Bible Reading Luke 14:16-18a, 21b, 23b
16 ... “A certain man was preparing a great banquet. He invited many guests. 17 Then the day of the banquet arrived. He sent his servant to those who had been invited. The servant told them, ‘Come. Everything is ready now.’ 18a “But they all had the same idea. They began to make excuses.... 21b [The master then] ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the town. Bring in those who are poor. Also bring those who can’t see or walk.’ 23b ‘Go out to the roads. Go out to the country lanes. Make the people come in. I want my house to be full. (NIRV)
Message Jeremiah 31:27-34, Hebrews 9:12b, 14-15
“Rebuilding the Heart -- Minus the Grapes”
We encounter it on a regular basis in others, in our churches, our families, our communities, our nation -- and maybe even in ourselves. We all want to be invited to the banquet, to receive from the hard-earned cornucopia of blessings, but we don’t want to be the ones who prepare the table, or to clean up after, or even to make the hard journey to get there.
Excuses and blame
Through this parable, Jesus’ tells his listeners that they are full of excuses to avoid following his way of life, (the way that gets to the banquet). Often, these excuses sound good, and they also point the finger at someone else. A classic cartoon cuts through the excuses…
Calvin says to his toy tiger Hobbes, "Nothing I do is my fault. My family is dysfunctional and my parents won't empower me. Consequently, I'm not self-actualized! My behavior is an addictive function in the disease of toxic codependency. I need holistic healing and wellness before I'll accept any responsibility for my actions!" And his tiger Hobbes responds: "One of us needs to stick his head in a bucket of ice water." Calvin ignores this advice and simply laughs, "I love the culture of victimhood.” Cleary, he had no intention to seek healing and wellness, much less overcoming his excuses.
Excuses and blame no more
For years they had rebelled against God. They thought nothing of it because, at least for the movers and shakers, the economy was doing alright. They still had their nation, their possessions and their families… But now the country was under siege and they were in danger of losing it all. But rather than take responsibility they blamed the previous generations with this motto: The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29b) That simply means they were accusing the generations before them of committing the bad actions, and now they were the ones who were going to have to pay the consequences for their bad decisions. Clearly, while there are potentially destructive influences created by the poor choices of others; Jeremiah (nor Ezekiel for that matter), will no longer allow it as an excuse -- both prophets say the people will be held accountable for our own wrong decisions… “whoever eats sour grapes -- their own teeth will be set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:30b) You’ll be held accountable for and suffer the consequences for your own bad choices, not of others.
Yet it is difficult to ignore some of the powerful negative influences of others before us or around us. It can be very discouraging and take the heart out of our activities, for it can feel like we are just a helpless snowflake in the drifts of our world.
We are an influence
There is another saying I heard: “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” If I add my heart-defeated discouragement to another discouraged flake, and another then another, pretty soon we’ve got a snow ball of discouragement, and that grows into snow fort of discouragement, and then that grows into an avalanche of things undone, unfixed, un-whole, and negative influences begin to dominate our world.
There are few things worse than being on the receiving end of heartless discouragement. Once, quite a long time ago now, (and not in this area, so you are all safe J); we had some family visit, and so we had a pretty big group. We decided to go out to eat so we went to a restaurant. Just before us, another large group had entered the restaurant. And we overheard the waitress saying to no one in particular, “I expect to wait tables but not the whole town.” We relieved her of her burden, for our family at least, and went someplace else. If you can’t serve with energy and joy, then don’t bother us with your mediocrity.
A halfhearted gesture, a halfhearted compliment, a halfhearted love, these things are wholly depressing and discouraging. I think that is what Jesus was trying to say through John when he wrote “You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.” (Revelation 3:15b-16 MSG)
We are an influence
On the other hand, if I seize the day and go after everything with my whole heart, and I add my enthusiastic energy to another energetic flake, and another then another one, pretty soon we have a snowball of energy, and then a snow fort of energy, and then an avalanche of things getting done, and getting fixed, and being made whole, and good influences pour into and make a difference in our world. Lives are changed for the better and God’s kingdom is advanced.
The question is, how do we flakes move from getting swallowed up by the disheartening drifts and join the force for positive joy in our world? A metaphor from the physical realm.
Are we non, half, or whole hearted?
I remember a man who seemed to be getting quite apathetic to all of life, his energy on Sunday morning (he did the announcements) was, at best, half-hearted. I visited he and his wife one night. He talked about some work that he had done a few days prior, and he thought he had strained his right arm, because it kept giving him pains once in a while. It wasn’t the work he had done, and sure enough, a couple of days later he was in the hospital, in need of bypass surgery. The good news is for him, that the surgery was a great success, and after just a few weeks of recuperation, it was like he was a whole new person. Energy came back, not only to physical life, but to all of his life. He had been trying to survive with half a heart, but now he could live wholeheartedly again! What a difference it made in his life, and can make in our lives in our spiritual journey, if we live our spiritual lives, which will spill over into all of our lives, with energy and wholeheartedness.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel (See Jeremiah 17:1, Ezekiel 36:26) both promise that the old covenants, chiseled on cold hearts of stone, will be replaced by a new covenant, a new spirit, new hearts of flesh. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people… “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31a,33b-34) And he goes on in that text to say that it would create such a marked avalanche (my word) in our world that eventually people won’t even have to invite people to know the Lord because everybody will already know him, and God will forgive and forget our sins.
We can get pretty piously smug when we read, especially the Old Testament, about all those Bible people who were so rebellious throughout the whole history of the people. But are we doing much better? Are our hearts more wholly committed? Are we any more obedient? Have we moved the world any closer to unity under the Creator by accomplishing God’s loving will? Do we continue to work whole-heartedly, or have we become overwhelmed by the discouraging trends we see drifting our way?
New covenant – new hearts
The invitation to follow the new covenant path to that banquet has already begun by the work of Christ. We can choose to act whole-heartedly. Not because we have the power to do it. Jeremiah said early in his book that we do not have the power to change any more than we can change the color of our skin or the leopard his spots (Jeremiah 13:27). But God has promised he can and he will make us a new creation, and he wants to gift us with the new heart of the new covenant -- we just have to receive it.
Have you chosen God’s gift of a whole heart? given through faith and expressed by following Jesus each moment? And trusting in what he has done and does for us each day? The author to the Hebrews sums it up for us – what Christ has done for us in chapter 9:12 ff
[Jesus Christ]… secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the [sacrifices] could cleanse people’s ceremonial impurity. [So] Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can [fully] worship [or some translations say “serve”] the living God.
For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free [to set us free] from the penalty of the sins they [we] had committed under that first covenant. (NLT)
Jesus established the covenant with us. Don’t forget what he has done for us, forgiving and forgetting our sins and writing God’s will on our new hearts.