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December 16, 2017; Luke 14:16-24
Dear Ones,
The Gospel this morning says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” As I was meditating on these words, I was reminded of the days of my childhood, and the process of Little League tryouts. Little League, for those who don’t know, is organized baseball for kids. Every kid who wanted to play on a Little League baseball team had to show up for the tryouts, so that the coaches and league officials could assess each one’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses, etc. That way, they could be placed with the right team, on the right level, with the appropriate age group. Tryouts were wonderful, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time. But in order to play on a team, in order to be placed, in order to be “chosen” you had to heed the call for the tryouts. For the kids who loved baseball, and for the parents who were equally excited about it for their kids, it was impossible to miss the announcement. It was everywhere! It was in the local newspaper, it was on posters around town, radio stations did public service announcements, schools had flyers posted on bulletin boards. The call went out to everyone! For those children and adults who were eager, who were zealous for the game, they were waiting, watching for the date, the time, the location. But for those who were careless, for those who were inattentive, the day would come and go, and they would miss it. And what tears were shed then! Why? Because in those days, if you missed the tryouts, you missed your chance to play.
Perhaps this little story from my experience in the very early 1960’s helps us to understand what these words of Jesus mean. The Lord calls, the Lord invites, but it is entirely up to us if we pay attention to that invitation. If we are careless and inattentive, we will miss the opportunity to dine with Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom. What did the Lord say in Revelation 3:20? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” So the Lord knocks on our door. What does that mean? It means He knocks on the doors of our hearts; not once, not twice, but every day, every hour, every minute. With the Lord there is not just one chance, one tryout, but throughout our lives the Lord Jesus Christ knocks at the doors of our hearts. We have to pay attention, we have to repent, we have to de-clutter our hearts from all the distractions, all the obstacles (such as love of sin, love of pleasures, love of the world) that reside there, so that we have enough room to invite our Saviour in. How sad and how tragic is that innkeeper who rejects the Christ-Child because there is no room in the inn!
Today’s Gospel parable emphasizes God’s great and abiding love for His creatures. The Gospel truth is that everyone is invited, not only today but throughout history. God didn’t use newspapers or radio spots, but He sent holy people, saints, prophets and kings, in order to issue the invitation to everybody to come, get closer to God. Today’s Feast is a celebration of exactly this! It is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, which includes the Holy Foremothers as well. And who are the Holy Forefathers? They are all the holy ancestors and prophets of Christ, who, although they lived before Him, both received and extended His invitation. They include such righteous ones as Adam & Eve, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Jacob, Joseph, Moses,  Elijah, David, Solomon, Daniel and the 3 Holy Youths, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and John the Forerunner. Adam and Eve? Yes, Adam and Eve. But weren’t they the cause of the ruin of mankind and the fall of creation? Well, yes and no. Satan was ultimately behind it, but yes, they listened to him and because of their sin caused the subsequent calamity. But the Word of the Gospel is not about the condemnation of sinners, it’s about the invitation to repentance, faith, newness of life and a divine meal. Adam and Eve sinned, but they also repented and lived godly lives until their deaths. They are painted on icons. They have haloes around their heads. Why? Because they heeded the call. Because they dine with Christ in the Heavenly Banquet Chamber. Because they are saints.
But the parable today is not only about those who listened, is it? It’s not only about the righteous and those who were the messengers of salvation and those who were being saved. Do you remember to whom Jesus was speaking when He shared this parable? He was dining with a leader among the Pharisees and many of his Pharisee and Scribe friends. They had invited Jesus to an earthly meal in order to either recruit Him, or trick Him into saying something blasphemous. They had no interest in the invitation of Jesus to come to Him and the Divine Meal that He would offer. St Cyril of Alexandria says: “The chiefs therefore of the Israelite populace remained aloof from the supper, as being obdurate and proud and disobedient, and scorned so surpassing an invitation, because they had turned aside to earthly things, and fixed their minds upon the vain distractions of this world” (Sermon 104 on Luke). Indeed, this parable has a lot to say about those who throughout sacred history either neglected or rejected God’s word or that of His saints. Oh, they have excuses, they have rationalizations, they have explanations. Mystically, for us today, it is talking about those who have time for every other thing other than attending the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, or those who prefer their sins over the heavenly banquet of the Messiah, or those who prefer to remain unconfessed, or unrepentant, thus depriving themselves of the Heavenly Food of the Holy Eucharist. That’s why in today’s epistle reading, St Paul exhorts us firmly to “put to death fornication, uncleanness, passions, evil desires, covetousness, which is idolatry...anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and lying” (see Colossians 3: 4-11). Why? Because these, and other such sins, separate us from that new man which we put on in holy baptism, and that sweet meal with our sweetest Saviour and Master, Jesus Christ.
So beloved, today let us honor the Holy Forefathers of Christ by celebrating their lives and their spiritual victories. Let us give heed to the invitation of God delivered through them to repent, grow our faith and love, and find ourselves ever-present with the Lord. Let us always strive to prepare ourselves to dine with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, by striving against sin, and confessing often. And like that cave in Bethlehem, let us prepare to open the doors of our hearts so that Christ might enter in, not just at Christmas, but every moment of every day throughout our lives. Amen.