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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

Redeem the time.

A Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

October 22, 2023 at Holy Communion

Proverbs 1:20–33, Ephesians 5:15–20, Matthew 22:1–14

“Redeem the time, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

A prominent cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church was once interviewed by a journalist upon his retirement. He was asked, “What do you consider the most important work that you have done in your ministry?” Now, the cardinal had overseen several Vatican departments, had massive international experience, and was deeply learned, but this was his answer: “I said Mass every day.”

Christians do not judge what makes a good use of time as the world judges.

This week, at the Tuesday Bible study, we were discussing today’s Gospel reading, in which a king invites many to his son’s wedding feast, but they all refuse. Pauline asked a simple question which cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Why didn’t they accept the invitation?” On one hand, the reason is very plain. We read that “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5). They were busy, and that in itself is certainly not a sin. Surely we can sympathize.

But the question is deeper than that. It’s more like this: “Why in the world did they think that it was more important to do an ordinary day of work on the farm than to attend a wedding for the own king’s son?” If in fifteen or so years I receive a last-minute personal invitation to the wedding of Prince George, we might be right in the middle of something important here in the parish, but—and I’m sorry for this—I will certainly drop everything attend. And surely we would all say the same.

But even as I reflect on myself, I realize that I have not always been available to accept an invitation of staggering generosity. Perhaps the biggest regret of my life, besides moral regret for my sins, is that in undergrad when the college chapel was desperate for an assistant organist I was offered free lessons from the music director, who was a world-class composer with five Grammy Awards. But my response was the same small-minded “I’m busy,” that the men in the parable gave. I sometimes wonder whether I really understood what it was I was saying no to. We can get so wrapped up in our day-to-day, that the Lord God himself could invite us out for coffee and we would still check our schedules.

How foolish we are! That’s what we hear from our Lesson. Wisdom, the co-Creator of the universe, God’s partner in the design of everything, calls out at the street corner, offering to teach anyone who will turn aside and listen. She says, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” (Proverbs 1:22–23). But stupid is as stupid does, and everyone walks by, of course. Everyone has a farm or a business to get to.

But we don’t need to make this point only negatively. St Paul is more encouraging. With the utmost gentleness, he tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish” (Ephesians 5:15–16). If the Book of Proverbs is the bad cop, telling us just how block-headed we all are for wasting our life on trifles instead of wisdom, St Paul is the good cop, telling that living wisely and making the “best use of the time” is a real possibility: we just have to “look carefully” at our daily conduct, and remind ourselves of what is really valuable. He recommends that we put aside false pleasures that ultimately make us more miserable—he names drunkenness specifically—and instead get together to share “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 19–20). Less television. More singing of hymns.

But this is not just about re-jigging our schedules. That’s part of it, certainly, but there is a more fundamental attitude of the heart at play. In our Collect, we asked God to make us “ready both in body and soul to cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.” Being ready for the work of the Lord “in body” might mean practically creating enough schedule flexibility for ourselves, intentionally not running at 100% capacity all the time, so that we can be available when others need us. But being ready “in soul” in an attitude question. If the Lord put some work on our path—someone in need of comfort or support, a thankless task benefiting the whole church—would we really be ready to receive that opportunity for service “cheerfully” as a gift?

If not, if instead we shrink back in dread at the possibility of taking on more, then, besides dropping a thing or two, perhaps we simply have not appreciated who it is that invites us into his company. The Lord of heaven and earth, the one who holds the stars in the palm of his hand (Revelation 1:16), the one who sends the rain and the heat, has asked us to make ourselves available for his visit at a moment’s notice. Because he does want to visit us. Jesus tells us, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Like he said to Zacchaeus, he says to us, “Hurry and get ready, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Is your house ready to receive such a guest?

Indeed, whether we are ready to cheerfully receive a visit from the Lord is a matter of urgent concern. We have about fifteen minutes to decide, until the holy table behind me is lifted up into heaven so that Almighty King can use it to celebrate the wedding feast of his Son. I pray that our hearts may be open to perceive how far beyond any deserving God’s invitation is, and that we may yet accept it without reservation.


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