Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What will your excuse be?

One time I was sitting around a table with religious leaders from all sorts of different backgrounds. This group included Christians and non-Christians, and we were discussing the importance of hospital ministry. One Christian pastor asked, “Is there anyone who would visit a patient in the hospital and not pray for physical healing?” The question sounded obvious enough since the very reason a patient enters the hospital is to be healed by doctors who have been trained in all the newest technologies. We don’t go to the hospital to die. I was troubled by his question because as Orthodox Christians we approach life from a different vantage point, so I raised my hand. “I don’t!” I let it sit out there for a minute or two. “As an Orthodox Christian I pray they are healed so that they may live long enough to repent.”  A long discussion ensued.

I think it has become too easy to pray for healing just so that we are no longer sick. We pray that God fixes what is broken in our bodies so that we can continue to pursue our dreams of building great dynasties. We pray that God allows us to get up from our sick bed so that we can walk into work another day and close that perfect deal we were just about to wrap up. We even pray to God that we don’t die too soon so that we can enjoy time with our family. Let’s face it; we all have excuses about why we don’t want to die. But if we’re honest the excuse rarely if ever includes time for repentance and confession. We hear something similar in the Gospel.

The Lord compares heaven to a great banquet to which many had been invited. The master had sent word to those who had been invited that the banquet was ready, “But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.18) The result was that others were brought into the banquet and those who had made excuses were left outside. The master said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24)

The stories in the Gospel are never just stories. They are meant for us today to hear and embrace as a witness to God’s loving promise about our future with Him. That means WE have been invited to the banquet which He calls Heaven. We have been called by His servants, the Saints of our Church, to remind us that He is waiting for us. We have been given the opportunity to accept His invitation to the banquet. It also means that we have been the chance to come up with excuses about why we aren’t ready to attend. It isn’t because we don’t want to attend; we just would rather spend more time doing what we like to do “down here” for a while longer. That’s really why we spend so much energy trying to get healed and leave the hospital. We want more time to check out the new property we just purchased, test the new equipment we just installed, or enjoy time with our family.

The truth of God’s promise is that we don’t know exactly when He will send His servants to “bring us” to the banquet, so we need to be willing to answer the call when the time comes. That can only mean that we must be ‘ready and waiting’ for His call. But when He calls and you aren’t ready, what will your excuse be? Instead of making excuses, be ready for Him. Be waiting for Him. Enter into the banquet together with Him and avoid being left outside the gates of heaven. It isn’t about property, jobs, and family. It is about entering into heaven with God.

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