Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 20

20 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 55:1-9, Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord’s parable for us today is both horrifying and comforting. It is filled with violence and murder, with rejection and retribution, with an impostor being found out and cast into the most terrifying prison imaginable. But it is also filled with people crowded into a banquet hall who did nothing to earn a ticket. They didn’t even know the master of ceremonies. Rather they were just people who happened to be standing around when they were handed an invitation to the royal feast – both good and bad – with the banquet hall being filled with such fortunate guests.

Obviously, if we are in the first group, those who were invited but deemed unworthy, those who took the invitation for granted, we should be worried. Likewise, if we want to be in the wedding feast, but we don’t belong there, lacking the wedding garment issued by the king (instead opting for trickery and deceit to try to fool the king), we will be sorry for all eternity.

Equally obvious is the fact that if we are in the second group, those who were both “called” and “chosen” – we will have an eternity of royal joy and celebration.

How do we know if we are “called” and yet not “chosen,” (and thus destined for eternal punishment) and how can we know if we are both “called” and “chosen” (and destined for eternal joy)?

Our human nature – being tainted with sin – immediately looks to our own works. We want to be in the number of the redeemed. We want some sign that we are in the elect. We might look at our behavior and conclude that we are worthy based on our conduct and surmise that we are not rejecters of the King’s Son, nor are we party-crashers who are at the feast under false pretenses.

The only problem is that without exception, our behavior condemns us. As much as we view ourselves with rose colored glasses, if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we see a poor, miserable sinner. We see a pathetic excuse for a Christian. We see a person tormented by Satan and harassed by our own flesh. We see a person unworthy to be in the presence of the King – let alone eating at His table.

If we don’t see this in ourselves, we are the fool trying to get into the banquet without an invitation. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That self-deception is what allows a man to sit in a banquet hall without an invitation, whose very garments betray his credentials. Such self-deception enables men to deny that they need help, beating up the messengers and killing the very One who has come to rescue them.

“But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These words are not merely human words uttered in a ritual, but rather Divine Words, holy oracles from the Word of God itself, and Himself. If our sins convict us to the point of confession, if we have been broken by God’s demands to the point where we drop our defenses and confess – there is a promise attached.

Such is the group our Lord speaks of, the good and the bad, who were invited to take the place of the self-assured, complacent, arrogant, deluded, and hypocritical. Those who confess, those who are contrite by the grace of God, those who make no pretense of worthiness in themselves – these are the beneficiaries of the King’s grace. They are the ones invited to sit at table with the King for eternity. It is they who are called and chosen.

The called and the chosen do not call and do not choose. They don’t somehow merit the mercy of the King by their honesty and by their contrition. Rather the King Himself calls and chooses – lest the called and the chosen have any right to boast – even to boast in their unworthiness.

But how does the King call and choose? Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord calls the thirsty, those who lack, those who are in need. He calls everyone who needs salvation. He lovingly bids and joyously invites the whole world: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The call is for “everyone.” For our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world.” The King is calling the whole world, every creature under His domain. He sounds the trumpet of a royal jubilee for every subject in His realm! “Come to the waters…. Come, buy and eat… without price.”

However, not everyone wants a handout from the King. After all, we do have our pride. We want to prove our worth, and not be a welfare case. We like to earn our daily bread, for who knows what strings are attached when we take handouts? When we reject the King’s benevolence, we spurn Him and turn up our noses at Him.

This arrogance is what led the children of Israel to murder the prophets – “treating them spitefully and kill[ing] them” – including Holy Isaiah whose inspired words have been placed in tandem with our Blessed Lord’s parable. Such pride is what led to the rejection of the King’s Son who was sent to declare the jubilee and bring the gifts of God to the thirsty and hungry world.

Through Isaiah, our Father in Heaven lovingly calls us: “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you -- The sure mercies of David.”

The very invitation, the Word of the Lord itself, has the power to save us. “Hear, and your soul shall live.” Those who stop up their ears stand in the way of being chosen. But those who drink from the Living Water, those who “hear” the Word of God - the Word that has the power to create the world in six days and rebuild the Temple in three, the Word that destroys death and the devil – they who hear this Word and believe, they are both called and chosen.

The hearing of this mighty Word brings faith, repentance, and salvation. The Lord’s call and gracious invitation includes this declaration of what He will do when He chooses a man: “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

And as much as our sinful flesh itches to take credit for our being called and chosen – as though we call and choose God – that is not the case. When we repent, God is working faith in us through His Word and through the gracious living waters of baptism. When we resist God’s mercy, and God-forbid if we resist to the point of not being chosen – it is not God who has failed to choose us – rather we are the ones who choose to rebel against the One who invites us, calls us, dies for us, and promises to be with us forever.

There is a mystery here. To those who are called and chosen, it is not their choice. But to those who are called but not chosen, it is their choice. How can this be? “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

We dare not put our trust in our works, our goodness, or our worthiness. For that is a delusion of the flesh. If we do that, we will find ourselves in the “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But the good news, dear brethren, is that when we confess, when we do not stand in the way of God’s Word, when we have partaken of the living waters of Holy Baptism, then we are forgiven. We are also empowered to sing “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

And having confessed our sins, repented, and received the grace of God, all claim upon our good works comes to an end. The fruits of the Spirit that grow forth from this repentance do not merit God’s grace, but rather are the overflow of our souls from the boundless grace and mercy of the Lord – Christ working in and through us.

And by virtue of that mercy, we can indeed look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb which has no end. We have a foretaste of that feast here, in this imperfect banquet hall. Here, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has gone into the highways and called and gathered us here for the purpose of choosing us to receive the gifts of His Word and His salutary presence in the holy mysteries – which bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation unto eternity. Amen.

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

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