Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 2

1 June 2008 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.

Our Lord’s parable about the kingdom of God teaches us about the Church. The Christian Church is taking a beating today – as she always has.

The unbelieving world either mocks the Bride of Christ, bullies her, or seeks to reduce her to a state of cultural irrelevance. But on the other hand, trendy Christian leaders tell us that in order to continue, the Church must change. She must get with the times, adapt to modern American youth culture, jettison her traditions and dogmas – or else she will die.

However, the Bride of Christ will never die. Our Lord has promised that even the pounding and pummeling of hell itself will not be able to destroy her. But of course, she will be battered and beaten for her confession. She has always faced oppression from without and betrayal from within, but she can say: “I’m still here, me.”

The Church is a kingdom. It is not a democracy. We are subjects of the kingdom and servants of the King. We are to submit to the King and His Queen, His Bride whom He has chosen to grant dominion over all the earth. The Church is not here for our convenience, but rather for our salvation. And what she offers is more valuable than anything on this planet – even life itself. For the Church offers eternal life – and she gives it away for free. Through His Bride, the King issues an invitation to an eternal banquet. The Lady of the House has prepared her Husband’s feast, and bids the world to come!

But most people have other plans. They send regrets. Other things are more important than submission to the King who gives them life. In our Lord’s parable, the first excuse involves property. “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.” So, this invitee believes his rotten little piece of ground, the same ground that begrudgingly yields the fruits of the earth thanks to the sin in Eden, the same ground that yields weeds and thorns, the ground that requires bitter labor – is more important than the eternal royal banquet in which the invitee is promised treasures more glorious than the eye has ever seen.

I guess in the end, the fellow who values property over the promises of God must not believe God. He must think God is a liar who makes lavish promises that He will not keep. Or maybe he has been seduced by the world into idolatry. In today’s world, property not only includes land, but money, electronic gadgetry, tickets to sporting and social events, and anything else that becomes more important than receiving the Word of God and the sacraments.

The second example in our Lord’s story involves a man who is making a business transaction: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and am going to test them.” He has bought new farm equipment, and can’t wait to take them for a spin. Of course, a man has to work to take care of his family, but there is no doubt that work, in the minds of many, is their true god. If the Church can conform to their schedule, they might grace the banquet hall with their presence once in a while. And of course, people who work all week need to sleep in on Sundays. And it goes without saying that in our world, Sunday is the holy day of sports. Of course, school sports are of the highest priority, since they can yield scholarships, and scholarships can yield good educations, and good educations can yield a good job. In the minds of many, having children get good educations and good jobs is by far more important than coming to church. Besides, there’s always Christmas and Easter. It’s not like Jesus will ever slam the door in our faces and revoke the gracious invitation, right?

The third invitee in Jesus’s tale also has what seems to be a good excuse: “I have married a wife.” Of course, marriage is a holy estate, and family life is part and parcel not only of society but of God’s kingdom. But notice how this man uses his marriage not in the service of the kingdom, but rather as an excuse to bail out of the kingdom. He claims to honor his bride by dishonoring Jesus’s Bride. And in spurning the Church, this man is teaching his future children that the Gospel is unimportant, or at least of lesser importance than other things. Instead of the Divine Service being a family activity of highest priority, avoiding church becomes the source of family unity.

So how does the master of ceremonies deal with these three men who make excuses not to be present at the banquet? Does he reschedule the event around the other, more important business, personal, and family activities of his guests? Does he add an early, late, and even a Saturday evening banquet (complete with different formats and musical genres to appeal to everybody’s tastes) in order to keep the guests sitting in the pews happy? No, indeed. The host is, according to our Lord, “angry.” He sends his servants out “into the streets and lanes of the city” to find replacements for the ungrateful invitees who think the Church’s job is to work around them instead of vice versa. The host invites the castaways and the undesirables – “the poor and the maimed, the lame, and the blind” – for these are the kinds of people who would appreciate the invitation rather than grumble about the color of the drapes in the banquet hall. The master orders people dragged in from every highway and hedge, while those who spurned the banquet, those who insult the Bride of Christ, are removed from the banquet table: “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”

The Lord is patient and longsuffering, but it is a risky business indeed to try that patience. If other things are more important than heeding His invitation to feast on His body, blood, and Word, eventually those who seek to be excused will be excluded. Those who claim to “like Jesus” but who “hate the Church” will get their wish. They will be excluded from the Church. They will be free to pursue their own wants and whims, to emerge with their own music and participate in their own entertainments, to create their own custom-made religion and doctrines. They will no longer be asked to submit to the Church and to be invited to the eternal banquet that comes with being a subject of the kingdom. But they will also not taste the Supper.

For it is little wonder that some claim to love Jesus and yet hate His Bride, the Church. For the Bride of Christ is hated, as St. John writes to us in our epistle: “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” For we, the Church, the Bride of Christ, preach a Jesus that the world really doesn’t love at all. We preach Christ crucified. We preach God incarnate, who has come to take away our sins and invite us to a banquet – a banquet comprised of his flesh and blood. We are invited to join a kingdom (not a republic) as submissive subjects, as sheep and shepherds (not as stakeholders and CEOs). The world hates kingdoms because they are undemocratic. The world hates the Church because she is dogmatic. The world hates the Bride of Christ because the world hates not only traditional marriage, but also Christ Himself. And the world hates you, dear friends, because Satan hates you.

Nothing in this world is loathed more than the Christian. It is in the proclamation of God’s Word, both in the law that says: “You are a poor, miserable sinner” and in the Gospel that says: “You are being rescued because you cannot save yourself” – that the world mocks and rages against the Church.

The old Adam that remains in us fights back against submission to our King. The old Adam seeks to dominate, instead of serve, our Lord’s Holy Bride. The old Adam pushes back against preachers who give correction: “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.” For even Christians who are invited to come to the table may indeed decline the invitation if they perceive other things are more important. And this beckoning, pleading, cajoling, proclaiming, even in our Lord’s words “compelling” is what preachers are to do to bring people to the table and bring subjects into the kingdom. And contrary to conventional wisdom of our day, there is no magic formula, no turn-key business model, no marketing panacea that will cause people to accept the gracious invitation of the Lord to partake in the kingdom. In fact, there are many other parables of our Lord where the servants issuing the invitation are themselves attacked. “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” This is how it is that Luther advises preachers: “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.”

In fact, it is as simple as this: the Lord has issued the invitation. You are free to decline it. You are free to place your business, your property, or even your family life ahead of the kingdom of God. But at some point, the invitation will be revoked. And those who will take those vacant seats at the table will be those whom the world looks down upon and deems unworthy. For what makes you worthy of the Lord’s Bride, dear friends, is the Bridegroom. He has not only invited you, but made you worthy to come to the table, to become part of the kingdom.

This invitation is a treasure, and everything we own, everything we do, and even everything that we are, pales in importance to being part of this kingdom.

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding.” “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Amen.

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


kuniklo said...

I too marvel at how we are busied building a kingdom of earth. We are given 70 years of life and we squander it amassing trinkets.

Thursday's Child said...

You're right...Christ and His Bride don't sell. They're not commercial enough. Thank God!