Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost



Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 23)



October 9, 2011
Text: Matt. 22:1-14



Beloved in the Lord, “This is the feast of victory for our God” (LSB 155), this, right here and now, this that is on the altar. Understand that when you sing those words, you are singing about the Divine Service, and particularly about the Lord’s Supper, the feast of Jesus’ body and blood. It is a foretaste of the feast to come, the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. And you are invited to this feast, now at this altar and continuing for all eternity in heaven and in the resurrection of the dead.

Of course, it’s not just anyone who here invites you. It’s the King, God, who is throwing a wedding feast for His Son. It is the wedding of Jesus and His beloved Bride, the holy Church, whom He has made spotless by His blood and clothed in the garment of His own righteousness. God, our King, sends out His servants, prophets, apostles, and Christian pastors, to call those who are invited to the feast. All is now ready. The Lord is ready to welcome you as His honored guest, to speak tender words of blessing upon you, and to set a table before you, the feast of forgiveness and life, the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. It would be strange, indeed, to refuse such an invitation. Except that you and I, we are bound to this sinful flesh. It is a sinful flesh that finds good reason to do other things it considers more important. What do those who were invited in the parable do when the King’s servants plead with them to come to the feast? One goes off to his farm, another to his business, having “more important things to do” than to feast with the King and enjoy His hospitality. Others seize the servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them, which, as we learned last week, is the prophet’s reward for faithfulness. Still, the gracious invitation goes out. All the King wants is for you to enjoy His gifts and receive them with rejoicing and thanksgiving. The issue in the parable Jesus tells is whether the gifts are received in faith or rejected and despised.

And so this is a Third Commandment issue. What is the Third Commandment? “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”[1] For the Christian, Jesus is your Sabbath rest, so the issue is not what day you go to church or whether you do any work on that day. You rest in Jesus every day, knowing your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life with God. The issue is whether you take Him up on the rest that He desires to give you in His Word and Sacraments. Or do you believe there are better ways to rest? The problem is, you are rest-less, because no matter what you do or what you have, you are left unfulfilled and ill-at-ease. We are an anxious people, you and I, and so we are always restless. And we think that the cure for this is either to work harder and longer, or to take a vacation, pamper ourselves, get away, relax, enjoy our hobbies. Now I’m all for hard work, and I’m all for vacations and avocations (the things we do outside of our normal, daily routine). These can all be beneficial. But they do not provide the rest we need. Because they do not address that which makes us restless, our sin and alienation from God, and the wages of sin which we see all around us, death. Whether you know it or not, what you’re always fighting against, what makes you so restless, is the terror of knowing you stand condemned before God as a sinner. You will die, and unless God does something about it, that death will be eternal. How wise, therefore, are the words of St. Augustine’s prayer: “our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[2]

God would have you come to the feast He has prepared to rest in His Son, to relax in His forgiveness, that He may give you the blessed gifts of salvation and eternal life, and strength to bear up under trial and tribulation. The parable Jesus tells in our Gospel this morning is a scathing indictment of the chief priests and Pharisees who reject God’s invitation to the feast. They reject Jesus Himself, finally handing Him over to the Romans to be crucified. Here the feast is ready, the Son has arrived to save His people from their sins, and they want no part of Him. So, Jesus says, the King sends His servants out to the roads to gather whomever they find, bad and good. The Gospel goes out to the Gentiles, to you and to me, that we may come to the feast to enjoy the Lord’s good gifts and be His people. Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners are welcomed to the feast. A royal table is set before the unworthy.

And here we come to the real, central point of this parable. This table is set by grace. No one is worthy to come to this feast. Not even the chief priests and elders who rejected the invitation and refused to come. Had they recognized their unworthiness, had they recognized their sin, they would have jumped at the merciful invitation to come anyway as forgiven sinners whom the Lord had come to purchase with His own blood. But because they believed they had earned a place at the feast, because they believed they would be doing the King a favor by attending, they considered it of no account to toss the invitation aside, to ignore the King’s servants, even to beat them, treat them shamefully, and kill them.

No one is worthy to come to this feast. Not chief priests and Pharisees, not you, not me. Still, the Lord invites you. The invitation has nothing to do with any worthiness or merit or loveable-ness in you. Remember, the King sends His servants out into the roads to gather the bad and the good. Rather, you are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb by the grace of the King, by His undeserved kindness and love. And it is He who determines your worthiness by pronouncing it so, and by clothing you with the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness in your Holy Baptism. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27; ESV).

Many Christians believe they have a right to come to the altar. Many Christians believe they have a right to the grace of God. Many Christians believe they have a right to the eternal heavenly feast. As a result, the feast of the Divine Service on the Lord’s Day is just one option among many that they have a right to choose, or not choose if another option is more attractive. Is this you, beloved? Repent. Of course you’d rather sleep in on Sunday morning. Of course you’d rather go to the lake or go to Starbucks or read the paper at home. On the other hand, of course you think there are more pressing needs, things that must get done, and there’s just not enough time to do it all. Enough. That’s your sinful flesh. That’s the allurement of the world. That’s the devil lying to you. Repent. Come to the feast. Get to church. That’s your priority. Everything else will fall into place. You need the rest and refreshment that only your Lord Jesus can give with His rich gifts in His life-giving Word and the feast of His body and blood.

Of course, you’re the ones sitting here. You did come to church this morning, thanks be to God. And that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. Whether you know it or not, He’s the one who got you here. But whatever you do, don’t think you’re being here makes you better than those who chose another option. Because if you do that, you’re back to thinking you’re here by your own worthiness. And then you’re the guy walking around at the feast without a wedding garment. Then you’re seeking to feast without the garment of Christ’s righteousness, clothed in your own works. Repent. Those who come with their own righteousness are thrown out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, hell. But it’s so unnecessary. Because the wedding garment is free. You’ve been clothed with Christ in your Baptism. You come to the feast, not by your own righteousness, but by His righteousness. It is all by grace.

That’s the thing about this feast, both this foretaste here and the eternal feast to come in heaven and in the resurrection. No one has a right to it. It is the gracious gift of the King, God, through His Son, Jesus. And since the options are eternal feasting with God in His Kingdom, or weeping and gnashing of teeth on the outside, beloved there is nothing better for you to be doing now, nor is there any place more important to be. This is the feast, right here, right now, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. This is the rest and refreshment you can’t get anywhere else. Do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do not despise the holy meal of our Lord’s body and blood, but gladly receive it in your mouths, the death of the Lord delivered to you by the risen Lord Himself. And rejoice. It’s a wedding. And the surprise ending is, you aren’t just any guest. You’re the Church. You’re the Bride. All of this is for you. Come. All is ready. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).
[2] Confessions, Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) p. 3.

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