Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 20

5 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the results of the fall into sin is that we lack balance. God pours out gifts upon us, all by grace, and He bids us to enjoy ourselves. It seems like a pretty simple assignment. But what do we do in our sinful, fallen state? We either stuff ourselves or starve ourselves.

Instead of being content with the gift of wine that, in the words of the Psalmist, “gladdens the heart,” our sinful flesh must be scolded by St. Paul not to be “fools,” not to be “unwise,” and not to be “drunk with wine.” Our flesh is very good at taking a beautiful gift and perverting it through immoderation. It isn’t sufficient to “gladden the heart,” we abuse the Lord’s creation to the point of impaired judgment, brawls, and even sickness. What is a good and noble gift from the Lord is often distorted into a destroyer of hearth and home. And we sinful human beings do this with every good gift of God – not just alcohol.

And then there is the opposite problem. The Lord gives us the gift of joy, the gift of beauty, the gift of grace without limit, and through our own sinful nearsightedness, we refuse to see this glorious grace he has bestowed upon us. To paraphrase Auntie Mame from the old musical: “Life is a banquet, and some poor people are starving to death” (Auntie Mame said it a little more emphatically in a way that wouldn’t be very appropriate from the pulpit).

And the sin of spurning the Lord’s grace is an even greater sin than gluttony. For when we are greedy, selfish, and gluttonous, it’s hard to fool ourselves. We know that we need to repent. But “starving to death” in the face of the Lord’s bountiful goodness can easily be mistaken as an act of holiness. How often we hear in our churches that it is somehow more noble to offer the Banquet of the Lord’s Supper less frequently! This is spiritual starvation in the face of a literally endless table of eternally satisfying food. How often we hear of churches who offer their parishioners the fluff of entertainment instead of the meat of the liturgy! I have even heard of pastors boasting – boasting – that their copies of the Book of Concord go unread – as if this kind of spiritual anorexia were somehow healthy.

But even in this congregation – where the Sacrament is offered weekly and the traditional liturgy and hymnody are retained – we can, and do, easily fall into the starvation trap as well. Our congregation is lacking both a Vice President and an at large member of the Board of Directors. Our Board of Elders is down to five men. It is not uncommon for our boards to call a meeting, and then have to reschedule for the lack of a quorum. Our congregational meetings are not well attended. We’ve had to suspend Sunday School for all but the youngest children because the many young people in our congregation are nowhere to be seen. How many confirmands have we seen fall off the face of the earth after taking their first communion? Hopefully, it won’t be their last communion as it was with Judas. Bible class is not all that well attended. And as is so often the case with our fallen natures, 20% are expected to do 80% of the work – though 80-20 is probably too conservative in this case.

The Lord is giving us a banquet, but too many are starving.

Our Lord speaks to us of a feast, dear brothers and sisters. His Gospel is indeed Gospel, but there are words of warning as well. Our Lord compared the kingdom of heaven to “a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.”

Can you imagine spurning a royal banquet? Can you imagine the humiliation the king would feel at being snubbed?

“Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. ‘And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.’”

Notice by this point, any pretensions of piety are out the window. The desire to spurn the grace of the king has become openly murderous and destructive. In this case, self-destructive. We don’t have to imagine the reaction of the king. For our Lord continues his parable:

“But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

The king is determined to have a full banquet hall – even if it means bringing in outsiders, calling the undesirable, having to wash up the unclean and mix social rank at the table. In fact, the king will have to supply the wedding garment, since these guests aren’t even high enough up the social ladder to have the right attire. But what does the king find at this banquet? An imposter:

“a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

We have been called, as the Lord invites all men to repent and believe the Gospel. But only the few who are chosen wear the baptismal garb of the believer. The unbeliever who seeks to enter the kingdom by his own merits apart from the will of the Triune God, lacking faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he is a forgiven sinner by grace through faith – will find himself removed from the banquet he tried to enter unworthily.

Ironically, those who were originally so unworthy that they had to be given a proper jacket for dinner will find themselves worthy – because the king himself declared their worthiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never forget that we are worthy by the sheer grace of God, as we are clothed with the Lord’s righteous garment through baptism. Let us feast with joy – not as gluttons and greedy savages, but rather as joyful sinner-saints who are neither too haughty to wear the King’s garment and feast at the King’s table, nor are we so self-centered that we turn our belly into our god and lose sight of the gift.

The Lord has gone out into the highways and invited us to the table. He invites us to feast with Him every week in the Divine Service, to enjoy the appetizers of Confession and Bible class, to savor the many courses of Word and Sacrament, of prayer and service to our neighbors, and to partake of the dessert of eternal life. He provides this feast to us in the eternal glorification of His Son, whose true body and blood are the bread and wine of this banquet. He provides this holy and life-giving meal to us beggars, whose tattered clothing is covered over with a royal baptismal robe, a wedding garment for this feast, provided, like the banquet itself, by the King.

Let us not misuse this feast like the impostor, nor let us take this feast for granted like those who refused to come when invited. Let us not gorge ourselves as gluttons nor starve ourselves in arrogance and pride. Rather, let us feast! Let us enjoy the goodness of the Lord. Let us accept His mercy and find satisfaction and grace in the holiest meal of all, a banquet that will have no end. Amen.

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

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