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Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.

 

The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.

 

So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.

 

But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.

 

Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.

 

They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.

 

And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.

 

At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:

 

It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

 

Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.

 

Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.

 

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.

 

Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”

 

Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:

 

To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.

 

The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.

 

The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.

 

And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.

 

But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.

 

The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”

 

But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:

 

Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 

 

People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.

 

But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.

 

It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.

 

It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.

 

For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”

 

And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.

 

We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:

 

It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.

 

However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.

 

Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

SDG

Spiritual Hunger. Second Sunday after Trinity 2016

jesus banquetSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 5, 2016

“Spiritual Hunger”

 

Iesu Iuva

On Friday I was at Sunny Hill nursing home, where the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches around Joliet have a service each week for the people who live there.  After the service I gave communion to a member of St. Peter who lives there.  I was taking the elevator up from the lower floor and a lady got in.  I heard a little accent in her voice that I thought I recognized, and I asked her if she was from Africa.  No, she said, Trinidad (which is an island near South America).  I told her how my grandpa and uncles lived in Africa, so I always ask people when they sound like they’re from Africa.  “Oh,” she said, “where in Africa did your uncles live?”  “Zambia and Zimbabwe,” I said.  She said, “I went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe not too long ago.”

 

“Yes, there is a great spiritual hunger there,” she said.  “People have great joy in serving the Lord and a great desire to hear His Word.  Here, in order for people to worship properly you have to spend time coaxing them, cranking them up.”

 

I thought about this after we talked.  I am sure that if we got into what proper, acceptable worship to God is, we would not have agreed.  Emotion and excitement are not what makes worship acceptable to God.  True worship is in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), says Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we are emotional in our worship; it means that we have true faith in Christ as our Savior.  From this faith in Jesus that our sins are forgiven comes thanksgiving toward God.

 

Still, she had a point.  Acceptable worship of God can’t mean that we simply show up and say words in which neither our hearts nor our minds are engaged.  Acceptable worship of God—faith in Christ—affects our hearts, our words, and our actions.  Believing that our sins are forgiven, that we are saved, must produce joy and thanksgiving—and joy and thanksgiving toward God—how can it not affect the way that we sing, the way we listen to God’s Word, the way we treat each other?

 

By all accounts, there is a great spiritual hunger in Africa and places in Asia.  These have been mission fields for a long time.  In many places the missionaries worked for years and saw few results.  But now a harvest is coming in.  I often hear and read from Lutheran missionaries in Africa that the pastors eagerly desire to be trained more fully in Lutheran doctrine and to have the Lutheran Confessions and other theological works in their languages.  Meanwhile the people in the churches come in great numbers to be baptized, to hear the Word of God, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood.  It must be exciting to see so many people turning to God and desiring what He offers in the Gospel.

 

But how are things in our country?  It’s not so easy for us.  People don’t appear to be very interested in spiritual things.  There was a time when people came to church on their own.  Now, with younger people, they don’t.  And if the church goes to them—which, to be sure, we don’t do like we should—sometimes we find that people are opposed to Christianity.  More often, it seems that people are able to “take it or leave it.”  They aren’t necessarily hostile, if you don’t say anything that offends them.  They just don’t care that much.

 

But it’s not just outside of the Church.  There is a lack of spiritual hunger inside the Church as well—isn’t there?  Real hunger isn’t a pleasant feeling, but it has a purpose—to make you eat.  Eating is necessary to maintain life, but it’s also necessary to grow.  On earth, there are no Christians that are full-grown.  When we are perfectly in the image of Jesus and there is no sinful flesh left in us, then we will be full-grown.  But if you are not yet perfectly like Christ, you still have to grow.  And yet most Christians don’t eat enough spiritual food to grow; they come and hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper on Sundays, or on Sundays when they aren’t doing something else.  But they don’t continue to learn God’s Word after they are confirmed.  They don’t read the Bible in their families and privately.  Most of us don’t know Scripture and Christian doctrine as well as we did when we were confirmed.  Others who do often neglect prayer and devotion, so that we are weak in spirit—not having grown in the life of prayer and lacking in love and trust in God in affliction.  Then we wonder why our lives as Christians are so disappointing and why the Church seems to be dying in our country.

 

One way to look at Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 that we heard is to see it as a parable about the lack of spiritual hunger and the consequences of this lack.

 

In the parable, Jesus is eating at a Pharisee’s house.  One of the guests at the table with him expresses what appears to be a very devout, pious desire.  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  (Luke 14:15)  The man talks like he would give anything to participate in God’s kingdom.  But Jesus tells this story to show the hypocrisy of his statement: God has invited you to the banquet of His kingdom, Jesus is saying, but you are refusing to come.

 

Jesus begins his parable like this: “A man once gave a banquet and invited many” (Luke 14:16).  It’s pretty obvious who this “man” is—it’s God.  God is constantly feeding people throughout the Scripture, and He constantly makes invitations to people to come to Him and receive rest and refreshment.  God also promises throughout the Bible that the day is coming when He will prepare a great feast, a great celebration, and all who come and eat His food will live forever.  The great example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 25: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 

You see the way Isaiah describes this feast.  God isn’t offering a crust of bread or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.  He makes a feast of “rich food”, of “well-aged wine.”  This is a banquet for kings that God is making.  And besides the exquisite food is the honor of the host.  If you are invited to a banquet at the White House, you don’t go just because you know the food will be good.  You go because of the honor of being invited to the White House by the most powerful person in the world.

 

God has also made a banquet and invited many people.  To be invited is an honor higher than any of the honors in the world.  And besides this He puts exquisite food on the table.  The food of God’s banquet is the Gospel of His Son.  He spreads out before us a table of spiritual delicacies—forgiveness of our sins, righteousness before God, rescue from hell and the devil, the right to be sons of God and sit at His right hand, the gift of His Spirit.  And all these come to us through His Son—God with us, God who became fully man, who fulfilled the law, bore our sins as His own, received our condemnation, and rose again with sin and death destroyed forever.  Jesus is given to us as our spiritual food and drink in the Gospel.  By faith in Him we live, by faith in Him we eat His body and drink His blood and receive eternal life.

 

“And at the time for the banquet He sent His servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14: 17)  That had already happened to the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews.  They had been invited a long time ago to this feast.  God had promised their forefather Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the whole world, taking away the curse of sin and death.  During the Advent midweek services for the past several years we have looked at the many promises God gave throughout the Old Testament concerning the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ.  But now everything is ready.  John the Baptist came and announced this to the Jews and told them to repent and be baptized to be ready for the Messiah and God’s banquet that would come through Him.

 

You also have been invited to God’s banquet.  An alternate translation for the word “invited” in the reading is “called.”  In the Small Catechism we learned to say about the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…

Whenever you have heard the good news of Jesus’ death for your sins, the Holy Spirit was calling you, inviting you, to believe in Jesus, that He died for your sins, and to receive His gifts.  When you were baptized, that also was God’s call and invitation to you.  He was pledging that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins was yours, just as the circumcision of the Jews was God’s pledge that His Son and all His benefits were theirs.

 

But what happens when God’s invitation goes out and tells people, “Everything is ready?”  Jesus says, “But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:18)  One asks to be excused because he just bought a field, another because he just bought some oxen, and another because he just got married.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees at the table that this is what they, and the leaders of the Jews, have done.  They were invited by God to His banquet and were told: Everything is ready right now.  But they made excuses instead of coming.  The Jewish leaders were preoccupied with their jobs, their honor, with earthly possessions and desires.  The religious leaders didn’t want to be baptized by John or follow Jesus because to do so would jeopardize their position.  They would be admitting that their religious lives were not enough to make them righteous before God.  Besides this they saw that Jesus was despised and didn’t have an earthly glory or kingdom and realized that to believe in Him would mean risking or losing their honor, their wealth, their prestige.

 

These were not unfounded fears.  It’s true that to believe in Christ puts our honor, wealth, and security at risk.  This is part of the reason that people don’t want to be Christians today, or leave churches that teach false doctrine.

 

Yet these fears also reveal a lack of spiritual hunger.  A person who knows that he is a sinner and that without the forgiveness of sins he is lost doesn’t think about what he will lose on earth.  He runs to the promise of forgiveness, come what may.

 

Yet how often it’s the case for us Christians that we put temporary goods over eternal blessings.  Often we aren’t willing to sacrifice temporary comforts for the feast that God spreads before us.  We think, “I already know that Jesus died for me and I’m forgiven, so it won’t matter if I don’t read the Bible, or if I skip church this once, or if I don’t take the opportunities to learn God’s Word and worship that are offered.”  But believing the Gospel shouldn’t extinguish our spiritual hunger.  If we believe in Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins, we should long for more of Jesus and His gifts.  And as we receive more—as we read Scripture and hear preaching—it will reveal our need more clearly.  God’s Word reveals more and more of our sinful nature and our inability to overcome it; it reveals our lack of fruit.  God reveals this to us in His Word so that He can satisfy our hunger.  As we see our sinfulness more clearly He shows us Jesus more clearly, so that we find our comfort in Him and His work alone.

 

So what happens when those invited send back their excuses?  The owner of the house becomes angry.

 

‘Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’  And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21-24)

 

So what does the master do?  He has a house all set for a banquet.  Everything is ready.  The linens are on the tables, the wine is poured, the meat is ready.  But all the invited guests have refused to come.  Does he cancel the banquet?  No, he insists that his house should be filled.  So he has his servant gather up all the outcasts, the dregs of society to fill his house—the poor, blind, lame, crippled.  And since there is still room, he has the servant go outside the city and compel people from the highways to come to the banquet.

 

God did this with the Jews.  When the leaders of the Jews refused to come to Christ, God gathered the outcasts of Israel.  The poor, uneducated fishermen became Jesus’ disciples.  Tax collectors and sinners came into God’s banquet and ate His rich food and drank His aged wine.  They received the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and became righteous before God.  Then God sent the apostles outside of the people of Israel to the pagan gentiles who were far from God, didn’t know the Scriptures, and worshipped idols.  And these debased people—which includes us and our ancestors, who worshipped stones and statues and trees instead of the living God—came into God’s house, received the righteousness of Christ, were washed in His blood, and took their place among the righteous—Abraham and Moses and the prophets.

 

That is the end result of rejecting God’s Word; the end result of the lack of spiritual hunger.  When people persistently refuse God’s invitation through the Gospel, He takes it away.  Maybe we think the worst thing God could do to a country is let it be torn apart by violence, or impoverished through bad government, or let it be stricken by disease.  No.  The worst way God’s anger could strike us is if He takes His Word away.

 

Without His Word we can’t receive the forgiveness of sins; without His Word we can’t come to faith in Christ or stay in it.  Yet so often we treat God’s Word not as a gracious invitation to eternal life, but as an interruption of the other things we would rather do, or even as a burden.

 

Yes, we do this, even the most devout.  And so God makes His invitation again today: Everything is ready!  Come to the banquet!

 

If you have neglected His Word.  If you are spiritually poor, blind, and crippled, so that you think there is no way that you belong in God’s house, eating as His guest.  If you have at times acted as if you had other things to do that were more important than coming to the banquet God has provided, behaved arrogantly.

 

He doesn’t insist that you make your heart better.  He simply says, “Come, everything is now ready.”  It is a free invitation—there is no cost.  God has taken away your sins at His own cost, the cost of His Son. You only have to come and eat and drink—that is, believe that all your sins are forgiven through the suffering of Jesus.

 

If you don’t feel hunger—your sins don’t bother you particularly, you don’t feel your need as you should—still He invites you.  Realize that this lack of hunger is itself a great sin.  Then come, take your place with the crippled and the blind in God’s house.

 

God is gracious.  He wants His house to be full for this feast, so there is room for each one of us who wants to come.

 

And what a table He prepares for us!  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, [that] God has prepared for those who love Him!”  (1 Corinthians 3:9)  The joy that we will have when we dwell with God in heaven we don’t know yet.  There are not words on earth to express it.  Yet we have the beginning of this feast now.  Maybe it’s appropriate to say God gives us hors d’oeurves?

 

Before our eyes He portrays His Son crucified for our transgressions, declaring, “It is finished!”  His call and invitation is to take Jesus at His Word.  In the Sacraments and the Word, He gives us the promise that the forgiveness of our sins is accomplished.  Along with that promise comes the promise of eternal life, resurrection from the dead, and union with the Triune God.

 

Whoever you are, come, says God, for everything is ready.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Party No One Wanted To Come To. 2nd Sunday after Trinity, 2015

2nd Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 14, 2015

The Party No One Wanted To Come To.

Iesu Iuva

Have you ever given a party or a dinner and no one wanted to come? Everyone made excuses? “Oh, I have to go to the doctor that day”? The excuses may even be real, but that doesn’t take away the humiliation of having no one want to come to your party. You may never have had this experience, but you can imagine how it would feel. A kid who had no one come to his birthday party would probably cry. An adult would probably feel angry at his so-called friends.

In Jesus’ parable today it is God who is throwing a party that no one wants to come to. This comes as a shock to the religious men with whom Jesus is eating a dinner. They were sure that they were going to be invited to God’s banquet, and they thought that when the invitation came they would be eager to drop everything and come to it. But Jesus tells them that they have already been invited but have refused to come.

Jesus is not really telling a new story but an old one. Long ago God gave a promise to the ancestors of the Jews that there would be a baby born from their stock who would take away the sins of the world. But most of the Jews did not believe this promise. And when God brought the people out of Egypt to be His holy nation, they continually rebelled against God and refused His offer. They didn’t believe He was going to provide for them. The second they were lacking something they complained and wanted to go back to slavery. When Moses was gone on the mountain talking to God, they built an idol and turned to it instead of to the Lord. Then when they arrived at the border of the promised land, they rebelled and did not believe that God would bring them in. Finally God said, “Fine. You will wander in the desert forty years until you die, and then I will bring your children into the land.” This is what God eventually does when people despise His promise and invitation. He eventually will let people have their own way and give His good gifts to others.

Jesus is saying that this is what will happen to the Jews. They—at least the Pharisees—are claiming that they eagerly desire to come to God’s banquet of eternal life and blessedness. But Jesus is saying, “It is already here, and you are refusing it.” The Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of John the Baptist, who called out for the people of Israel to repent and be baptized because the kingdom of God was at hand. And even more the Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of Jesus, who called them to come to the banquet of God, to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus called them to come because the kingdom of God was present where He was. He was the King. In Him God and man are united in one person. In Him there is fellowship and communion between God and man. And He shares the fellowship and communion with all who believe in Him.

But most of the people to whom Jesus preached did not want to come to the banquet of God, which means that they did not want to come to Jesus and believe that in Him God was reconciled to sinners. They didn’t want to come because to come to Jesus meant losing earthly things, or at least putting them second. In Jesus’ parable the people who are invited to the banquet say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come because I have just bought a field.” “I have bought oxen to plow my field.” They have business and financial concerns that keep them from coming to the feast. Or, “I have just gotten married, so I can’t come.” Jesus isn’t saying it’s a sin to get married or run a business and make money, but He is saying that a person can’t put those things first and also seek God’s kingdom. Because to come to Christ, who is God’s feast where we are fed with eternal life, we must be willing to lose “life, goods, fame, child, and wife,” as we sing in “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”   When God called Abraham to go into a foreign country so God could make him a great nation, Abraham could have said, “But all my family is here. It will be dangerous to go to a land where I don’t know anybody.” Abraham trusted that the God who promised to make him into a great nation would also protect him in the land into which God called him to go.

Most of the Jewish people did not believe in Christ when God invited them to come to Him and receive eternal life. What was the reason? Jesus says because they were concerned with their earthly life first—with family and business. He doesn’t say they were out living immoral lives, and that’s why they wouldn’t come to the feast. They were occupied with things that God gives. Family and work are gifts from God. However, God doesn’t want us to be so occupied with those things that they come before His greatest gift, which is the Gospel of His Son. That is the feast to which the Jews were invited and to which we are invited, and to which God invites the whole world in the preaching of Christ.

And it is a rich feast God spreads before us in the Gospel. He doesn’t offer us temporary treasures and pleasures in the Gospel. He offers and invites us to partake of rich food and drink that sustains our lives forever. He freely invites us in the Gospel to come and be forgiven all our sins through the suffering, agony, and death of His beloved Son. He says in the Gospel that everything Jesus is and has is for you. His righteousness is yours, by which He fulfilled the entire law. His innocent suffering and death is yours, by which He made full atonement for all your sins. His resurrection from the dead is yours, by which He justified us and rose with sin dead and buried to appear before God as our advocate forever. St. Paul says in Colossians, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him.” Through faith in Jesus alone you are forgiven all your sins and you have communion with the true God, even though by nature you are dead in your trespasses and sins. Why would anyone pass up such a rich banquet?

But that is the point of this parable. Most people did pass up this banquet in Jesus’ day, and most people still do in ours. Why? Because they hear the message of the forgiveness of sins but reject it. They believe that they are going to find what they’re looking for in earthly things—goods, fame, child, and wife. They don’t seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

So what does the master of the banquet do? He gets angry. Then he sends out his servant to invite and call other people to his banquet, people that a respectable house owner would never invite—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. This is what God did when eventually, after the ascension of Jesus, He sent the apostles to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. But you can also see that even in Jesus’ ministry it was the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who came to Him. Not just those who were literally sick and poor, but also the spiritually poor—tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners. These began to come to God’s banquet and believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

So today God is calling those who are far off to come to His feast. We are becoming used to hearing dreary news of people not coming to Church, no longer interested in the Gospel. But it is not that way everywhere. In Africa and Asia, places where people lived in paganism and idolatry for countless generations, there is a rich harvest going on for the Gospel. The Lutheran church is growing in those lands.

Just like in Jesus’ parable, we can rest assured that God is going to fill His banquet hall. He is gathering an eternal Church which will be filled with all the elect from every tribe, nation, language, and people. God is not going to let His feast go to waste just because some people refuse it. He is too generous for that. He is going to fill His feast. And what we see from the parable is that many who seem most likely to be at God’s feast won’t be there. He fills it up with people you wouldn’t expect to find at the feast, with the poor, sick, blind, and lame, not with the wise and great of the world, but with the sufferers and the spiritually poor.

But the Lord now invites you to come to His banquet. He has prepared everything. Everything is ready. He gave His Son to bear your sins, and everything that could keep you away He has removed. And He says, “Come to my feast. Everything is ready. Come and have your sins forgiven.” And since He has provided such rich food at such a cost, can He not be trusted to take care of everything else. Just like at a fancy party you would leave your keys with the valet and your coat at the checkroom, leave your concerns about your family and business with the Lord and make sure you come first to His feast. He will take good care of them. He has already prepared everything for you in the death of His Son.

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Excused From the Kingdom Of God. Trinity 2, 2014.

agape feast marcellinus catacombThe Second Sunday after Trinity (Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois

St. Luke 14: 15-24

June 29, 2014

“Excused from the Kingdom of God”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Jesus is at a Sabbath dinner hosted by Pharisees.  For our Lord this isn’t just an opportunity to eat bread but to break and distribute the bread of life, God’s Word.  It’s natural for Him to talk about the Kingdom of God at a dinner, because the Kingdom of God is a great banquet, according to Isaiah 25:

 

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  Is. 25: 6-8

 

But they don’t understand what Jesus is teaching.  They don’t understand the feast of God’s kingdom is in their presence right at that very moment.  So one of the people at the table starts talking about how great it will be for everyone who gets to eat at the dinner of the Kingdom of God.

 

And Jesus says, “Let me tell you a story.  There once was a man who made a big dinner, and he sent his servants out to say to the people who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is already prepared.’ But everyone who was invited started to make excuses about why they couldn’t come.”

 

Jesus is saying, “You have asked to be excused from God’s kingdom for the sake of earthly possessions, but God is gathering the poor, crippled, broken, and sinful to eat at His spiritual banquet.”

 

Jesus knows that the Pharisees would agree with the idea that you should give some of your wealth to God and to help the poor.  They’re big on sacrifices and tithing and keeping the letter of the law about providing for the poor.  But it’s possible to do those things and still have an unchanged heart that loves earthly goods more than God and one’s neighbor.

 

That’s just the problem for the Pharisees.

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