The Second Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 13, 2010| 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
Jesus often pictures His kingdom in terms of a great supper or banquet. Those who eat and drink at the banquet are those who enjoy fellowship with God in this life and in the life to come. Those who do not participate in the banquet have no fellowship with God. The Divine Service is where God feeds his people with the bread of life. He fills their every spiritual need. He feeds them with the body and blood of Jesus by which their sins were once and for all taken away. The Divine Service is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. In the Divine Service we receive forgiveness for sins even while we remain sinful. In heaven, there will no longer be any vestige of sin. In the Divine Service we receive spiritual nourishment to strengthen us for our daily spiritual battle against the devil, the world, and our own flesh. In heaven we will feast in perfect joy and eternal rest because there will be no devil to tempt us, no world to seduce us, and no sin within us to dirty our souls.
Christ is with his Church. He promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” There is only one kingdom of God. On earth it is called the kingdom of grace because God has entrusted to it his means of grace. In heaven it is called the kingdom of glory because by the grace God gives to sinners in his church he brings them to the glories of heaven.
And that is what causes such offense. Jesus brings sinners to heaven. How can this be?
The Pharisees wanted a heaven populated only by saints. That makes sense. If sinners could go to heaven they’d bring their sin into heaven and then it wouldn’t be heaven anymore. Obviously, God must exclude sinners from heaven. And if God must exclude sinners from heaven he must surely exclude them from his church here below. So the Pharisees thought.
But they thought according to the religion of human reason. Reason is blinded by sin. The nature of the blindness is that it doesn’t see sin for what it is. The Pharisees could only see the sins in others. They couldn’t see their own sin. They had an exaggerated opinion of themselves. They were devout. They were successful. They were prominent. They had status. They were scandalized by the way Jesus treated their inferiors. They assumed that since they were fawned over by the masses of people less fortunate than themselves, Jesus would acknowledge their status as well. But Jesus did not.
Instead, Jesus taught them that they must become the equals of the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. They must confess that their material and social and political status does not bring them into fellowship with God. They must reject every claim to God that is not by God’s grace and God’s grace alone. They must, in a way, become poor, maimed, lame, and blind. They must despair of themselves. They must renounce everything in which they have placed their trust and throw themselves entirely on the mercy of a loving God.
Jesus pictures this by means of a parable. The man who gave the great supper is God the Father who sent His Son into the world to be the Savior of sinners. Those who were invited and yet refused to come were the Pharisees and other religious and political leaders of Israel who refused to acknowledge their sins and repent. They made excuses. They had more important things to do than to hear the gospel. They regarded commerce, agriculture, and marriage as more important than the Divine Service offered by Jesus. The servant in the story is Jesus. He is the suffering Servant who, by bearing the sin of the world, served as the one single obedient representative of all humanity. He offered his service of obedience to the Father and thereby earned the authority to forgive sins here on earth. He offers the forgiveness and salvation freely to sinners in need. The poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are the dispossessed of Israel, the lowly sinners with nothing to offer God but their own brokenness, failure, and sin. They do not fill up the banquet hall. There is more room. Those out in the highways and hedges are the Gentiles, the unclean, those who were not God’s people, who were outside of grace and were dying in blindness. They were compelled to come in. They knew they were undeserving and so they would not come. They needed the compelling power of the gospel to persuade them of God’s utter sincerity in providing them with such rich treasures.
The original audience to hear Jesus’ parable consisted of self-righteous and self-satisfied Pharisees who not only despised those less fortunate than themselves, but also despised the gracious teaching that came from Jesus. The reason folks despise grace is because they don’t see their own need for it. They don’t want to be lumped together with life’s losers. They want their status determined by what they do, what they own, and what they produce. They think that the affairs of this life come before the treasures of heaven. They don’t have the time to listen to the heavenly doctrine of Jesus. Or they will make time when they are ready.
But they don’t get to choose when they are ready. The banquet is scheduled. The food is prepared. Everything is ready. The invitation sounds forth. You either go in to the feast or you remain outside forever. There is no alternative. There is no third option. Those who don’t have the time to eat and to drink the words of life that Jesus speaks will find themselves permanently locked outside the gates of God’s kingdom. As Jesus said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”
What is more important to you: your job, your family, or attending the Divine Services on Sunday mornings? What is a good reason to skip church? Seeing the piece of ground we’ve bought? Testing out the oxen? Tending to domestic matters? The main reason we go to church is out of our need for God’s gospel. But we often fail to see that need. But there is no greater need for a sinner than the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This gospel gives us true life.
Choose life. So goes the pro-life slogan in opposition to abortion on demand. Left to our own, however, we always choose death. We choose hatred over love. And as St. John reminds us, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” We choose violence, hatred, greed, lust, quarreling, pride, and every other vice in the book. We choose the wrong things. Even when we get religious we choose the wrong things. We turn God’s grace into law. But Christ’s invitation is not law. He says, “Come!” That is not a command. It’s an offer. It isn’t a demand. It’s a gift. It’s an invitation.
Come! God wants you. He is ready for the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. He is ready for those who have spent their lives far away from Him in the highways and byways of life. He invites everyone. As a shepherd seeks for the lost sheep, as a woman gets down on her knees to look for a lost coin, as a father waits for the lost son to come home again, so God is always seeking, calling, and inviting. Come! All things are now ready. Come, you who want meaning for life. Come, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Come, you who stumble under the burden of sin and guilt. Come, you who are anxious and fearful. Come, you who mourn. Come, you who are looking for peace and fulfillment. Come! No one goes away hungry. No one who comes is excluded. No sin can keep you out because the food of this supper is the food of forgiveness and life. Don’t be afraid you won’t be accepted, for the beloved of the Father, full of grace and truth, invites you. Don’t think you have sinned too often or too severely because God has buried your sins in Joseph’s tomb from which Christ rose.
Many people consider Christianity a tyrannical religion. They think it is nothing but a series of commandments. Do this. Don’t do that. But that’s not true. Our Christian faith in not centered on what you and I must do. It is centered on what Christ has done and freely gives. Those who receive, who eat and drink of this treasure, do not focus so much on what they should be doing but they do what they should do out of love for the One who invited them into the grace of God the Father.
Look at those he invites to his gracious feast! He invites those who have spent their strength in breaking the law, those who are burdened with their sins, those who are so filled with shame that they cannot lift up their heads, and those that cannot offer God anything at all. And why does he call them? Not to demand an accounting, nor to stand in judgment. But to relieve them of their pain and to take away their heavy burdens.
Jesus says, “Come.” He does not do so standing on the top rung of a long, high ladder in heaven signaling us to start climbing. No, he climbed down Jacob’s ladder. “For us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” He came to be born in a stable. He came to die on a cross. This is how he prepared the banquet of salvation of which he invites us all to partake.
There is a time for checking out the business and taking care of the family. But doing these important things will not bring us to God. When God feeds us in His Divine Service we are then fit to work that field, drive those oxen, and live a life of marital faithfulness. When we take into ourselves by faith the flesh and blood of the Son of Man and eat and drink with our mouths his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper God calls us to live holy lives in whatever godly occupation he has placed us. But those who won’t be fed by God cannot live holy lives. They have no calling from God, no vocation at all, but only vain labor under the sun until they die and are buried.
“Come,” Jesus invites us. “Come, for all things are now ready.” We object, “I am not worthy to come.” Jesus replies, “I give you my worthiness.” We object, “My clothes aren’t suitable.” Jesus replies, “I will clothe you by your baptism in white robes of righteousness.” Come as you are. Come with your sins, weaknesses, failures, and problems of every description. Come to the only One who can forgive you and heal you. Come to the only One who can make you worthy. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who invites you, who compels you, by a love greater than the power of your sin. Amen