Second Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 17, 2007| St. Luke 14:16-24
Whenever we hear talk about values we need to ask a question. Whose values? God’s? Or man’s? God doesn’t think like we do. He values things differently. We are impressed by what we see. God is not. He created all that there is. He saw his creation when it was perfect. Indeed, he saw it in his own mind’s eye as he planned it out with great care. Everything worked perfectly. The land yielded beautiful trees with delicious fruit for the man and the woman to eat. The labor he intended for them was pure joy, without any drudgery or boredom attached to it. And marriage! Well, that was made in heaven as heaven existed here on earth in a garden called Eden.
Considering what God created in the beginning it is absurd to suggest that he will be impressed by the corrupted, fallen version of his perfect creation. But we sure are! Property, job, and family are what we value and we value them very highly. We consider that amassing property is our duty. After all, we are responsible for providing for our own future. And we regard our work as vital to our wellbeing and self-expression. Take away a man’s job and you rob him of part of his life. And we Christians uphold marriage and value it as a great blessing especially in a day when so many men and women live as husband and wife without bothering to get married and when half of all marriages end in divorce. We know what is valuable.
Or do we? Jesus tells us this parable to teach us what is truly valuable in this life we live here on earth. The meaning of the story is clear. The man who gives the supper to whom many were invited is God. The supper is the kingdom of God in which the gospel is proclaimed to sinners for their salvation. The people who made excuses about why they could not come are the religious leaders of the Jews. The poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind are the Jews who were despised by their religious leaders. Those on the highways and hedges are the Gentiles who were entirely outside of Israel, knowing nothing about the true God.
Jesus directed this parable against the religious leaders who despised God’s grace and relied on their own works instead. They presented the façade of righteousness to the people, but the Lord Jesus – who knew what was in a man’s heart – saw right through their veneer of piety to the sin beneath it. They touted their devotion to God but they didn’t value what God valued. And so it is among the religious elites of our own day.
What is the measure of a man? What is the measure of a woman? What is the good life? What matters? What is it that if you have it you have reason to be satisfied? People haven’t changed over the centuries. Human nature is a constant ever since the fall into sin. People value their property, their jobs, and their families. They want to amass enough property to take care of themselves in their old age, and, if the government doesn’t get it, to leave some for their children when they die. They want to do work that is satisfying and successful. They don’t want to work at a dead end job that doesn’t offer any real future. They want a good relationship with their spouse and they want to enjoy a peaceful and fulfilling life at home. These are what people value. They might even be called Christian values. If you scan the titles at a religious book store (or even the religious books for sale at Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart) you will find precious little about the gospel of the forgiveness of sins that our God values. Instead of the gospel you will find “how to” books about gaining for yourself what the three men in our Lord’s parable valued more than the gospel.
“I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.” Of course you must. See if you got your money’s worth. Check out how you can profit from it. See if your investment will pay off because your future is at stake.
“I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.” Of course you are. There’s no point in investing in something that doesn’t work. You have work to do and it’s not going to get done unless you see to it. Taking responsibility for your life is a virtue, is it not? Certainly whatever gifts the supper provides can wait.
“I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Of course you can’t. Your new life with her takes precedence. After all, there will be other suppers. There’s only one marriage and we need to start things off on the right foot.
But there won’t be another supper and there is nothing in that piece of land or in those five yoke of oxen or even in that new marriage that can compare in importance to this supper. The supper is food for your soul and without it you have no spiritual life at all. The gospel is not just words that we hear and file away inside our heads for future reference if we need them. The gospel is, as St. Paul writes, “The power of God unto salvation.” It is more than information. It is God speaking to us and coming to us with the words he speaks. It is Jesus Christ himself joining us and making his home with us.
The gospel is the message of the cross. It is God telling us that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. It is the proclamation of divine deliverance. It is intended for the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. It is not just for those with successful lives. It is for those whose lives are a real mess. It is specifically for those who know that for the one thing they need most in life they cannot rely on their property or their jobs or even their families. All of the blessings that God gives us in this life that are for this life can be taken away without warning. Only the gospel will remain.
I think of my father often. I knew I would when he died, not just because he was my father but because he was my first and last and best teacher. He taught me God’s word as a child at home and he taught me God’s word as my professor at the seminary. He taught me God’s word as a preacher, often filling in vacancies in Missouri and Illinois. He preached one sermon in particular that has stayed with me. I was a high school student at the time. It was Good Friday. He preached it in, of all places, a movie theater that a group of congregations had rented for the afternoon. The text was 1 Timothy 1:15, which reads: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” What I specifically recall him saying is that St. Paul was the chief of sinners. None of us is. St. Paul was, because he persecuted the church of Christ. So if Jesus came to save the chief of sinners he came to save all sinners. My father then shared with us what a logical syllogism was. It goes like this. Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. I am a sinner. Christ Jesus came into this world to save me.
I remember that sermon. The second point of the syllogism (I believe it is called the “minor premise”) is where the Christian faith often runs aground and is replaced by something else. That’s the “I am a sinner” part of it. The fact that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners will be meaningless to me unless I know and admit and confess that I am a sinner. And it will be just religious information with little import for me if I regard my sins as slight. If I feel no guilt for what I have done against God the supper will hold little interest for me. Only sinners need a Savior from sin.
It was Luther who said that hunger makes the best cook. God’s law makes us hungry for God’s gospel. The law doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. That’s not its purpose. The law doesn’t make us into better people. It has no power to do that. The law that Jesus preaches to us today in our text exposes our false values. When we despise the preaching of the gospel and set it aside for more immediate needs having to do with property, job, and family we deny our God. We deny what we really need. We reject divine values in favor of religious values that will leave us empty in the end. Property, job, and family are wonderful blessings from God. But they cannot last forever. We think that what we have is more important that the one who gave us what we have. But our values are wrong. The property will be destroyed some day. Whether or not you live to witness it doesn’t change the fact. The job won’t be yours forever. You’ll get too weak or feeble or confused to do many things you have taken for granted doing. The marriage – even when it is a Christian marriage blessed by God’s word – won’t last forever. It is only till death us do part and death stalks us daily and is ready to take his prey whether we are ready or not.
But the gospel gives us Christ and Christ gives us eternal life that no one can take away from us. The gospel sets us free from all idols. It covers us in Christ’s righteousness. It delivers us from every bondage to another affection. We need the righteousness we haven’t done. We need forgiveness for our many sins. We need rescue from impending death. We need Jesus. We need his supper. And when we are hungry for it, God is never stingy with what we need. He doesn’t forgive some sins and leave others for us to pay for. He doesn’t deliver us from some evil but leave us bound. His supper has everything our spiritual hunger requires.
So we eat and we drink and we take his promises in. We never leave God’s house hungry. The bread of life is true food. Christ’s flesh given up on the cross and his blood shed for sinners are true food and drink. They are what our thirsty souls need more than our property, our work, and even our own homes. For they sustain us in the true and saving faith through which we will enter the Paradise that we lost so long ago. Then we will be able to rejoice in a new creation more pure and beautiful than anything on earth our eyes ever saw. Then true and pure and holy love will replace all sin and temptation to sin. Then we will be fully and finally satisfied. The true value of the despised supper will be seen and those who ate the supper will see it.