The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 3/29/98
Text: Luke 14:16-23 (Genesis 3:1-13)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Excuses, excuses! We love 'em. Our national credo seems to be, "Any excuse is better than none." One college president, after years of working with students, said that he was not sure whether the degree B.A. stood for Bachelor of Arts or Builder of Alibis.(1)

Douglas Bernstein, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, recently asked faculty members for the "most unusual, bizarre and amazing student excuses" they had ever heard. He got dozens.(2) Listen:

  • Grandparent death: an old favorite, but one professor's class established some sort of record when 14 out of 250 students reported their grandmothers' deaths just before final exams. In another class a student reported that he could not take the mid-term because his grandmother had died. When the instructor expressed condolences a week later, the student replied, "Oh, don't worry. She was terminal, but she's feeling much better now."

  • Car problems: "I had an accident, the police impounded the car, and my paper is in the glove compartment."

  • Animal trauma: "I can't be at the exam because my cat is having kittens, and I'm her coach."

  • Crime victimization: "I need to take the final early because the husband of the woman I'm seeing is threatening to kill me."

Did you see the story in the paper this week about the mother who is suing our school system over the "F" on her son's report card?(3) It reads:

A Jamestown mother has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Guilford County Schools, blaming them for her son's failing physics grade. She is seeking damages because she believes school officials have hurt her son's chances of getting into Appalachian State University.

Madison West is part of a growing number of parents who are suing school systems statewide. Their reasons vary: a daughter who didn't make the cheerleading squad or a son who wasn't chosen valedictorian. But the results are the same -- school systems are spending more money on legal fees.

West says the lawsuit, filed in State District Court, was a last resort. She has been trying to get her 17-year-old son, Stephen Edwards, out of an honors advanced physics class at Ragsdale High School since September. She says he was improperly placed in a class that is too hard for him. She wants his failing grade removed from his transcript. "If they can ruin his life, how many other students' lives have they ruined because they didn't have a voice to speak up for them," West said. "It's not about the money, it's about the principle and what they have done to him and his future."

By the way, anytime you hear someone say, "It's not about the money," it's about the money. Believe me. The story went on to say that Stephen's physics grade was 8.5 out of a possible 100. That's right, 8.5. Could a bit of studying have helped, do you think? Possibly? Nah. School's fault.

The tragic shootings this week in Jonesboro, Arkansas reflect a related tendency - a desire to affix blame when confronted by events that are beyond comprehension. "How could this happen?" people ask, just as they asked a few weeks ago in Paducah, Kentucky and a few weeks before that in Pearl, Mississippi. "What horrible demons are loose among our young people that would cause such violence?" "Is there anything we can do, anything at all, to prevent a recurrence of such senseless tragedy?"

In her column on Friday, Rosemary Roberts ran down the list:(4) "Some say greater parental involvement in children's lives is the answer. Or locking up guns in secure places away from children. Or hiring more savvy school officials who can spot troubled children. Or erecting more metal detectors in schools (even though metal detectors would not have mattered in the Arkansas shootings since the gunfire came from the woods.)

"Perhaps nothing could have prevented the violence in Jonesboro," editorialized USA Today in a tone of helplessness. "Not every troubled child leaves a trail of escalating problems."

That's rubbish, [says Rosemary]. Not every troubled child leaves a trail of problems, but there is something that would have prevented the Arkansas massacre. GUN CONTROL."

How do you stop the shootings? Easy. TAKE AWAY THE GUNS! This is not rocket science, folks. NO GUNS equals NO SHOOTING!

Oh, I know all the responses. Impossible - there are too many out there to get rid of (and there are indeed 250-million guns in America, almost one per person). In the south, one home in two has a gun, and 50% keep the guns LOADED(5)...just in case! People say the gun lobby is too powerful to get rid of firearms - it IS, and owns all the sleazy politicians money can buy, each of whom has courageously voted to make sure that high-powered assault weapons remain legal in case of a vicious attack by any crazed herd of wild deer. And, of course, the 2nd amendment, our cherished right "to keep and bear arms," would prevent getting rid of guns - absolutely, we MUST be prepared in case the redcoats decide to invade. True, we are the only technically advanced society in the world that allows its common citizens virtually unlimited access to firearms, and true, that is why we have an exponentially higher murder rate than any other advanced nation. YES! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!!!

Get real. Do we want to stop the shootings? Really? The truth is we do not least not until it is our own child that is murdered. Meanwhile, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The killings will continue. We have no excuse.

Excuses, excuses. They are not limited to school problems or societal issues. Scripture shows that they are as old as humanity. You heard the story from the 3rd chapter of Genesis. Adam ate the forbidden fruit, then when confronted about it, he came up with an excuse: "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Eve? What about it? "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." Uh-huh.

Do you remember the story of the Golden Calf?(6) The Israelites were in the wilderness. Moses, their leader, was up on the mountain talking with God. His brother Aaron had been left in charge of the camp. The people became restless and worried that Moses might not come back. "Give us something to worship, Aaron." He told them to bring their golden bracelets and earrings to him, he melted them down and fashioned a crude idol for them to worship. When Moses returned, he asked Aaron if he had made the idol. "Me? No. I threw [the gold] into the fire, and out came this calf!" Voilá. Magic. Aaron was not to blame, the fire was! Ridiculous? Of course. And humanity has continued with ridiculous excuses ever since.

Our Gospel lesson describes a great banquet to which the master of the house had extended invitations far and wide. No time had been noted in the invitation, but the understanding of the day was, once all was ready, notification would go out to all who had accepted. The moment arrived; servants were dispatched to gather the guests. The expectation would be that invitees would drop what they were doing and come, because to accept the invitation beforehand and then make excuse when the day came was a grave insult.(7)

Horror of horrors. Excuses. Can't come. Business. Real estate investment. Can't come. Five new yokes of oxen. Can't come. New bride. Family considerations. Can't make it. The master of the house was not happy. Big time insult!

Amazing, isn't it, that the excuses of the first century are as modern as next Sunday morning:

  • No. Can't get to church Sunday - business. This new product line at work has all of us buried. I'll get back to worship when I can. Next Sunday?

  • No. It's not new oxen, it's the new place at the beach. Got to get down there to make sure it gets opened properly for the season. The week after? Well, you don't expect us to have that place down there and just ignore it, do you? We'll get back to of these days.

  • Next Sunday. Well, gee, I would, but Sunday is the time when family comes over, and the Bible says family is important, right? I'll get to worship again one of these days.

Sounds like that old Statler Brothers hit:

Excuses, excuses,
You'll hear them everyday;
Now the devil, he'll supply them
If from church you'll stay away;
When people come to know the Lord,
The devil always loses,
So to keep them folks away from church,
He offers them excuses.(8)

I wonder how glibly people would offer their excuses if they understood them in the same way that the people who first heard Jesus did. Big Time GOD! That sounds like risky business.

Years ago I ran into something penned by a frustrated pastor who wanted to do SOMETHING to overcome all the excuses. You may well have seen it because it has been published far and wide. Still, it bears repeating. He wrote:

To make it possible for everyone to attend church next Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday"

  • Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in."

  • Murine will be available for those with tired eyes...from watching television too late on Saturday night.

  • We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church."

  • Blankets will be provided for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who think the church is too hot.

  • We will have hearing aids for those who say, "The Pastor speaks too softly," and cotton for those who say he preaches too loudly.

  • Score cards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.

  • Some relatives will be in attendance for those who like to go visiting on Sunday.

  • There will be 100 TV dinners for those who cannot go to church and cook dinner also.

  • One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.

  • Finally, the sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.

Uh-huh. Excuses. A few weeks ago, as we began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, I entitled our meditation prior to the Imposition of the Ashes and the Celebration of the Lord's Supper "An Excuse to Be Better." This time of the church year during which we are called to introspection, to self-examination, to repentance, gives us an EXCUSE, if you make the changes in our lives that we know very well OUGHT to be made. If there are changes that need to be made in your relationship with the Lord and with his church, make the changes. If there are changes that need to be made in your relationships to family and friends, make the changes. If there are changes that need to be made in your business affairs and the way you handle them, make the changes. If there are changes that need to be made in society, and you have any influence in that regard, make the changes. No excuses. At least none other than Lent to prod you into doing what you know should be done anyway.

"Excuses, excuses, we hear them every day." By the grace of God, let us take these weeks of Lent as a NEW excuse to be what God wants us to the name of Jesus.

Let us pray.

Lord, we confess that we have relied on excuses to get by in every area of our lives. We would rather not. Help us, for Jesus' sake. Amen!

1. Ross Porter, "The Snake Made Me Do It," Christian Ministry, Jan/Feb 1996, pp. 29

2. Dynamic Illustrations, Mar/Apr 1995

3. Paula Christian, "Mom sues schools over student's "F"," Greensboro News & Record, 3/25/98, A-1-2

4. Rosemary Roberts, "I've Got Some Killing to Do," Greensboro News & Record, 3/27/98

5. NBC Nightly News, 3/27/98

6. Exodus 32:1-24

7. William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke: Daily Study Bible Series, (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1975), p. 193

8. Author unknown to this preacher (the lyrics have been heard so often that they are now ensconced in memory). Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide appropriate attribution information (E-mail address below).

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