Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trinity 6 (Romans 6:3-11)

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church of Christ in Rome. Dear friends in Christ: I watched many movies growing up, and I especially enjoyed watching the old movies that Grandma and Grandpa had: old westerns and cartoons. But there was one old movie in particular that I, like many others, probably watched only once: Old Yeller. Very few people watch this movie today, but for several generations of children, watching it was almost a rite of passage, and its story, especially the ending, is so well known that it’s almost proverbial. The beloved dog saves the family from a rabid wolf, but in the process is himself bitten. They lock him in the corncrib and watch to see what will happen. Just as the boy Travis and all the viewers feared, in a few weeks Old Yeller confronts his beloved owner with snarls and deadly teeth. He has rabies. There is only one thing to do with a rabid animal. You cannot reform it to cease from violence, as desperately as you want to. You cannot train it to be better; rabies has so damaged its brain so that it cannot even recognize loved ones. It will not stop doing evil or start doing good. Only one solution will suffice; and I, along with generations of other children, shed my tears with Travis as he pointed the gun at his beloved friend. Old Yeller needed to die.

Travis knew reality; part of him growing up was realizing what had to be done for his friend’s good and the good of the family. A death needed to occur; nothing short of that would suffice. It was wishful thinking, a denial of reality, to think that a rabid dog could be reformed or trained to be better. But we engage in the same sort of wishful thinking every day regarding our sinful nature, denying reality and thinking that reformation or training can suffice instead of death. We are corrupted with sin, filled with its stain, infected with a disease that is far worse than rabies. It controls our actions, inclining us toward violence and hatred, polluting our thoughts and poisoning our words. And if left untreated, this disease of sin will not lead simply to depravity and death, but ultimately to eternal judgment and the very wrath of the living God. We know that our problem is sin—that the good we want to do we do not do, and the evil that we wish to avoid we cannot elude—but we, unlike the boy Travis, cannot grasp the solution. We think that we can reform our sinful nature, teaching it to avoid evil, or train it to seek after the good; we think we can handle it ourselves.

Our intentions are good; they truly are. We want to be rid of sin, because we see just how much damage it can do to us and to those around us. We sincerely want to live a better life, and cease from letting our friends and family down, or hurting them in thought, word, and deed. So we try to reform our sinful nature, putting it into submission through our own brute strength. We punish ourselves for evil thoughts, sometimes quite violently, like the monks and their whips, but most often more subtly, by denying ourselves some pleasure. We get angry with our sinful flesh, we give it a stern talking to, we catalogue every wrong and bring it forth to shame ourselves. Or, on the positive side, we put our flesh into training, seeking to inculcate the habits that lead toward the good. We read the great moral philosophers and we try to emulate them, we look at ‘good’ people and attempt to copy their habits. We try, on the strength of our own will, to think good thoughts and seek after good actions. But every attempt fails. The more we fight against sin on our own strength, the more we find. Our sinful nature is a multi-headed monster; and with each head we lop off, it seems that four more emerge, each stronger than the last. We may achieve some sort of outward obedience through strenuous effort, but we know that seething beneath the surface is a cesspool of sin, just waiting to bubble up again.

The solution doesn’t lie in our power; it is sheer foolishness to attempt to reform or train something that simply needs to die. And only Jesus Christ has the ability to do the job, not with a pioneer’s rifle, but with a font. His weapon is water and the Word. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Our sinful nature cannot be reformed or trained, any more than you can reform or train a rabid dog. It must be put to death, and Christ does the work, because we have neither the will nor the ability to do it ourselves. Only He has the will, because He submitted to the Father’s will for our salvation, and freely gave Himself up into death. Only He has the ability, because as true man He stood in our place, even unto death, and as true God He offered the sacrifice sufficient for the sin of the world. “For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.” 

Christian baptism has an unbreakable connection with the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Notice how often the word ‘with’ is used in our text. “We were buried therefore with Him;” “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His;” “Our old self was crucified with Him;” “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” Baptism unites us with Christ’s death and resurrection, and thus it is a real drowning, and a real rising again to life. In Baptism, Christ’s death and resurrection become our own, with all that He won for us there. Christ puts us to death in His death, and He raises us to new life in His resurrection.

He sets us free from the bondage of our sin; what we could never do through our own efforts or strength He does in the drowning and resurrecting waters. “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” You who have died in those waters have been justified, declared righteous by God almighty because Jesus paid the price you deserved in your place. He didn’t come to give you a better method to reform and train your sinful nature; He came to put it to death, to crucify it with Him, thus justifying you and setting you free from your sin. 

This fact, this present and abiding reality in our lives, thus changes completely how we deal with sin. We do not attempt to reform or train our sinful nature, but we put it to death, daily, in a return to our baptism. There we died, and each and every day we push the old self back beneath those killing waters in repentance. In one of his great insights, Martin Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism: “[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” That is what we do with the old self, the Old Adam in us, our sinful nature: we drown it, day by day, by repentance and faith in a return to the waters of drowning. Only there did Christ bring about the death we need.

This font doesn’t look much like a place of execution, but that is what it is; here we are put to death and laid in the tomb, crucified with Christ. But if the font is a place of death, a burial chamber, then it is also an empty tomb, the place of resurrection. Many baptismal fonts look like mausoleums, especially those with covers; but when the cover is removed, they look much like an empty tomb, for that is what they are, our empty tomb, preaching to the entire world that our graves will one day look the same. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” Death has no lordship over Christ, it does not rule over Him. He died once, and He will never die again. There is nothing else to die for. And it is the same with you. Because you died with Christ, you will live with Him; death has no lordship over you. Having died in the font, there is nothing else to die for, and thus your natural death is simply the final destruction of your sinful flesh in anticipation of resurrection to new life; death does not rule over you. You belong to Christ. As He rose, so you too will rise. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trinity 6 (Matthew 5:20-26)

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: there are two kinds of righteousness in this world, self-righteousness and Christ’s righteousness. Self-righteousness is outward; Christ’s righteousness is inward. Self-righteousness it is concerned with show, with making certain everyone knows just how righteous it is. Everything is picture-perfect; like a well-manicured lawn and newly painted house, self-righteousness makes sure everyone can see how clean it is. No violation of the commandments here; the whitewashed walls reveal no imperfection. “All these I have kept since my youth.” No murder, no adultery, no stealing here, and self-righteousness makes sure that everyone knows it. “I thank God that I am not like other men.” Self-righteousness is loud, always pointing to itself, always making sure that others see just how righteous it is; how pious, how ‘religious,’ how charitable. If self-righteousness can afford it, it gets its name on plaques and buildings; if not, it just makes sure everyone around it sees how holy, morally upright, and certain of God’s favor it is.

Self-righteousness feeds on pride; pride in its own achievements and holiness. Self-righteousness is driven by competition; comparing itself with others, showing off its own beautiful lawn and whitewashed walls next to its dingy neighbors. Pride and competition lead to anger at every perceived slight, they lead to insults toward those who are not nearly so righteous, they lead to thoughts of revenge when others sin against them. Self-righteousness exalts itself over others, and it despises those who are beneath it. And not only toward strangers, but against brothers and sisters, those who have the same Father, God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. Self-righteousness divides itself from others, from its spouse, from its children, from its parents, from pastors, and from fellow Church members. Every sin by others is magnified by self-righteousness; each is a reason to rage in anger or to break off the relationship, to seek revenge instead of reconciliation.

Self-righteousness refuses to be reconciled; it has too much pride to admit wrong and repent. Self-righteousness holds onto each and every perceived slight; it is much too concerned with what others have done to it to examine itself for any sin. Every situation of division between brothers and sisters in the Church is the fault of someone else. When brought to the table to reconcile, the tone is not humble repentance but wounded pride. There is a demand for its own rights, for the respect that its outward righteousness should’ve earned. Self-righteousness is so consumed with itself that it cannot imagine ever being in the wrong. Every request for reconciliation is then an opportunity for everyone else to repent, for everyone else to acknowledge what should be obvious: the holiness, the piety, the impeachable moral character of self-righteousness.

Jesus exposes self-righteousness; that is why He came. He sees past the beautiful landscaping to see the corruption within; in fact, He calls self-righteousness “white-washed tombs,” structures that have the appearance of good, but are full of death. Self-righteousness is outward; Jesus points inward, to the heart. He takes the commandments and He sharpens them, so that they slice through the white-washed walls and expose the death that dwells inside. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to the judgment.’” Self-righteousness nods its head smugly; no judgment here, one can dig as deep as they want and they will find no deaths on my record. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” The Fifth Commandment will not be avoided so easily, the Law will not be deceived—self-righteousness stands condemned.

Self-righteousness cannot tame the Law, it cannot control it, and it cannot fulfill it; it can keep from taking another life (usually), but it cannot keep from anger and insults, it cannot keep from causing division. Through pride and competition, self-righteousness tears apart every relationship in the horizontal realm, especially between it and its brothers and sisters in the Church. And Jesus declares that the destruction of horizontal relationships destroys the vertical relationship. Those who hate their brothers and sisters will be judged by the Father, they will be held accountable by the One whose wrath burns against sin; self-righteousness stands guilty before God Almighty.

Self-righteousness has nowhere to go, no place of escape. Jesus has exposed it, he has cut to the heart of the outward show of piety and revealed the damnable corruption that dwells therein. This work is necessary, because stubborn self-righteousness must be broken by the Law to drive it to repentance. But Jesus did not come only to reveal the darkness; He came to overcome it. Jesus did not come only to condemn self-righteousness, He came to destroy it, putting it to death and raising up His own righteousness in its place. Jesus did not come only to show the sin that lies behind the fa├žade of self-righteousness, He came to die for that sin and rise to forgive it. Jesus did not come only to show that self-righteousness is liable to judgment, He came to make Himself liable to judgment, accountable before God for the sin of the world.

Jesus came to place Himself under the judgment deserved for the sins of self-righteousness. He was not angry with His brothers, even though they condemned Him to death, but yet He was liable to judgment. He did not insult His brothers, even though they insulted Him, but yet He was liable to the council. He did not say ‘You fool!’ even though they called His preaching foolishness, but yet He was liable to the hell of fire. He was liable in the place of self-righteousness, to restore the self-righteous to the Father. He was perfectly righteous, outwardly righteous and inwardly righteous, and He died in the place of the self-righteous, to give to them a righteousness that is not their own, but His. The vertical relationship, destroyed by the sins of self-righteousness, is restored; God is reconciled with the self-righteous, for Christ gives His righteousness to all who in humility repent of their self-righteousness and cling to Him in faith.

Self-righteousness is put to death at the font; there the relationship with God is restored, and a new righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, is raised up. Christ’s righteousness then seeks reconciliation with those in the horizontal realm. Reconciliation with God comes through humility, the humility of repentance and the humble reception of forgiveness. Reconciliation with man comes through humility, the humility of repentance and the humble reception of forgiveness. Christ’s righteousness does not fix its eyes on what others have done to it, but instead in humility repents of what it has done to others. It freely confesses its sin to God and man. Jesus instructs those clothed with His righteousness: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Christ’s righteousness seeks harmony, reconciliation; it doesn’t insist on its own rights, it doesn’t demand its due, but on the contrary it admits sin and asks for forgiveness. Its relationship with God in the vertical realm is based on repentance and forgiveness, and so are its relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus says explicitly where pride and the refusal to reconcile in humility will lead: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” Pride has no place before God or man; humility instead is the way of Christ’s righteousness: the humble confession of one’s sin, and the humble reception of grace, forgiveness for that sin.
There are two kinds of righteousness in our world, self-righteousness and Christ’s righteousness. Self-righteousness is outward; Christ’s righteousness is inward. And as Christ Himself teaches, one is far superior to the other. “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Self-righteousness leads only to condemnation and death; Christ’s righteousness brings forgiveness and life. Self-righteousness is your natural condition; Christ’s righteousness is His gift to you, won through the cross and empty tomb and given in the Word and Holy Sacraments. Christ’s righteousness puts self-righteousness to death, drowning it in the font at your baptism and every day since. Your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees because your righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. He stood in your place and received your condemnation, and then rose in your place as the pledge and promise of your resurrection, and now His righteousness is your own, and will be, forever.

It is your connection with Christ that fulfills the Law; both the outer keeping that self-righteousness excels at and the inward keeping that God demands. Because you are connected with Christ, your good works are righteous. The unbeliever does no good works in the eyes of God; self-righteousness is no righteousness at all. And Jesus gives this promise in Matthew chapter thirteen: “To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” Your righteousness exceeds any and all self-righteousness because Christ gives all of His gifts in abundance; He pours His righteousness out on you in His overflowing generosity. The One who multiples loaves and fills boats with fish fulfills all righteousness and He gives all righteousness. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trinity 5 (Luke 5:1-11)

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, sinful man despises the Word of God; he always has. It did not begin with five black-robed justices, it began with two naked people, Adam and Eve, listening to the voice of the serpent, “Did God really say?” God has uttered His Word on marriage and the place of sexuality within it, He even wrote it into creation; and just in case we didn’t catch it, when His Son comes in the flesh, He reemphasizes what was written long ago. “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Jesus’ definition of marriage is the Father’s definition of marriage, and when Paul comes along, he has the same one, too. Marriage is based on sexual complementarity, one man, one woman, and only once the man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife, i.e. gets married, do they become one flesh through the sexual act. But sinful man despises God’s Word, it is not sufficient for him, but is explained away by feelings and the theories of social science.

“Did God really say?” Is the Word of God sufficient for us to order our lives? Can or will we live relying upon the Word? Peter certainly found the Word sufficient. Listen to this confession of faith. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your Word I will let down the nets.” We should not take this statement in isolation. Peter has been hearing the preaching of Jesus from his own boat. The powerful working of the Word created faith within him, and faith responded with a bold confession. Simply on the Word, the promise of Jesus, this weary fisherman will go out into the deep; “At your Word I will let down the nets.” Christ’s Word, and the Word alone, is sufficient for him; he believes, and he acts accordingly.

You have heard the Word of the Lord on marriage and sexual ethics again this very day, very simple, one verse; the Word spoken by the Father through Moses, the Word spoken by Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Word repeated by Saint Paul. This Word has been despised by our world, it has been rejected by judicial fiat, and many in the Church rightly deplore the consequences of removing the gender requirement for marriage. But I would submit to you today that Christians are as much to blame for what has happened as the five black-robed justices. Because the Word was not sufficient for us as it was for Peter, because we lived in fear of what the world could take away, what we might have to give up, we kept quiet. The Word was not enough; we wanted popularity, we wanted pleasure, we wanted peace, we wanted the amenities that this world offered to us. 

Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to forgo sexual pleasure until marriage as a confession to the world? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to risk family harmony and friendships to speak the truth in love to those around them? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to demand shows and movies that didn’t flaunt promiscuity, or who simply turned the television off? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to risk the loss of scholarships, varsity sports, and letter jackets to demand that their education or that of their children not undermine the Christian faith? I’ll tell you where they were, because I can tell you where I was: keeping quiet, burying my head in the sand, wanting too much to be liked to take a stand. While many Christian churches stood against the sexual revolution, you only have to look at their actions to see that most Christian people did not; God’s Word on marriage was not sufficient for us, when it was placed next to all that the world offered us.

The Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage genderless, no longer an institution based on sexual complementarity and ordered toward the protection of children, but now simply a relationship of any two people who ‘love each other,’ should call on us to repent. It is the culmination of a decades-long project to undermine biblical morality, and we too often have watched it happen without holding up God’s gift of marriage and calling to repentance those who corrupt this gift. Now there is nothing to do but repent. Simon Peter, in faith, cast out his nets in the midst of the deep, and there, just as Jesus said, he received a catch. And as Jesus often does, He provides in abundance, overflowing abundance, boat-breaking abundance. Luke tells us, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” Suddenly Peter realizes that standing in his boat is the Creator of the universe, the all-holy God, and his response is terror, it is a confession of his sinfulness.

The Law makes us aware that we stand in the presence of a holy God, a God whose holiness is an all-consuming fire. And this day we need to hear the Law, that we have too often taken the bribe money that this world offered, that the Word was not sufficient for us. Repent. A broken and contrite heart God will not despise. Instead, this day He says to you what He said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not be afraid; you are cleansed, made righteous and holy to stand in God’s presence. In terror of His sin before God Almighty, Peter heard the Word of the One who would shed His blood to take away all fear. This same Jesus, no longer in a boat, but still speaking through His Word, says to you this day: Do not be afraid, your sins are forgiven. Every one of them, against every commandment. The shed blood of Jesus covers them all. 

For while we, in our lives or in our conversation, didn’t hold up God’s definition of marriage, He did, by sending His Son as the bridegroom to win His bride, the Church. He laid down His life for her, He was faithful to her even to death upon a cross, and now risen from the dead, He takes His rightful place at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom for all eternity. There Peter will dwell, with you and me, not because we are sinless, but because we are forgiven through the powerful Word of the Lord. The Word gives you everything, all that Jesus won, it is sufficient for us because it gives us what the world cannot give, indeed, gifts that will endure when this world passes away. People come and go; this very creation will be consumed by fire, but the Word of the Lord endures forever, the Word of forgiveness: “Do not be afraid.”

Those who are forgiven are then sent out into this world to proclaim that forgiveness to others. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do you know what the Church’s response to the removal of gender from marriage? Forgiveness. The Church will not stop forgiving those who are caught in sexual sin, or any other sin. That means we must preach the Law to condemn that sin, but we will not stop preaching the Gospel to forgive it. That is what Peter was sent to do: as one who has been forgiven, Jesus sent him to extend forgiveness to other sinners. As Luther says, we are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. The world is hoping we will stop forgiving; that we will move on to affirmation. But the Christian Church, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will not stop forgiving sinners wherever we find them. We will seek out those who are caught in the devil’s kingdom and catch them with the same Word that caught us, the Word of forgiveness, declaring that Christ died for that sin as He died for all others. Do not be afraid to tell the world that the end to all fear has come.

Do not be afraid to make a stand on the Word of God, the Word which delivered to you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Do not be afraid of what this world will do to you when it finds that you will not submit quietly, that instead of affirmation you speak of forgiveness. Do not be afraid to leave all things behind; the Word is sufficient for you. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” You may lose friends and promotions; you will lose so-called ‘sexual freedom,’ but do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to confess the truth to a world caught in lies, to people caught in lies. Do not respond in hatred, but with the love of Christ; love your neighbor enough to call him from his life of sin. Peter himself teaches us how in our Epistle lesson. “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Be ready to make a confession in word and action; prepare yourself through the study of God’s Word, and then speak gently but boldly. Have no fear; your crucified Savior has risen to take away all fear. It is no mistake that His first words to His disciples on Easter evening are, “Peace be with you.” He has given you all things; His Word is sufficient for you, and so you say with the psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

Do you know why all of those companies flaunted the rainbow flag after the Supreme Court decision? They took that gamble because they believed that Christians wouldn’t be upset enough to give up the amenities they offered, to actually boycott stores or change credit cards. They are gambling that we will continue to be too enamored with what the world gives to take a stand, that the Word will not be sufficient for us. Do not be afraid. This world will demand much from you in the years to come because you stand against the tide, but the Word is sufficient for you, because the Word gives you everything: forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He gives in abundance; boat-breaking abundance, and what He gives is far more than you will lose: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Trinity 2 (Luke 14:15-24)

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: the table is set, the food is prepared, the feast is ready. The King has left no detail to chance; He has carefully set all things in place. The preparations took time; in fact, Saint Paul tells us that the King has been preparing this feast since before the foundations of the world. With each generation, the time drew nearer, as the King protected His plan from every attack, making ready the way of salvation. And when the time had fully come, the King sent His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, into this world of sin and death; born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law. Jesus walked this earth in perfect obedience under His Father, the King. He preached the Word, He healed many, but His task, in accordance with all of the King’s preparations, was to die, and die He did. The perfect Son of the King hung upon the cross in the place of the King’s subjects; His sinless blood shed for the sin of the entire world. The King provided life for those in the bonds of death, He gave forgiveness and freedom to those in the shackles of sin by giving His Son into death and raising Him up on the third day.

Before He died, this Son of the King established the feast that had been an eternity in preparation. He took bread and said, “This is my Body, which is given for you,” and then He said as He gave the wine, “This cup is the new testament in my Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” He established the King’s feast with the words, “This do in remembrance of me.” This supper, the Lord’s Supper, the feast of the King, would be the very means by which everything that the Son had won through His death and resurrection would be given to sinful man. Not the only means, to be sure, but this was the King’s great and culminating gift: the feast of salvation, the medicine of immortality, the price of salvation given to sinners to eat and to drink. And now that the King has raised His Son from the grave, this feast is ready to be given to the world. The preparations, so long in coming, are now complete; the feast is prepared—nothing is left to be done! The table is set, the food is ready, and the gifts to be given in the eating and drinking have been won; all that is needed is guests, and so the messengers are sent forth.

Their message is one of joy: “Come, for everything is now ready!” The invitation should be no surprise; this coming feast had been proclaimed to the world through Moses and the prophets for centuries. None who heard these first invitations knew when the feast would be; they were simply told to be ready as the King made His preparations. Now, the table is set; all that the King promised for thousands of years, from the first man and woman on, has come to pass, and the feast of salvation is open to the world. And so the Church is sent into the world, to bring the invitation to one and all, to invite the vast multitudes that inhabit this earth to come to the King’s feast. ‘Come, for everything is now ready! Come, repent and be baptized into the crucified and risen Christ, be catechized in His Holy Word, be admitted to the Lord’s Table in faith. Eat your Savior’s Body, drink your Savior’s Blood, as the King graciously invites you to do. This is the food that gives eternal life, the only meal that forgives sin and defeats death. Those who eat and drink in faith will never die!’

It is with great joy and enthusiasm that the messengers of the King take this invitation into the world, and why not? They bring the answer to sin and death; the benefits of Christ’s own death and resurrection, given to eat and drink by those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But there must not be much hunger and thirst, for the messengers who go forth with such joy are quickly discouraged. They bring the greatest invitation the world has ever known, but they are persecuted, they are even put to death, and they meet with those who would rather follow false gods or no god at all. But what is most frustrating to the messengers is the apathy and excuses that they find among so many, including those who will freely tell you they are Christians.

What they hear are the words of people who have many, many other things to do rather than come to the King’s feast. “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” “I have too much work to do at home to spend time at church.” “My money is my money, and all the church wants to talk about is getting my money.” “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” “I work all week, and it’s just hard for me to get up early on my only morning to sleep in.” “Right now, life is too busy to be involved with the church, and I can be just as spiritual here at home.” “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” “My kids are on all of these sports teams, so I’m busy most Sundays.” “My husband won’t go, so it’s easier to stay home than to take the kids by myself.” Excuses are all they hear, one after another. Now, are work, or family, or property evil, sinful things in a person’s life? Certainly not, and each person has God-given responsibilities in those spheres. But what the messengers of the king find all too often is that these good gifts, these vocational responsibilities, keep people from coming to the feast, they become the basis for refusing the invitation. Those who are invited refuse the cost of coming to the feast; they would rather not give up the things of this life for the gifts of eternity.

The Word of God is a passing rain shower; those who make excuses expect that they can go to the King’s feast whenever it is convenient to them. But the King in His anger sends His messengers elsewhere. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Those who were invited have arrogantly refused to come; they have much better things to do than partake of the feast of salvation, and so the messengers are sent to others. No longer do they invite the healthy, the strong, the rich, those who think much of themselves, but instead the invitation goes to those who are poor, meek, and downtrodden. The invitation goes to those whom good upstanding citizens don’t want to associate with: alcoholics, prostitutes, addicts of every kind. The invitation isn’t for them to remain in the bondage of their sin, but to receive at the feast the freedom of Christ’s victory over sin and death.

But the banquet hall is still not filled, and so the King sends forth His messengers to gather still more. “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” The messengers invite the outcasts to the feast, those outside the city walls, those whom the world has rejected, who are looked down upon by those who make excuses and refuse to come to the feast themselves. The King knows that they will come reluctantly; He tells His messengers to ‘compel’ them. They, like those first invited, are hesitant to come to the feast, but for a much different reason. Those who make excuses refuse to come to the feast because they have other things to do; they arrogantly find many priorities more important than the King’s banquet. The poor and the downtrodden, on the other hand, are reluctant to come because they believe they are unworthy of such a gift; they know who they are, and they know who the king is, and they cannot believe themselves worthy to stand in His presence.

But it is precisely to the humble that the King wishes to show mercy and grace. They come to the feast as beggars, as outcasts, with hands open and empty, having nothing to give to the King but their sin. They come knowing their desperate need for what He gives at the feast of His Son’s Body and Blood. They are unworthy, they know it, and they are hesitant to come to the feast. ‘Will the King really accept me?’ they ask. ‘Doesn’t He know what I’ve done, who I am?’ But the messengers compel them; the feast is only for those who know they are nothing, for the King desires to show grace, love, and mercy to beggars. That is the kind of King that He is; whether you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, healthy or infirm in the eyes of the world, all who come to His feast come in humility, with nothing to give but everything to receive. And it is precisely at the feast that He gives them everything.

This feast was long prepared for sinners, not for the righteous, who have no need of repentance. As the Introit declares, “You save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” This is why the messengers must first proclaim the Law, to teach sinners, to teach you and me, that we are nothing before the King, that we deserve none of His grace and mercy. But He gives it anyway, for that was His plan from the beginning. For sinners He sent His Son to suffer and die; for sinners He raised Him up again. For sinners He gives His Son’s Body and Blood in the Supper, bestowing forgiveness, life, and salvation in a miraculous meal. In humility, repent and understand that your greatest need is not more money, or a bigger house, or a trophy for your child, but rescue from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Give up the arrogance of thinking that anything in this life is more important than dining at the Lord’s Table by His gracious invitation.

For at this humble table, standing here in the midst of our sinful world, you partake of the eternal feast. This is the same banquet that we will celebrate in the new heavens and the new earth; when the King invites you to the earthly feast, He is inviting you to the heavenly one, too. At this table, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Blessed indeed, for what we could not do the King has done in sending His Son, and He has compelled us through the call of the Gospel to partake of the feast, here in time and there in eternity. This is the Feast of victory for our God, our King, and the party will never end. In the Name of Jesus, the Son of the King, who is both host and meal, Amen.