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Priorities

"When we exchange our values for God's values, then we find that we're called to do things differently."

Read Daniel 1:8-16, Luke 14:16-24, Matthew 10:40-42

All are equal in the Kingdom. We are free to choose who we accept or reject, just as we are free to eat food that is good for us or food that is not. But our decisions have consequences.

We've heard readings this morning concerning food, a banquet and hospitality, and although the reading from Daniel is a bit of an oddity, certainly one that I'd never come across before, when I found it whilst searching through my concordance it somehow seemed right to include it. Not only can it be something to lodge in your mind as a piece of biblical trivia - where does it say in the bible that vegetarianism is a healthier lifestyle? Daniel chapter 1 of course - but in a very real sense it links in perfectly with the reading from Matthew chapter 10, and the passage from Luke which I chose to complement it.

So where are we heading in our understanding of the message in these readings?

Well let's take them one at a time to start with. The story in Daniel of course is not just about eating lots of brussel sprouts and cabbage. Daniel was out to make a point. He was taken to the court of Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC, chosen because of his good looks and stature, and the king wanted to train him and others like him to serve the king. Good food, fine wine and the best education money could buy was on offer. Surely too good an offer to refuse for a young boy in a strange land. But no, Daniel remembers his Jewish roots, and the laws laid down about was and wasn't permissible to eat. He realizes that the king's ulterior motive is to remove the Jewishness in his captives and so win a sort of psychological war with them. It wasn't that bad, was it, because they'd still have the good education and training at the end of it.

Daniel has his way though, refusing to eat that which might be tainted, and to the relief of the eunuch put in charge of Daniel and his friends the boys are fitter both mentally and physically by abstaining from the king's food than the ones that succumbed to temptation.

It's a story of faith, of trusting God. But turn it on its head and it has something to say about the king as well, and indirectly about us all. And that is that we should respect the deeply held beliefs of others and not try to change them by force to our way of thinking. Each one of us is different, and thank the Lord for that, and each one of us has something valuable to contribute to the fellowship.

No-one should feel that their views are not worth saying out loud. No-one should feel that because they disagree with a decision or comment made, then it must be they that are in the wrong with their thinking. And conversely, no-one should try and exclude another because their views seem at odds with the majority.

There's always room for a Daniel, for Daniel was able to bring the situation back to the focal point of service to God, not mammon. In a fellowship there is always a need for someone who can see the dangers of following a particular, maybe popular, road if that road leads people away from a proper service to God.

Which leads us to our next reading from Luke's gospel, one of a trio of little stories that concern invitations to parties…..Jesus was obviously trying very hard here to get the point home. In fact after the second story someone who'd been listening was brave enough to shout out "Blessed is anyone who will share the meal in the Kingdom of God!" which prompted Jesus to tell the story we heard about the guests who made excuses.

And yes, of course the onlooker was starting to see the light when he mentioned the Kingdom of God, because like most of the stories that Jesus told, they were not intended to be simply seen at face value, but to be taken away and digested at leisure.

When Jesus called the twelve disciples we are told that they immediately left what they were doing and followed him, such was the effect that Jesus' words and personality had on those first true followers. And that's the effect that the same message should have today. It should convict, inspire and change the individual who hears it. But like the parable of the sower, in the real world things don't always go as planned.

For a start the invitation often arrives at an inconvenient moment, like the postman's knock or the phone call just as you're about to get the children off to school, or dashing out to catch a bus. You can't be bothered to answer….if it's important then they'll phone back. Or there's a pressing business appointment that simply must be undertaken before you could even contemplate looking in the diary to see if there's a space. Or maybe there's personal reasons why the invite is unwelcome.

God's chosen people chose so often to return the invitation to his banquet unopened, or cast it into the bin without opening it and reading the message within. And so God opened up his banquet to anyone who would like to come.

Like our story from Daniel, this is a message about priorities. For Daniel it was more important for him to keep close to his God than to keep in with the king, and God blessed him greatly for his faithfulness.

For the people who were invited to the banquet, it was a straight choice between saying yes or no…there was no in-between , no change of date to suit the few. Yes, there might be the odd inconvenience that got in the way but the choice was essentially the same one as that which Daniel made……..Where do their priorities lie, what's the most important thing in life? More significantly, what's more important in their life than taking up the invitation to the banquet?

The choice is the same throughout history ever since. God invites, we respond…..or give our excuses. The invitation is to more than a mere banquet though, it's to a participation in the Kingdom of God. What a privilege. Far better than an invite to a Royal wedding or garden party……they're over within a few hours. This is an invite to participate in something that lasts for eternity. What did the onlooker say? "Blessed is anyone who will share the meal in the Kingdom of God!"'

And yet so often the invitation is met with excuse after excuse. Things seem so good in this life that we just can't bear to give them up at this moment in time….perhaps later, when we're older.

But the invitation is for now. Our response is needed now.

And to our last reading from Matthew's gospel. Again if not exactly referring to a banquet, it is talking about hospitality and indirectly about the kingdom of God. For in the kingdom of God the normal rules as observed in the world are often turned on their head.

Of course we're always ready to offer hospitality to a Mminister, after all, it's always nice to have a visit from the Minister, and we're hardly likely to turn him or her away, are we?

And an upright person……well, I suppose if one of the local pillars of the community turned up on the doorstep we'd be hardly likely to shut the door in their face would we..... after all, it would be a nice bit of gossip for the neighbors for the next day or two.

But a slightly disheveled and dusty traveler looking for a bite to eat and somewhere to kip for the evening?

I think not…..after all, what would the neighbors think then?

OK, Jesus is making a point again, and using an example that even we can relate to, but it's all about life in the Kingdom of God again. When we exchange our values for God's values, then we find that we're called to do things differently. And, as Jesus plainly states in this passage, if we're obedient to the call that we have received then we will be blessed.

"If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not go without his reward."

All are equal in the Kingdom. We are free to choose who we accept or reject, just as we are free to eat food that is good for us or food that is not. But our decisions have consequences.

 

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