Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It's coming, and you know it. Uncle Bubba has met himself what he calls "another fine filly", and wedding number eight is on the way. Guess what? You've been invited! It's coming, and you know it. The great-nephew-in-law of a co-worker you've only met once is graduating from pre-school, but this co-worker feels especially close to you, so he's invited you to the ceremony. If you've never been invited to an event which you've had no desire to attend, blessed are you. Refusing such invitations can cause some awkward moments and maybe even some conflict, especially when the invitations come from family members. But what does it mean when the invitation you're refusing comes from the Lord?
For centuries, the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, had been disregarding the Word and promises of God. They followed after false gods, persecuted and killed the prophets of the one true God, and did what was right in their own eyes. More than once they had paid the price for their apostasy, and this was never more evident in the Old Testament than when the children of Abraham were exiled from the land to which God had delivered their fathers. This is reflected in the parable which Jesus tells in our text. The children of Israel-specifically, those who claimed to have no need of the Messiah because they were sons of Abraham, people like the Pharisees-were those who had been invited to the banquet but who refused to come.
There are many excuses by which the invitation is refused, but only one reason. Our text tells us that some excuse themselves because of their wealth and social status; they simply believe that they do not need this great feast of love offered to them. Others refuse the invitation because of the daily business of their lives; it consumes all their energy and must be attended to. Still others refuse because of the ties and duties of family life. Can you relate to any of these? You may not be wealthy, but I suspect there have been times when you have been well satisfied with yourself, and the need for God was far from your mind. The business of daily life is draining-you have experienced that-and there have been times when you have permitted such things to turn you away from the gifts of this great feast of love. And you know well the unique temptations offered by family connections, to answer to those first and so to refuse the ongoing invitation to the feast.
But these excuses are only symptoms. The real reason for refusing the feast is because unbelief always longs for a different feast. Unbelief is too satisfied with wealth and social standing. It is too busy with the worries of life. It is too pleased with the pleasures of family. There is room for them at the heavenly banquet, but there is no room for the banquet in their hearts. Their hearts are feasting on the things of this world. All their excuses are needless.
Here is the feast: the very body and blood of Jesus Himself. You are invited to come to the altar to partake of this divine fare. There is room for you at this table. Indeed, there is room for everyone in the world at the Lamb’s high feast. Why would you want to starve your soul? Are you afraid of becoming spiritually overweight? That will never happen. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every time it is offered in this sanctuary, and you would not find yourself groaning the way you do after Thanksgiving dinner. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every Sunday, and you would not find that you have abused your soul with overindulgence. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every day, and still your spirit would not be bloated. Your soul is satisfied each and every time you receive this feast; but your soul will always hunger for this feast, no matter how many times you receive it.
It is important that you know that your pastor will never force you to do anything, especially when it comes to the gifts of God. Your pastor will not haul you to the font to be washed in the baptismal flood, nor will he force you to return to that baptism when you are troubled by your sins. Your pastor will not drag you to your knees to confess your sins to the Lord and receive absolution. He certainly won't yank you to the altar and force the body and blood of Jesus past your resisting lips for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. God's gifts are precisely that: gifts. Making a requirement of these blessings is even more dangerous than refusing to receive them. But these gifts bestow the richest blessings upon you, and so your pastor will frequently remind you of the blessings of this heavenly feast and encourage you to receive this feast as often as you may.
The simple truth is, the enjoyment of God's great feast of love will not take away from all these others things; it will enhance them and make them even greater. The enjoyment of God's great feast of the body and blood of Jesus will add even more pleasure to those with wealth, for the faith that this feast strengthens will lead to joyful charity and the responsible use of that wealth. If you are weighed down by the burdens of daily life, the body and blood of Jesus will strengthen your faith to help you to bear those burdens-and to bear them with joy and without anxiety. In fact, your burdens will ease, for you can cast them upon the Lord. And this great feast will make even the happiest home happier still, for the body and blood of Jesus will bind you together even more closely than the bonds of your own body and blood.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, here is the feast, the body and blood of Jesus. I am the Lord’s humble slave, and He has constrained me to invite you to this feast. In this feast you receive the forgiveness of sins, strengthening of your faith, and the gift of life. You need these gifts, and Jesus gives them to you here, freely and fully, in His body and blood. Receiving this feast in faith can never harm you, no matter how often you partake. If you need it more often, ask the Lord’s humble slave, and I will bring it to you. Come to the table. You are a welcome guest. If you feel unworthy, don’t let that stop you, for no one is worthy; we are all beggars from the highways and hedges. But by the washing of water with the Word of God, you are made a worthy guest. The things of this world will wait, for they will not last. This heavenly feast, and what you receive here, will endure—both through this life and the life of the world to come. Come, for all things are now ready. 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.