The Second Sunday after Trinity

June 9, 2013

Practical Christianity

St. Luke 14:16-24


"A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.'  But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.'  And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.'  Still another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'  So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'  And the servant said, 'Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.'  Then the master said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.'"  St. Luke 14:16-24



As the generations pass the falling away accelerates.  The great supper has not changed.  The food is incomparable.  It is like no other.  It satisfies the deepest hunger and brings perfect health.  It is the food and drink of eternal life.  Eat and live forever.  Drink and never be thirsty again.  It is a banquet for kings and queens, but God invites the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind.  It is as Mary said and as the Church sings: “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” 


Only the hungry are willing to eat.  Those who are filled with themselves turn up their noses at the delicacies from heaven.  They have more important things to occupy their time and attention.  They need to check out their new property, test out their oxen, and see to the wants of the new wife.  Whatever it is, the practical concerns of everyday living trump the gifts of a gracious God.


Americans are practical people.  In evaluating something, we ask basic and down to earth questions.  What does it do?  Does it work?  Religion is judged accordingly.  Will it solve my problems?  Can I use it to increase my income?  Will it make me new friends?  Will it advance my career?  What good is it?  The American spirit of pragmatism examines the gospel in the light of what works and finds it lacking.  You can go to church and listen to the gospel, taking it to heart, and remain poor, with few friends, a dead end job, debts you cannot pay, and a persistent ache in the lower back that won’t go away no matter how much money you spend on doctors and chiropractors.  So folks who think that the problems they can see and feel are their most serious concern care little about the gifts of the gospel.  They have no real hunger and thirst for righteousness.  When they hear talk about forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal salvation it is just religious sounding mumbo jumbo without any real connection to their daily lives and their practical concerns.  So they come up with excuses as to why they can’t come to where the supper is served.  They have more immediate and practical concerns.


Luther was right when he said that hunger is the best cook.  If you have no appetite you cannot enjoy the food.  On July first I will observe the thirty fourth anniversary of my ordination as a pastor.  During the last thirty four years attendance at church services throughout America has dropped in half.  Many churches have responded to this rapid decline by changing the way they do things in hopes that these changes will draw the young generation to church.  They feature a more contemporary and informal style of worship.  They no longer follow the historic liturgy, or sing the traditional hymns.  The pastors don’t wear robes or stand behind pulpits.  They think that by getting rid of a bit of stuffy traditionalism they might lure the young folks back to church. 


It doesn’t really work.  It may work for a while, but not for long.  Proponents of contemporary worship don’t understand that people haven’t left church because they object to the style.  They have left because they have no desire for the substance.  They don’t want what the church has to give.  They aren’t hungry.


And this is nothing new.  Today’s generation is much like the generation to which our Lord Jesus preached.  They were spiritually self-satisfied.  They had replaced the religion of their ancestors with an ethical system.  They thought that by following the rules they invented they would be good enough for God.  They didn’t see their need for God’s forgiveness.  Like our generation, they saw no need for atonement.  No need for the suffering and death of a substitute for sinners.  And no need for a gospel of the forgiveness of sins to quench their thirty souls.


The spiritually self-confident cannot understand why God has always required a bloody sacrifice for genuine worship.  From Adam and Eve, through the patriarchs, through the giving of the Law to Moses, throughout the history of Israel and right to up to the time of Christ God made it clear that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sins and without the forgiveness of sins there could be no fellowship with God, no true peace with God, and no genuine worship of God.


When Jesus came into this world to satisfy God’s law and to shed his blood to pay for the sins of all sinners, it was the greatest gift of God’s love that has ever been given since the beginning of time.  The most precious treasure in this world is the blood of Jesus, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  The most precious words our ears could hear are the words that absolve us of our sins on account of that holy, precious blood, which is shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  The supper is precious for those who are hungry.


Jesus tells this parable so that we would know that nothing is more important to us than this gospel.  Just as our sins against God are the most fearsome enemy we face in life, just so, the forgiveness of those sins given to us in the gospel is food from heaven.  As we sing:


Ah, how hungers all my spirit

For the love I do not merit!

Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,

Thought upon this food with longing,

In the battle well-nigh worsted,

For this cup of life have thirsted,

For the Friend who here invites us

And to God Himself unites us.


The job, the property, and the marriage are all gifts from God and God has plenty to tell us about them.  But search in vain in the Holy Scriptures to find where God tells us that we must balance the duty and joys of work, marriage, and home with the gospel.  There is no balance.  In the words immediately following our text, St. Luke writes:

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (St. Luke 14:25-27)

The gospel is not one great treasure among many.  It defines what a Christian is.  It does not fit alongside of the obligations of life.  It is life.  Without the message of the cross, without the absolution of God, without hearing the gospel of the full and free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, we have no hope.


But what about our obligations to job, to home, to husband or wife?  Doesn’t God have some things to say about them?  He certainly does.  He says that the man who refuses to work should be given nothing to eat.  He says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and that wives should respect their husbands.  He says that he blesses us with all of our possessions in life.  God certainly doesn’t tell us to shun all associations with other people.  He doesn’t require his church to hide from the world or the people of the world.


What he does tell us is that you don’t balance your need for the great supper that feeds your immortal soul with your obligations to family and work.  There is no balance here.  If the job keeps you from the supper you tell your employer where you need to be and where you need to go for your soul’s sake and you go to where the supper is being served.  You don’t ask.  You tell.  You’re a child of God and you belong to him.  You don’t need any man’s permission to come to the supper your Lord Jesus has purchased for you.


If your property, your children, your husband, your wife, anything or anyone at all keeps you from the supper, you remember the words of your Lord Jesus.  He did not say, “Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, after taking care of your legal and family responsibilities.”  He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  And something amazing happens when the gospel is placed before all family responsibilities, before all work responsibilities, before anything else in our lives.  What happens is that the family is better off, the work goes better, and the property assumes its proper place.


Should I tell you why folks don’t go to church?  Why they don’t take seriously their need for the gospel that tells them that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives them their sins and restores them to himself?  They ignore the gospel and their need for it because they cannot see themselves as they truly are: poor, maimed, lame, and blind.  These are the ones invited into the supper.  They are poor.  They cannot afford to pay for it.  They are maimed.  Life has dealt them some blows, mostly due to their own faults, but there it is.  What’s done is done and they are damaged.  They are lame.  Their sins keep them from getting from here to there.  They are blind.  They need to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit in order to see.


They are the ones Jesus invites.  I listened to part of a sermon the other day from a preacher who shouldn’t be preaching.  The preacher sneered at the idea of being pitied and advocated being empowered instead.  Power is better than pity, the preacher said.  Not in God’s eyes, it isn’t.  We live by mercy.  We, the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind, need God’s pity.  We need his handout.  But he gives us only the very best.  The food he gives us to eat transforms us from weak to strong.  We who are too poor to pay are made rich.  We who suffer from more maladies than we can count are made healthy again.


Those who think they have better things with which to concern themselves get nothing to eat.  They get not a single bite.  This isn’t a pot luck where you pick and choose.  This is a feast where God feeds you nothing but the finest of food and drink.  He knows our sins and weaknesses and spiritual needs.  He satisfies our very deepest needs.  He is the bread of life.  Whoever eats and drinks his flesh and blood, that is, everyone who trusts in his suffering and death for the forgiveness of their sins, will never leave hungry or thirsty but will be forever satisfied in body and soul.  Amen