The podcast can be found here. (I got the date wrong in the recording. It is the sermon preached on Oct. 15.)
We have all experienced times of forgetfulness. Take your glasses off, set them down, and a few minutes later you can’t remember where you left them. Walk into a room and forget what you were doing. Suddenly you can’t remember your oldest friends name. Things like that. At other times, certain memories just seem to drop out. For example, do you have a collection of keys, maybe in a jar or in a drawer, that you have no idea what they go to? And the frustrating bit is that you can’t throw them away, because as soon as you do, you’ll discover that it’s going to cost $150 to drill the lock on the safety deposit box. Then there are phone numbers. I have this horrible habit of writing phone numbers down on post-it notes. Trouble is, I don’t put a name with them, so I sit staring at it trying to remember who it belongs to. Forgetfulness is universal. It’s a bit like Neville Longbottom – in Harry Potter – getting a Remembrall from his Grams. It’s a little glass ball that changes colors when you forget something. Neville’s changed color, but as he said, “I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten.”
Then there are times when something that happened years ago that you had completely forgotten, suddenly surfaces. Sometimes the reason for your remembering makes sense, you smell a certain perfume and recognize it as the perfume your first girlfriend wore. Other times the connection is not so linear: you see a commercial on TV for toilet paper and you suddenly think of the first time you were sent to the principal’s office.
What’s all this got to do with today? Well, I read our Gospel reading early this week and for whatever reason it reminded me of an adventure I took about twenty-five years ago. As to how it relates to our Gospel may only make sense to me, but I thought I would try it out on you. Please forgive me for talking so much about myself and please don’t fire me as you discover exactly how much of an idiot I actually am.
At the time I was working for a marketing firm in Dallas as an account representative. After a few years I decided that I would like to go on a vacation and in order to completely get away from it all I planned a solo camping trip. I hadn’t done any camping since I was in the Boy Scouts, so I saved up and bought all the necessary equipment: water purifiers, tent, stove, etc. and then planned my first trip: the Guadeloupe Mtns / west Texas.
At the time I was not the buffed out physical specimen you see standing before you, so I also started a workout routine. After dropping two pounds, I figured I would never be more fit. A short time later, I scheduled the vacation, planned my trip, loaded the car, and headed out for a ten day adventure. Looking at me, you would have thought I was Mr. Experienced Camper. Truth is, I was more an idiot than most times.
I arrived at the parking lot at the base of the mountain, threw my pack on and headed up. I had a topographical map with all my camp sites marked and the trails I would take to get to them. It was somewhat of an aggressive plan, but I thought, “Me Man. Me strong hiker.” Half way up I was thinking, “Me stupid man.”
Hind sight is 20/20, so let me tell you the idiot bits. Stupid man part one: as you know, down here in the south, most places are only a couple hundred feet above sea level. Dallas, where I was living, is at 450 feet above sea level. My first camp site on this grand adventure was at 8,400 feet. Did you know that there is absolutely no oxygen at 8,400 feet? Never even crossed my mind. Combine that with stupid man problem number two: I didn’t really think that I would have to quit smoking “all the way.” I mean, I cut back to a pack a day of Marlboro Red’s and thought that would be sufficient. I’ll let you be the judge on how well that worked out. However, it was stupid man problem three was the clincher. When I decided to take this little trip, I decided that it would also be a religious exercise. What does any good religious exercise require? Why, fasting. I didn’t take any food with me. My stupid man plan was to be at 8,400 feet, hiking in the mountains with a forty pound pack, with my daily calorie intake consisting of a pack of cigarettes and some water, and I was going to do this for seven days.
Believe it or not, I made it to the top. I set up my camp and literally could hardly move for three days. It wasn’t that my muscles were sore, it was that I became 100% exhausted just from trying to put on my shoes – no lie. I had enough energy to sit up for a bit and to sleep. No one came along in those three days. My companions were a few deer that would mosey up every now and then and one other thing…
My camp site overlooked a large bowl like depression in the mountain. Not much grew there, mostly scrub brush and some shorter fir trees, but in the center of this bowl was the trunk and a few of the larger limbs of a dead tree. It towered above everything else. My thought was that it had been hit by lightning many years before. But there it stood. I spent most of the time I was awake looking out at that dead tree and talking to God.
A few years before is when God had clobbered me with a 2×4 and said follow me and I had started, but nothing had really changed in my life. I still had the same job, same friends, pretty much doing the same thing I had been doing all along with just a few more items added to a rather shallow moral code and a greater sense of guilt.
This week as I was thinking on this parable of the King who sent out wedding invitations is what reminded me about that trip up the mountain, because it would seem to me that there are different types of invitations. The first is the big one, the one they are talking about in the parable. This is an extreme over simplification, but you know the story of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the five golden tickets. If you found one in a candy bar, that was your ticket to get into the factory. Everyone looked, but only a few were chosen. Our invitation to the feast is like that golden ticket. It gets you in. It is marvelous, amazing, glorious… It is Heaven. But I think there is a second type of invitation that comes after your admittance. Think of a wedding. Sure, you can go, find a seat next to the back wall and watch all the festivities, or you can engage, enter in. You can dance with the bride or groom or both. You can vie for the bouquet and the garter. You can toast with champaign / eat from the bridal cake.
For me, I believe that on the day that I started climbing that mountain I received one of these second types of invitations and while I was up there, I had to decide what to do with it. I could politely decline and keep doing the same thing, living my life, or I could accept it and learn what it really meant to follow Jesus. Does that make sense? The invitation I received was not about accept and receive salvation or reject and receive punishment – I was confident in the saving grace of God, of my salvation, so instead, for me, it was reject this second invitation and receive the good – heaven – or accept and receive the best, the prize, the crown, the feast. Not just then, but now.
I made my decision while up on that mountain and on the fourth day I started walking back down. As I did, the fog was so thick that I literally couldn’t see ten feet in front of me. When it finally broke I was still 1,000 feet up from the parking area. I remember standing next to a very steep ravine and I was so tired and foggy headed that I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I slipped. I almost went in and that literally would have been the end of it – that’s no lie or exaggeration – but truly, the first person I had seen in four days caught me. I never saw him again, but I did get off that crazy mountain. I spent the next three days in a hotel and ate a lot of steak.
In our walk with God, we can accept the invitation and receive admittance into the Kingdom. That is salvation and there is no greater gift, but I believe there are other invitations along the way. These are invitations to engage, to enter in. These are invitations from God that say, let’s have a relationship. Let’s walk together, because the love of God can find us anywhere, no matter our sin or circumstances, but that same love does not want us to stay where we are. It wants so much more for us. It is a love that wants us at the banquet to celebrate, to dance, to live in holiness. Jesus told his disciples, I no longer call you servants, I call you friends. These invitations that we receive along the way are our invitations to enter into a deeper friendship with God. To receive these invitations, you don’t have to be stupid man. Why? Because these invitations are always being offered, and here’s the fun part, you are being offered one at this very moment.
Let us pray: Lord, we believe in you: increase our faith. We trust in you: strengthen our trust. We love you: let us love you more and more. We are sorry for our sins: deepen our sorrow. We worship you as our first beginning, and long for you as our last end; we praise you as our constant helper, and call on you as our loving protector. Guide us by your wisdom, correct us with your justice, comfort us with your mercy, and protect us with your power. Through Christ our Lord, the Alpha and Omega, we pray. Amen.