Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 2


17 June 2, 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 14:15-24 (Prov 9:1-10; 1 John 3:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Gospel text, our Lord Jesus spins a tale that could make Rod Serling take a long drag on his cigarette and nod admiringly on a little black and white TV screen. For this parable of our Lord is short and sweet, but it is one that can be studied and examined for a lifetime without exhausting its riches. It is a parable that reveals the grace and love of God and the nature of His kingdom. There is no more clear picture of the Gospel than you will find in this little narrative, which our Lord Himself has “submitted for your approval.”

Just before Jesus begins the story, one of His listeners proclaims: “Blessed is the man who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God! Of course, we Christians, we who feed on the living Bread from Heaven, we truly understand that the bread of which this man speaks is not ordinary bread (which is in and of itself a truly wondrous gift of God), rather this bread, the bread of the Kingdom is the flesh of Jesus given for the life of the world.

But the world rejects this bread, just as they rejected Him when they crucified Him, just as they continue to mock Him, to forsake Him, and to seek after other gods today. But Jesus is not only rejected by the world, by those outside of the church, we reject Jesus every time we sin. We reject the bread of the kingdom when we pay homage to our own worthless idols instead of submitting to Him who creates, redeems, and sanctifies us. We reject this bread when the invitations have gone out, when all things are ready, and when we find other activities to do that we consider more important than breaking bread with God.

For Satan is not only the father of lies, he is the father of excuses. Satan not only deceives those who openly reject Christ, those who do not believe: the mockers, the idolaters, those who worship gods of their own making, he also deludes believers by tempting them to skip the holy life-giving banquet here and there for the sake of something more fun, more fulfilling, or more lucrative.

One of my classmates and colleagues in the ministry received a note from one of his flock that said: “I guess if it were up to me we would be doing some contemporary worship and praise services on occasion… I wish we had the opportunity to do that more in some of our services instead of being told how we can’t do anything Sunday after Sunday, so we should just sit back and appreciate God’s gifts to us by going to communion.”

Blessed is the man who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.

So important is it to the evil one that Christians not partake of the holy sacrament that he even deceived many generations of otherwise pious and devout Lutherans to see to it that Holy Communion was offered less than every week. Of course, all sorts of excuses are offered for not having communion on Sunday, all worthless excuses conjured up by Satan and his minions.

But before we become smug, dear sinner-saints of Salem, patting ourselves on the back for offering the sacrament every Sunday and Wednesday, let us examine ourselves honestly. Do we really see this Holy Supper as the most important meal we will ever eat? Will we go to any trouble, make any sacrifice, pay any price, rearrange our schedules at all cost, and completely plan our lives around the precious opportunities to “eat bread in the kingdom of God”?

If anyone in this sanctuary answers “yes,” you need to repent, for you are lying to yourself. Your sinful flesh will not allow you such perfection. On the other hand, if you answer “no,” you need to repent for taking God’s gift for granted, and for grieving the Holy Spirit. We all need to repent – which is why our Lord gives us this “blest communion” that promises the forgiveness of sins in the first place.

For ponder our Lord’s parable. The “certain man” invites many to supper. This is no ordinary man, but the Master of all things, visible and invisible. And this is no ordinary supper, but a “great supper”, a banquet thrown by God Himself. Following the invitation of the many, the RSVPs begin to come in with all sorts of excuses for not coming.

For the purposes of the tale, our Lord gives three examples. The first two excuses both involve business. The third involves a family obligation. Though work and family obligations are important, the master of the feast is terribly insulted. His feast ought to take priority over even these things. Taking one day off work is not much to ask, considering the Master has created us, has shown mercy to us, and given us eternal life. A Sabbath day of fellowship with Him, of receiving His gifts, of being a good son or daughter doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

The mercy of the master has been spurned. His gracious offer has been taken for granted. He has been treated rudely by those for whom He lovingly sacrificed, loved, and gave of Himself. He is hurt, grieved, and angry.

And so the master’s mercy is at an end.

What a terrifying picture! The life-sustaining grace of God is withheld. Instead, His wrath is exposed. The invitation is revoked. The master’s servants are told to find new guests at the table. The doors of the merciful Lord are swung open to all those who do not take Him for granted, while the doors are bolted shut to those who would rather engage in commerce or family activities apart from the table of the master.

The master drags in all sorts of disreputable people: wheezing bums, welfare wards, hobbling cripples, sinners, cheats, frauds, tax collectors, prostitutes, drug dealers, lepers, those with shady pasts, the dirty, the smelly, and the homeless. Last Sunday’s reading speaks of just who is invited to the banquet when the rich are too busy to come: a starving beggar on the street whose festering sores are lapped by filthy stray dogs.

The dregs of humanity amble their way to the ornate place settings and mountains of sumptuous food.

What a glorious picture of the church! How true it is, and thanks be to God for it. We are here not because we are spiritually rich, but rather because we are poor in spirit (and ours indeed is the kingdom of God). We aren’t here because it’s the trendy thing – in fact, the world mocks us (and even hates us as John tells us in our epistle text) for believing as we do, kneeling to receive a bit of bread and a sip of wine, and calling it a feast. Apart from faith it just seems silly. We aren’t here because taking part in this banquet will make us richer. In fact, we are called upon to give to the Lord with the same faith as the poor widow who gave her two pennies – everything she had - to the temple treasury. In reality, we own nothing, but are merely stewards of what belongs to God.

We are here because we, the unworthy, the sinful, the sick, the suffering, and the dying, have been graciously invited. By our own reputations, we don’t belong here. This is God’s holy house, and we are ragamuffins. This is a palace, and we are vagrants. This is a table fit for kings and angels, and we are criminals more fit for a jail cell.

And because we don’t belong here is exactly why we do belong here. For like a story on The Twilight Zone, there is an unexpected ending, a great twist, in this case, a happy exchange.

What makes you worthy, dear brothers and sisters, is your acknowledged unworthiness. Those who swagger their way to this table like they own the place will be turned back. Those who are convinced of their righteousness and fitness for eternal reward will be sent away on the Day of Judgment. But those who come with head bowed, with a self-conscious sense of not belonging, those who step falteringly with heart pounding to this banquet table, those who kneel seeking the forgiveness of Him whom we have offended – they are declared worthy, invited, raised up without shame, washed, clothed, and made rich beyond all measure.

The Master Himself invites you. Hear His joyful Word in our Old Testament reading: “Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live.” He has given us His bread, the bread of His body, and He has given us His wine, the wine he has mixed Himself, mixed and poured from His veins to place in the cup of salvation for our forgives, our salvation, and especially for our life. For we have “passed from death to life.” Let us forsake the foolishness of the devil’s delusions and excuses. Let us acknowledge our sin and humbly and gratefully join the Master in this most glorious feast that has no end! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

6 comments:

Pastor Daniel Skillman said...

A little advice please.
Over the course of my one-year at my present congregation (45 regular attendees), I have been preaching on the origin and value of weekly Holy Communion. This past Sunday, I finally made all of that teaching explicit and asked the congregation to affirm the Scriptural and Confessional reality: The Service of Word and Meal is THE CHIEF service of the week. My hope was/is that we would then begin formally to study this fact with an aim toward implementing the practice in the congregation. Well, a board member and his family refused to commune that day. It was clear to me that the subject matter of the sermon was what had him miffed. I tried to talk to him after the service, but he wouldn't have it. I called him later that day and was only able to leave a message.

Now I have that sick feeling in my stomach. Did I say too much? Did I ask for too much too soon? Is merely preaching on the topic of every Sunday Communion considered "lording it over the flock"?

Plus: I'm not sure how to deal with this man when I do get the chance to hear him out.

Advice?

In Christ,
Fr. Daniel
Out

Paul T. McCain said...

Dan, it would probably be best to do a lot of careful teaching and personal pastoral care on the issue, since you have so few in church you could probably do it 1-1 in every home visitations. Since you have only been there one year you may be perceived merely as "grinding an axe" no matter how sincere and well intentioned and right you are. For what it is worth.

As for the man you have apparently miffed. I think you just need to hear him out and not try to argue with him or offer any sort of response other than, "Thanks for letting me know how you feel. I'll be thinking about it, etc."

Your parish may not be ready yet to move to weekly communion. Luther spent years pastorally and patiently moving the Wittenberg congregation to a more evangelical practice.

Patience, when we are passionate about an issue, is difficult. I would say that time is on your side and the more meaningful pastoral care contacts you have with your people the more they will be open to your teaching and leading.

I suspect they have had a string of pastors in recent years and so it is hard for them to view your opinions as something other than, "There goes pastor again."

Hope these thoughts help.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Daniel:

I think Paul's advice is wise. They may see your (absolutely correct) observation not as offering them the wonderful blessing as the Gospel, but rather as some sort of ultimatum. Just based on the short description you gave here, it sounds like you gave them a little too big a bite. And what parent has never done that?

They may have had a battle over communion frequency in the past, and they may be having flashbacks. There may well be baggage you haven't been let in on. Of course, you may just have one person/family that's being unreasonable. I think it would be wise to listen to his complaint (as Paul has suggested) without debate, and try to see what he has in his craw. It may actually have nothing at all to do with the sacrament, and everything to do with the perceived "Lording over" issue.

I don't think you're actually doing that, mind you, but we live in a very democratic society. People are used to having their way rather than being shepherded. Especially in small parishes where a lot of folks are related, the pastor is often seen not as the "pater familias" but rather as an interloper - an "outsider" with weird ideas, whom they perceive will only be here two years anyway. Sadly, our sinful flesh wants to see the pastor as a hireling.

I would urge you to contact Rev. David Juhl (fatherdmj@gmail.com) - whom you may remember from seminary (I think he was a year ahead of me). Dave is a young pastor, but wise beyond his years - and a really personable brother in the holy ministry. He had a very similar struggle.

I still hear Bishop Pittelko's advice ringing in my ears: "Love your people! If you love your people and don't change anyhting for two years, you will be able to get away with murder." Of course, that's a generalization, but it does take time to come to love and respect the pastor, and be willing to trust his spiritual care. That may take years of hand-holding.

One thing that may help (I have found it to be a powerful teaching tool) is to go through the Augsburg Confession. Give some history that led up to it, and then read through it and study it in Bible class. It's quite an eye-opener - especially when you point out that your congregation's constitution and your ordination vows solemnly swear to uphold it.

Meanwhile, I would recommend reading "Hammer of God" again, and don't neglect your and your family's need for the Holy Supper. On weeks that you don't offer the sacrament in church, have it at home with your family. Consider it a shut-in call. You may even want to offer a Sunday Afternoon or Evening service for those wishing to commune - although you might want to test the waters first.

Obviously, the best thing is for your members to start suggesting the sacrament every week. When it becomes "their idea," you know your teaching and preaching has borne fruit.

Don't beat yourself up over this. My goodness, if you never have the "sick feeling in your stomach" I would be wondering if you were fit for the ministry. Paul even told Timothy to take wine for that problem. ;-)

Pax!

Pastor Daniel Skillman said...

Thank you both for your advice.

Paul: You're probably right: time is on my side. But it is difficult waiting about something I am passionate about.

Larry, I'm just not sure what "shepherding" looks like anymore. It seems to me that the LCMS understands it to be waiting to see what the congregation thinks, then stepping out in front of the pack.

Everything is a matter of "the vote." This same fellow told me that if the congregation wanted to vote out the Lord's Prayer at Sunday services, that was their right as a soverign congregational assembly.

In my sermon, I said, "We do not vote on the word of GOd. We do not vote on the confessions of our Church." I think that this fellow was upset at these statements (in addition to the fact that he just doesn't like the idea of every sunday communion), although I can't be sure, since he's rejected my offers to hear him out.

Paul (if you're reading) & Larry (especially, since this is your blog) what are the limits of congregational "authority"? What does it mean for a pastor to lead? What is a pastor to do if/when a congregation "lords it over the pastor," telling him that he can't even preach on part of what our confessions teach? I guess these are all ways of asking the same thing.

In Christ,
Fr. Daniel
Out

saxoniae said...

Pr. Skillman: Everything is a matter of "the vote."

My congregation's constitution actually says that doctrinal issues may be decided at the voters' meeting by a unanimous vote.

But we're in the process of rewriting that -- I hope to have it say that doctrinal issues may only be decided by Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

Pastor Daniel Skillman said...

Oh my. You have it worse. I feel sorry for you. That constitution should have never been accepted. I hope they change it yesterday.