.

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