|The Second Sunday after Trinity| Rolf D. Preus| June 5, 2016| 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.’ “
Jesus spoke in parables. The mysteries of the kingdom are hidden from the wise of this world and revealed to faith. Those who are enamored with their own spiritual purity, prowess, and insight cannot be taught. The stories Jesus told don’t penetrate proud hearts. We need to be humbled before we can be taught. Jesus concluded the parable he told right before this one by saying,
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
And he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Understanding parables is not a matter of intelligence. It is a matter of faith. Faith isn’t a spiritual readiness to ascend into heaven. It’s not religiously oriented intellectual curiosity. It’s not devotion to a noble cause. Faith is more basic. Faith is born in hunger and thirst. Faith is eating and drinking.
In St. John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of faith as eating and drinking his flesh and blood. Here in St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus compares the treasures of the gospel to a great supper. You attend a supper to eat and to drink. And while you attend the supper in the company of others, you don’t attend to watch others eat. You attend to eat. That’s what you do. You eat. You don’t play with your food. You eat it.
So it is with the gospel. The good news of Jesus is something that is either believed or disbelieved. Faith is not a onetime decision. The hymn doesn’t say, “I once trusted you, Lord Jesus,” but “I am trusting you, Lord Jesus.” Faith is ongoing. The Bible says: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The gospel is the food that faith eats and drinks. It is the ongoing diet for the soul. Faith lives on the gospel. The gospel quenches faith’s thirst. It satisfies faith’s hunger. Faith takes the gospel in and inwardly digests it.
Jesus compares the gospel to a great supper. God feeds us both his law and his gospel. The law is instructions on what we should be doing. St. John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) That’s not to say that Jesus didn’t preach the law. He did. He preached the law with greater strictness than any of the prophets that had gone before. Jesus interpreted the law to require pure motives and perfect sincerity. Lip service, religious pretense, and every form of hypocrisy met with Jesus’ harsh rebuke. He called the scribes and Pharisees whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside and on the inside full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of filthiness. Jesus preached the law.
But the heart of Christ’s message was not the law. It was the gospel. The gospel isn’t instructions on what you should be doing. The law tells you what to do. The gospel doesn’t tell you what to do. It tells you what God has done and is doing for you. The gospel is the message that God forgives you all your sins for the sake of Christ’s holy obedience and suffering. The gospel tells you that God’s anger against you on account of your sins has been set aside because Jesus bore that anger by his sacrificial suffering and death on the cross. The gospel is the voice of the Holy Spirit. It brings you the Holy Spirit, who works within your heart the faith to believe what he is saying to you. The gospel gives you peace with God. It changes you on the inside. It gives you a new heart. It gives you the desire to please God in all that you say and do. It gives you fellowship with God and with your fellow Christians. The gospel satisfies your deepest spiritual needs. It is the message or word from God that joins you to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, your Savior.
In his beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) You hunger and thirst for what you want, what you need, what you regard as vital to your very life. When it is provided, you eat and you drink.
There are those who have little if any hunger and thirst for righteousness. Maybe they think they’re good enough as they are. Maybe they don’t think they need God’s forgiveness. They don’t see the need to eat and to drink. They don’t believe that God means it when he threatens to punish everyone who disobeys his commandments. Or they think their attempts to obey God are good enough. Their hearts aren’t convicted of sin. Besides, they have other things in life that require their attention.
The gospel leaves them cold. It’s just another religious word like so many other religious words. They may take the time to hear it and consider it as long as nothing more important comes along.
But they have no spiritual hunger or thirst. They are easily distracted from the supper. More important to them is their money, their job, and their family. If a dollar can be made by skipping church, they skip church. If the boss wants them to work when Divine Service is scheduled, well, they need the money and there will always be another opportunity to go to church. If the family has plans that keep them from attending church, well, God certainly is pro-family, is he not? So they skip church for the sake of the family.
Listen to Jesus. When he tells a story about folks skipping out on the supper in order to check out a piece of land, to test five yoke of oxen, or to celebrate a wedding, he is telling us that our wealth, our jobs, and our families are not as important as the supper. Jesus knows better than we do what is best for us. We should listen to him.
Christians fall from the faith. We think it cannot happen to us. But it can. We measure the relative worth of this and that every day of our lives. How we spend our time, our money, our attention, and our affection, is a reflection of what we value the most. When land, oxen, and marriage – wealth, job, home – are more important than hearing the gospel and taking it to heart, we train ourselves to despise God’s supper and we teach ourselves to excuse ourselves for making excuses.
Listen. There is no good excuse. Oh, I’m not talking about folks who are sick or shut in and can’t get to church. I’m talking about able bodied people who choose to put their jobs, their families, their sports, their travels, their income – whatever – ahead of gladly hearing and learning the word of God. The church has been gathering together for worship on Sunday mornings ever since Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. There is no good reason to schedule anything else on a Sunday morning than to attend church and to eat and drink the supper Jesus has prepared.
We conservative, Bible believing Lutherans complain about how our culture is descending into the sewer and basic morality is under attack from all sides. And we’re right! Just a few days ago the President of the United States issued a proclamation declaring June, 2016 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Our Christian beliefs in what God’s word says about these sexual perversions are dismissed by President Obama as prejudice that needs to be eliminated. It’s as if the leaders in our government have it in for Christians, wanting to consign us to the periphery of the public square, telling us to keep our religious convictions to ourselves or be accused of hate and bigotry for believing and teaching what the Church has always taught.
But even as this cultural decline has been accelerating, church attendance has declined right along with it. You would think that Christians would be more anxious to come together as Christ’s body to be fed by the soul-strengthening gospel as they see the country in which we live fall into increased godlessness. Instead, as these anti-Christian influences permeate every facet of our culture, Christians blithely go on their way, regularly skipping church, neglecting the study of God’s word, ignoring opportunities to be further instructed in God’s saving truth, and generally following the example of the fellow with the field, the oxen, or the newly wed guy who figured his wife came before God and his word.
Martin Luther compared the gospel to a rain shower. It saturates the ground and moves on. When it will return, no one knows. Europe and Canada have lost the faith. America is losing it. Here we are watching it happen. How do we get our children to go to church? How do we get our grandchildren to show an interest in God’s word? How do we keep the young generation from falling away? What kind of program? How can we touch them, how to reach them, how to interest them.
Stop! Come to the supper and eat and drink and fill your soul with precious food and drink. But don’t come alone. Bring your family. Bring those you love. If they’re visiting in your home, bring them with you. If you’re visiting in their home, find the nearest orthodox Lutheran congregation and attend. Put the eating and drinking of the pure and wholesome word of God ahead of job, family, husband, wife, friends, sports, travel, vacation, or anything else in your life because it is the most important thing in your life.
Jesus invites you. He invites the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. He doesn’t invite those who have it all together and can manage their lives accordingly. He invites those who have failed, fallen, and gotten themselves stuck. He invites sinners who cannot get rid of their sins. He invites them to where forgiveness is freely given. He invites them to eat of the bread of life that gives true life, to drink of the water of life that springs up into everlasting life. He charges nothing. It is free. It is for you. It is what you need most.
Yes, I know, there are all sorts of important things we’ve got to do besides. We need to concern ourselves with them. Right? Well, how about letting God concern himself instead? Listen to Jesus. He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.”
One thing’s needful, this one treasure
Teach me, Savior, to esteem.
Other things may promise pleasure
But are never what they seem.
They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us
And true, lasting happiness never vouchsafe us.
This one precious treasure, which all else succeeds,
Gives joy above measure and fills all our needs.