Have you ever been at a party or large family gathering and noticed how one person in particular seemed to be attracting a lot of attention? If I had to guess, I would say that that person was someone who could tell a good story. In my family, that person happens to be my brother-in-law. He comes into a crowd, finds a chair somewhere in the corner, sits down and waits for people to notice him – which, given his large size, isn’t hard to do. He gets food and drinks brought to him as he carries forth with story after story. He thrives on all the attention he gets.
Jesus was a good storyteller, too – an amazing storyteller. He also could attract a crowd of listeners – but it wasn’t because he wanted or needed the attention. It happened naturally as his reputation for teaching, for healing and for controversy spread. People were naturally curious about him.
As you know by now, so many of his stories were parables; and many of them were told in the company of Pharisees, who prided themselves on being keepers of Jewish rituals, tradition and liturgy. Jesus would draw his listeners in with an ordinary beginning to his story such as: “There was a man who had two sons…” (Luke 15:11) which is the beginning of the parable of the Prodigal Son; or “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho..” (Luke 10:25) which is the beginning of the Good Samaritan; and “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple…” (Luke 16:19) which begins today’s parable.
A discovery was made when our bell tower was cleaned and painted a few weeks ago. We learned that way up there among our beautiful church bells, behind one of the walls, is a thriving colony of honeybees. According to the ‘bee man’ who came to check it out, something like 40,000 honey bees have made a home there flying in and out and among the bells that are inscribed ‘praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below’. Creatures like honeybees. As you might know, honeybees have been going through a terrible time in the past 15 years or so. For slightly mysterious reasons, the total population of honeybees has taken a terrible beating. And that’s bad. Because honeybees are a big part of why we have food on our tables. They pollinate the plants that produce so much of what is delicious and keeps us and all kinds of other living things alive. No one asked them to do that. They just do it as a gift of God’s creation. Thank you, honeybees.
The ‘bee man’ also let us know that behind that wall there is probably an extensive structure of honeycomb filled with beautiful honey. That’s something else the honeybee gives us without being asked – this perfect, perfect thing called honey. Nobody asked them to – they just do it and we receive it; it’s a gift of pure grace.
Well, since this discovery, thoughts of the prophet Ezekiel float in and out of my mind whenever I see the bell tower or her the bells chiming. When the Lord God first began to speak into the depths of Ezekiel, here is what the prophet heard: “ ‘Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it’. Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey”. God’s Word, like honey in his mouth; pure grace.
I honestly want to say ‘thank you’ for being here this morning; and I mean this as something more than just an agreeable, nice, polite thing to say, which I hope will come clear by the end of this sermon. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Sunday mornings – to me – are just a miracle. When I get here on Sunday mornings, there’s no one here except for the few of us whose job it is to be here. But then, suddenly – there you are! It’s a miracle. Not one of us actually has to be here. The church is a completely voluntary organization. But you’re here.
Look around, at all these people, at all of us, you could be anywhere else; but here you are. Sometimes, I find myself wondering, what it is that has brought you here this morning? Why are you here? What are doing in church on Sunday morning? What are you looking for or hoping for?
If you knew beforehand that we’d be gathered to hear Jesus say to us, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple’ – would you still have thought it was a good idea to come to church? Is that what any of us wants to hear? It’s not terribly polite or nice.