Friday, October 23, 2009

Sermon for 10/26/09 -- Twentieth Sunday After Trinity (1-year LSB)

I will be preaching this sermon on Sunday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi. This is the congregation that produces the high quality Vox Visuals DVDs. It's been my privilege and pleasure to fill in for Pastor Sawyer in the past, and I'm looking forward to my time there this weekend. A wonderful couple from the congregation has put me up every time I've visited Good Shepherd, and the congregation has always welcomed me warmly. I pray the congregation at Good Shepherd will be as blessed this weekend as I will be through them.

The Wedding Banquet

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The parable we heard this morning is the last one Jesus told, and appropriately so. It is about the consummation of the kingdom, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will set before His people a feast of His love and joy, a feast which will be theirs eternally.

How do we respond when we have been invited to participate in some grand event, with all of the festivities, all of the wonderful food, and everything that is a part of some great occasion? At least, how should we respond? If we are not invited, we can become pretty despondent. It is hard to stand aside and watch others having all of the fun. If we are invited, of course we will accept the invitation, with gratitude and excitement and anticipation! And yet, that was just how God’s people had not responded.

Keep in mind that this feast was not just any feast. It was a marriage feast, and a royal one, at that. It was a feast given by the king for his son, the prince. It was a feast to end all feasts. To be invited to it was a mark of profound privilege; to reject such an invitation was an offense like no other.

The marriage imagery is one of Scripture’s richest and most beautiful pictures of the relationship between God and His people. It is expressed frequently in the New Testament as an image of the “marriage”, if you will, between Christ and His Church. We see this as early as Jesus’ miracle at the Wedding at Cana. But, this was also a picture not unknown to the Old Testament. Now and again, the prophets would speak of God as the “husband” of His people, which meant, of course, that they were like a “bride” to Him. He would love them and care for them and provide for them, and they were to honor and love Him in return. And when they would not, it was as if they were committing adultery; evil, treacherous, destructive, and even self-destructive. And that is how this text finds Israel. She has had the invitation for years, but has made one excuse after the other to justify her spiritual adultery. The succession of servants sent by the king with his invitation have been met with anger and spite; they were treated shamefully, and some were even killed. Finally, the patience of the king ran its course. Angrily, he sent his troops to kill those who had murdered his servants, and then burned their cities to the ground.

The meaning was plain for those who would see it. Jesus, Himself, was their last invitation. If they rejected Him, they would suffer the consequences of that rejection. To spurn the personal invitation of the king, delivered by his son, would be the height of arrogance. There would be no more invitations.

It’s easy for us to look at this parable in a detached sort of way. After all, we are those who were out on the thoroughfares, as the parable describes it, those in the streets to whom the king sent his servants with the invitation. The feast was all prepared, but there was no one to enjoy it; no one to share the king’s joy in the marriage of his son. That is where we come in. The invitation has gone out to others. They are called the Church, literally, the “called-out ones,” those whom the king has called to fill up His banquet hall. But, are we not faced with the same danger that overcame those who were first given the invitation? Don’t we find excuses to turn a deaf ear to the king when he calls out to us? Don’t we find it too easy to neglect that invitation that is always new and always fresh with its promise of the king’s blessing?

Neglect is the key thought here. Now, consider the man who tried to “crash the party” without the appropriate wedding garment. Today, entrance to a great feast would be gained by means of an engraved invitation, most likely. Perhaps it might be that you would need to purchase a ticket, like for Michael Jackson’s funeral. In this instance, the king gave to each one invited a garment that would be instantly identifiable as his; there would be found his name or his mark, something which would set his garments off from all others.

And that is just what we have been given. We have been “clothed with Christ”, St. Paul said. His reference was to Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism we have been named with His name. We are unmistakably identified with our Lord Jesus Christ, set apart by Him for a life that is eternal. But, what happens all too often is that Baptismal faith is not fed and nourished. It is not sustained with the Word of God and prayer, and thus withers up and dies like a branch that is severed from the vine. And only because of neglect, only from taking for granted the king’s invitation, not taking seriously his wish to bring us and to keep us at his eternal feast.

Does this, in any way, describe where you are at this moment? Is it possible that, though you may be here frequently, still you have, in truth, neglected the invitation of the Lord to enjoy His eternal feast? There is one above all, and that is the feast our Lord spreads at His table for us, the blessed meal of His holy body and blood, a “foretaste of the feast divine,” as it sometimes called. And that it surely is! As we will confess in the liturgy a bit later, it is that point at which we join with angels and arch-angels and the whole company of heaven. It is a preview of the marriage feast of the Lamb, as the Book of Revelation tells us: “‘Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure…’ And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

If you have neglected this invitation, here is where to make amends. The wedding garment you were given in Holy Baptism still bears His name. It is still the guarantee of your entrance to the eternal feast. As you have confessed your sins this day and have received the Lord’s word of absolution, come and partake of the very body and blood of the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world. Even now He prepares that eternal feast of His love and joy for you, and you are an invited and welcome guest at His table. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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