Participation in Christ’s Salvation Is by Invitation Only.
The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who welcomes us, serves us, and fills us through His holy means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
I think it’s safe to assume that no one here received an invitation to attend the recent royal wedding in England. I can’t imagine anyone expected to receive an invitation either. You would have had to be a close relative of the bride or be part of much different circles than the ones in northeast Iowa. But I am sure there have been other events—celebrations of some sort—to which you expected to receive an invitation but did not. Why didn’t an invitation come? Was it lost in the mail? Was your name inadvertently left off the list? Did you misjudge your relationship to the host? You would have been glad to take part in the celebration, but instead you were left out.
On the other hand, there are many who receive invitations and don’t give the host the courtesy of a response. Anyone who has helped plan a wedding knows about this. Invitations are sent out a long time in advance. But then the deadline passes with many RSVPs missing. Some forget to reply, some don’t care enough to reply, and some drag their feet because they don’t want to offend the host with their reply. But the worst are those who say they are coming but then don’t show up.
An accurate count of guests is important because large events are expensive. One website says the average cost in 2017 for one guest at an Iowa wedding was about $100. It could be worse: in Manhattan, the average cost for one guest was over $600. I have heard about a couple that billed all “no-show” guests for the per plate cost of the wedding banquet. That might be going a bit far, but it is rude for guests to announce they are coming and then fail to attend for no good reason.
In today’s text, Jesus told about a man who was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to bring in the guests. We get the impression that all whom the servant visited had accepted the initial invitation. Their presence at the banquet had been planned for and expected. But now that the time had arrived, they decided there were other things that mattered more. One wanted to visit some property he had recently purchased. Another wanted to examine some oxen he had bought. Another had just gotten married.
None of those things were bad. But none of them required immediate attention. We can assume that the invitation for the banquet was sent long in advance. The event wouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. The reality is that they chose to skip the banquet. It wasn’t important to them. That means they did not take the invitation seriously in the first place. If they had, they would have been certain to attend. The master of the house was understandably angry with their poor excuses. What unworthy guests he had invited! So he invited other guests: “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Still there was room. Then the master ordered his servant to go far and wide and “compel people to come in.”
Jesus told this parable to a group of Jewish Pharisees with whom He was eating dinner. These religious leaders could not help but admire Him for His wonderful miracles and bold teachings. But they did not appreciate His interpretation of the law, and they especially did not like His criticisms. They knew no others who followed the Old Testament law as strictly as they did. And yet Jesus spoke about them as though they were living contrary to God’s will!
This dinner which Jesus attended was on a Sabbath day. God commanded that no work should be done on the Sabbath, so that His people would have time to hear His Word. Jesus noticed a man in the room who had dropsy, a condition which causes the body to retain too much water. Turning to the lawyers and Pharisees, He asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Lk. 14:3). Then He healed the man and sent Him away. He wanted to teach them that such an act of love was not contrary to God’s law, but rather fulfilled it.
He also noticed how the guests of this Pharisee chose the places of honor at the table. Jesus said, “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…. 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’” (vv. 8, 10). Then Jesus told the host not to invite people who would return the favor sometime, but “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” those who “cannot repay you.”
Then today’s parable followed. Since they had been the subject of His criticism up to this point, the Pharisees must have perceived that Jesus’ parable was about them. They were right. The Jewish religious leaders knew God’s promise of salvation in the Scriptures. But now they were making excuses while the fulfillment of God’s promise stood before them. They were too occupied with their self-made spirituality to take a seat at the great banquet of salvation.
They could not say that an invitation had not come their way, and neither can you and I. We know what the Bible says, that God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). Jesus likewise commanded the church to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The banquet of salvation is set for everybody. But not all want to attend. Why? It’s because all of us by nature prefer excuses to repentance and faith.
A great many have heard the Gospel message. They know what the Bible teaches, that God became man in order to offer Himself for the sins of all people. But many who hear this go about their business as though this was nothing very remarkable. Suppose you had received an invitation to the royal wedding in England, and you were told that all your expenses for the trip would be covered. Would you go? Or if you’re not much for royal weddings, how about an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl? I would go.
But when God sets the table of salvation, when He offers the full forgiveness of our sins at no cost to us—all-expenses-paid—we hardly take notice. Some make excuses for hearing His Word of grace very little if at all, excuses like: “I need time to myself,” “I have to work,” “Our family is too busy.” They know their attendance at the banquet is expected, but they have other priorities. Others hear the Word but don’t let it affect them. They come to the banquet but only look through the windows and stare at the rich food. “Others need it more than I do,” they think. These do not recognize their great spiritual need.
Who are the ones that were ushered into the great banquet hall? It was not those who filled their lives with riches, work, and family activities. It was “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” those who would seem unlikely to be included on a guest list. Are you one of these? Are you spiritually poor on your own—in fact, spiritually bankrupt—with nothing to your name but a lifetime of sin? Are you spiritually crippled, unwilling and unable to walk in the way God commands? Are you spiritually blind, unable to see your own way out of the world’s darkness? Are you spiritually lame, needing to be carried from danger to safety? If you are one of these poor souls, then there is no mistake. The banquet doors are open to you.
On the other hand, if you, like the Pharisees, would craft your own standard of righteousness while ignoring your tremendous debt to the law, then the banquet doors are closed. Jesus did not come to pat the “good” people on the back. He came to save the lost. He came to save sinners. If you are one of these, if you recognize your sin and are heartily sorry for it, God has a seat for you at His table.
For your spiritual thirst, He pours out the living water of His Word. For your spiritual nourishment, He serves up the body and blood of Jesus. Are you weary? Jesus will strengthen you through this feast. Are you sad? Jesus will cheer you. Are you worried and troubled? Jesus will calm and comfort you. This is what He promises to do through His Word and Sacraments. This is the feast of salvation prepared for us for our time in this sinful world. And this is the feast which prepares us for the eternal feast above.
No matter how much you have failed, no matter how far you have fallen, the Lord invites you to come to His banquet. But what if His invitation was not actually meant for you? What if you received it by mistake? If you had received an invitation to the royal wedding, you would assume it was a mistake. But if a special envoy from the Queen of England arrived at your door with all the paperwork completed and everything prepared for your trip, you could not ignore it—shocking though it would be.
God likewise made no mistake when His Word of grace came to you. To make sure you know His invitation is for you, He led you to the holy waters of Baptism. There, He showered you with His blessings and gave you a seat at His banquet. Since that life-changing moment, every time you hear His Word of forgiveness and life, and partake of His Supper, He reassures you and confirms that you are His honored guest.
He has invited others also, humble sinners like you, who join you at the banquet table. Together we wait for our Lord’s triumphant return on the last day, that day when we will cry out with one voice, “This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Is. 25:9).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)