18 February 2019
Focusing on the task
A guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry.
That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse attendant explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, "You were given only one task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. You have no excuse."
Temptation is a choice between good and evil. But perhaps more insidious than temptation is conflict where one must choose between two good options and only one is the best. .
Many of the stories of Jesus point this out. The story where we find the honoured guests were merely keeping their options open when they said yes to the invitation to the feast. When the host said the wedding feast [a metaphor for the kingdom of God] was ready, they each gave an excuse, they had found something better to do. Looking at a piece of land, needing to try out the new tractor [well oxen in the original!] , needing to spend time with the family [now how can you fault that one!] Good things to do, but each of them had promised to be there, the host had prepared the food and it was steaming on the table - no fridges or freezers meant it would be wasted. These were the very people who had seen the groom grow up and were considered to be part of his life. They were the ones asked to celebrate with him and they couldn't be bothered to turn up. The depth of their friendship was revealed, they missed out on the feast and they didn't seem to care..
A number of years ago I was part of a wedding anniversary celebration where the couple had made their way against great odds for 25 years. They had various disabilities between them and a minister had refused to marry them because he considered they should have been in care, not getting married and living in the community. They had gone to a registry office instead of the church. That minister was wrong, they made a real contribution to the community and their marriage had lasted a lot longer than many in the church register. Their means were limited, but she had planned this anniversary for a long time and had asked me almost a year in advance to keep the date free and to help them renew their vows. They had asked all their friends and carefully counted those who had said yes. A local park and the barbeque at it was booked for the party and when I arrived about five people were there, the tables were full of food and meat was piled on the barbeque.
We talked and looked at the time, but no-one else seemed to be coming. They had prepared for about 40 people, all whom had said yes! Their hospitality had been rejected and she went through the list thinking of reasons why each had not come.
Just as it became clear that we were it, a family came to the park and they were invited to join us, and another couple walking by. They all gathered round as the vows were renewed and there was a short blessing. I realised that this was the long sought blessing on their marriage they had faithfully lived for the last 25 years. It was a moving time and the strangers and the friends all quickly bonded and the feast was had regardless and it was good!.
I guess Jesus must have known about this sort of thing, because his story went on to say that the servant was asked to go out and bring in all those who normally would not have been invited into the king's feast, those who were kept out of the temple. Go into the streets and bring in the poor, the blind and the lame, and there was still room so those on the outer edges were invited and the king still had the feast. Those who never expected it were the recipients rather than those who considered themselves the chosen ones.
Let us not forget the invitation of life from Jesus that we have said Yes to, and not take it so lightly that we can cast it aside for whatever reason we can convince ourselves of at the time. . Our serving others is not to impress others, or a particular person but part of loving God in serving others. As a church, as well as each of us, we can be side-tracked by immediate demands and tempted to interpret being busy as doing God's work and just fritter energy. We are given the task of keeping the light burning, may it burn brightly and the light of God's love shine clearly from the people of St Johns so that others can see it and have life.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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