June 17, 2007

Second Sunday after Trinity sermon - Luke 14.15-24

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.”

Last Sunday, we heard about a rich man who would not invite a poor man to his feast. Today tells us about God the Father, the true Rich Man, who lavishes His richness on us poor ones by inviting us to His feast. How impoverished we make ourselves by rejecting His Feast for the worldly baubles we call “riches”! Like last Sunday, God once again warns us against taking Him for granted, subordinating Him to our priorities.

Today's Gospel begins with a Pharisee who responds to the teaching of Jesus, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” He fully expects to be there, eating bread in God's kingdom. The parable is our Lord saying, “Watch out! Do you think you will be there? Take heed, lest you fall!”

The “Certain Man” who hosts the feast in the parable is God the Father. He made the world out of love. Why? To give gifts to mankind. Man fell. He took what God did not give, and so lost what He had given. Now, Christ comes in the form of a slave to invite man again to receive the gifts of God. And what does man do? He makes excuses! He invents reasons to put off God's gifts.

To come to the Feast means giving up something the world deems more valuable. What is most valuable to you? Would you give it up? What shall it profit you, if you possess everything in this world, but lose your soul?

A recent essay in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was entitled, “Sunday Brunch? Now, I'll Have Church.” The author, Kate Carter, talks about having to break her habit of Sunday morning being all about brunch at her favorite restaurants. Man by nature wants a day of rest more than he wants the God of rest. Actually, man wants two days of rest, so Sunday becomes just another Saturday. Even among people who consider themselves active church members, worship is easily forsaken in favor of weekend trips, sports, or just sleeping after a busy night of drinking.

But what really got me in Carter's essay was this: She writes, “Perhaps we give up our lazy Sunday mornings for hymns and sermons because we want to provide our children with a moral compass, and expose them to faith in a benevolent God to provide support when they encounter difficulties.” She has a child now, so perhaps religion can provide guidance and support. This is all very well-meaning. But what this approach misses is what I think we all so easily miss: Religion is not a tool. The Commandments are not mere guidelines for living. Prayer, Proverbs, and the comfort of the Psalms are not just mechanisms for smoothing out the rough spots so we can get on with the real business of life. This is your life. Don't you see how all of your schemes and goals in this life often distract you from the real story of fall and redemption, death and resurrection, hell and heaven? The excuses the people of the city make show that they are so caught up in their supposed “real lives” that they miss out on the only thing that matters, the only thing that is real. And they miss out not because God loves to punish and damn, but because they keep on turning away from Him, keep on going back to their property, work, and family, and so miss out on the gifts God wants to give.

The Lord's Servant says, “Come, for all things are now ready,” but you say, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” That is what all of your possessions are – ground, dirt. And that is what you are, too. Dust you were, and to dust you shall return. So go, visit your ground – for it is there where you will be buried.

The Lord's Servant says, “Come, for all things are now ready,” but you say, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.”Ah, how easy it is to put our work before the Lord's work! This is why the Lord gave a day of rest – both for you to have time to recuperate, but also for you to see that your work must stop and God's work begin. How dare then you allow your work to come before God's work and Word?

But see here also a deeper meaning. The yoke symbolizes the Law, and there are five yoke of oxen, representing the five books of the Law – the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Will you say, “I will go to heaven, I have a place at God's Feast, because of my works, because of my goodness, because I have done the deeds of the Law”? Then you will end up where last week's rich man did – in the torments of hell. And you will never taste of the true Rich Man's supper. Repent.

The Lord's Servant says, “Come, for all things are now ready,” but you say, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Do you see how this last rebel doesn't even bother to ask to be excused? He assumes that he can place his priorities ahead of God's priorities. Beware of making even family your idol. Family is a great gift from God, but becomes a curse when the gift is exalted over the Giver. That man, as head of his household, should have brought his wife to the Lord's Feast instead!

I must go,” that first rebel said about his property. He deemed it necessary. Was it? No. But we make perishing, human things, customs, traditions, and our own selfish demands “necessary,” while the things God gives us as necessary—His Word, His Sacramental Gifts—we regard as optional, even unimportant.

Remember a few weeks ago, how we heard Jesus say, “Ask anything”? What do these men ask? “That we may be excused from You. We want to go away from You. We prefer our supper to Yours, our works to Yours, our ways to Yours.” What we want most is to be rid of You.” And so, after pleading with His people to come to Him, to receive once again His gifts, they finally get their request. Their prayers are answered, and they are excused from His gracious presence forever.

Only, to be outside of His gracious presence is to be in hell. They think it will be heaven, but it is only misery and torment, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Why? Must it be this way? Our Lutheran Confessions explain why some are damned: “[God has] determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein.” In short, God does not predestine people for hell, as some Reformed churches incorrectly teach, but He condemns those who reject His Word – even those who simply put their ground, their oxen, their wives before Him.

But what else do we learn from this Gospel? The LORD wants to fill His house. That is the overwhelming message here – the incredible love, the deep desire to bring His creatures back to Himself. Who are you? You are those poor, maimed, lame, and blind. You are nothing but a beggar before God, like Lazarus last week. But see how God treats His beggars! Not like that other rich man, but as One more benevolent than we can fathom.

  • He invites the maimed, and makes them whole again.

  • He invites the lame, and teaches them to walk in His ways.

  • He invites the blind, and makes them see by the light of His Word.

All by forgiveness. The feast is the Supper of the Lord, His death for your life, His suffering for your rescue.

Last week, we heard about the rich man who would not invite a poor beggar to his feast. But you poor beggars have God for your Rich Man, and He compels you to come in. Quit making excuses. Quit trying to serve two masters. No longer make yourself poor by chasing after the world's riches. See how He even begs you to receive His gifts! “Come, for all things are now ready,” and even your pathetic excuses are now forgiven in the Body and Blood of Jesus. +INJ+

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