Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 9, 2007
Mission Festival, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wauneta, NE
Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14 (LW series C)

It is a rather happy coincidence that the Gospel lesson appointed for today has a beautiful admonition for the mission of the Church: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14; ESV). Now what does this have to do with missions? Jesus is not just speaking here about dinner parties. He is speaking about the ultimate dinner party, the end time feast, the foretaste of which we enjoy every time we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. And you get to invite people to that end time feast. You, yourself, are already invited by virtue of your baptism. Now you, as congregation and pastor, have the joy of inviting others by proclaiming the salvation of our Lord to a world lost in sin. You have the great privilege of being the people of God in this place, confessing Christ in your daily lives to those whom the Lord places in your path, providing for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments here at church, and aiding your brothers and sisters throughout the world in their confession of Christ. It is a marvelous privilege to invite people from all walks of life to the great end time feast of our Lord Jesus.

So who should you invite? All people. But didn’t Jesus say, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors?” That can’t be right. Aren’t we supposed to invite our friends and relatives and neighbors to believe in Christ? Well, yes, of course. But don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Even if this parable were about regular old dinner parties, Jesus isn’t telling you never to entertain your loved ones. If that’s what He is saying, we’re all in trouble. Rather, Jesus is using a typical Hebrew manner of speaking wherein He overstates the case to emphasize the point. Don’t confine the invitation to your own comfortable cliques. The Gospel doesn’t work that way. It’s not just for the privileged few. It’s for everybody. It’s especially for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;” it’s for the least of these.

The Pharisees were pretty particular about who they invited to banquets. They only invited the honorable. They only invited their own. The Gospel lesson this morning takes place in the context of a dinner party thrown by a certain, well-respected ruler of the Pharisees. His guests are only other Pharisees and the Rabbi, Jesus (and Him they had invited only so that they could watch Him carefully [v.1]). The reason the Pharisees are so selective in the company they keep at table is simple: Pride. The Pharisees are proud. They have a reputation to watch out for. Their table is not for the outcasts of society. It is for the pillars. There is no room for the poor, the crippled, the blind, or the lame at this table, and certainly not the tax-collectors and sinners with whom Jesus has a reputation of eating and drinking. The Pharisees barely have room for one another. Jesus watches with interest as they jostle for the places of honor.

But here’s the thing: in the Kingdom of God, the world’s idea of honor is turned on its head. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 11). The Pharisees are jostling for honor, but Jesus humbles them with the Law. We often miss the striking rebuke of the parable Jesus tells here. The seats at the table are still cold when Jesus begins, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (vv. 8-9). I noticed, says Jesus, how you were all competing for the best seats in the house. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Show a little humility. “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (v. 10). And then Jesus says to the ruler of the Pharisees, “You really shouldn’t have invited all these friends of yours in the first place. You are really the one hanging out with the wrong crowd. Instead, you should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you would have been repaid in the resurrection. The exalted are humbled and the humbled are exalted. The Law of God put the proud Pharisees to shame. But the Gospel exalted those of low degree, the least of the world, those who can make no claims of worthiness for themselves but must rely on the mercy of Another.

So that’s who you should invite to the end time feast, the lowest and the least, sinners in need of a Savior. But how do you invite them? How do you go about mission work? It’s strange how we Christians have resorted to all sorts of programs and gimmicks for the purpose of “growing the Church.” It’s strange because Jesus has told us exactly how to make disciples of all nations. He says in the last chapter of Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:19-20). How do you make disciples? By baptizing and teaching. It’s really that simple. And the Holy Spirit is the One responsible for the conversion. Not you. Not me. Not Pastor Wellman. The Holy Spirit, working through Baptism and teaching. Sometimes people reject that invitation. Sometimes the Church doesn’t get any bigger. That’s okay. Don’t be discouraged. Keep on baptizing and teaching. Let the Holy Spirit worry about conversions. God’s Word never returns to Him without accomplishing all that He desires.

That’s why your work of supporting seminary students is so important. Our God is such a giving and gracious God that He always gives us the means to be faithful to His mission. All are called to confess Christ in their daily lives. That’s your job as the Priesthood of all Believers. But not all are called to preach. The Lord has left us with a means for the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the Office of the Holy Ministry. The Priesthood of all Believers and the Office of the Holy Ministry are not opposed to one another. There is not one without the other. They are interdependent. The minister is called to preach and the people are called to obey the preaching. The minister is called to baptize and teach and the people are called to provide for the baptizing and the teaching and be the recipients of these things themselves. That’s mission work. You provide for the baptizing and teaching of many when you support seminary students. I have benefited from your generosity in the Lord, and I thank you. You have committed yourselves to help others, as well. As a result, you will never know the work the Lord accomplishes through the pastors you help educate, at least not in this life, at least not until the resurrection of the just.

Baptizing and teaching, that’s how you invite others to the end time feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. And you don’t worry about the company you keep when you’re making these invitations. Your invitations should be as open and free as our Lord’s. You don’t invite only the honorable of the world. You don’t play favorites. You don’t invite only those you know will bolster the bottom line of the Sunday morning offering. You invite sinners. You invite tax-collectors and sinners. You invite sinners just like you, who are in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ, remembering that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

As I said, this invitation is for you, as well. It is yours in Baptism. When you have been humbled by the Law of God, brought to repentance for your sin, Christ is here for you, to wash your wounds in His baptismal waters and speak His healing Word over you. And then He invites you to His Table. He always invites the least of these. He always invites tax-collectors and sinners. He never invites self-righteous and proud Pharisees. He always invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; those who make no pretense of any righteousness of their own. He invites you. And He feeds you His very Body and Blood. He gives you His unending gifts: the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, His own righteousness, peace with God, and every grace and blessing.

This is, after all, the same Lord Jesus Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). This is the same Jesus who said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He came to serve you by fulfilling the Law for you, in your place, and paying the penalty of your sins in His death on the cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). The exalted will be humbled and the humbled will be exalted. God did not leave His Son in the humility of death. Death could not hold our Lord Jesus. The Father raised Him from the dead for the world’s justification, for your justification and mine, which is to say that in raising Jesus from the dead, God pronounced the whole world righteous. He exalted Jesus to His own right hand. And in so doing, He exalted you, for you are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection. You have put on Christ. You are God’s beloved sons. You have a seat at His banquet Table. You are His honored guests.

Our Lord is returning soon to take us to this eternal end time feast in His Father’s Kingdom. But as I mentioned at the very beginning of this sermon, we have a foretaste right here and now every time we gather around the altar. So even though we can’t see the great feast to come with our physical eyes, we even now enjoy its many benefits, hidden under bread and wine. This meal is meant to be shared. So we invite others, including and especially the least among us. We invite them by baptizing and teaching. And the Lord has promised to bless this invitation. Just imagine that Day when we shall be greatly rewarded when we meet those whom we have invited face to face in the resurrection of the just. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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