Sunday, June 23, 2013

Love and Forgiveness for Enemies

Fourth Sunday after Trinity, June 23rd, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Love and Forgiveness for Enemies – Romans 12:14-21, Luke 6:36-42

     I really wanted the enemy to lose...      Our recent vacation/pick-up-Madeline-at-college trip was great fun, biking over hill and through forest during the days, and, every other night, watching the NBA finals in our motel rooms.  If you’re not a basketball fan, just know that the enemy, the bad guys, the Miami Heat, narrowly defeated the good guys, the San Antonio Spurs, four games to three, a hard fought, seven game war.  The two teams battled fiercely, a physical, intense series. 

     I really wanted San Antonio to defeat the enemy.  I was quite crestfallen when it became clear in the last few seconds that Miami would not be denied.  I felt bitterly defeated, along with Tim Duncan and the rest of the Spurs players, after coming so close, nearly winning the series on Tuesday in Game 6, but then falling short in the end on Thursday, defeated, vanquished by the persecutors in red and black. 

     But then, as soon as the final buzzer sounded, everything changed.  Tim Duncan and Lebron James, enemies moments earlier, fighting each other with all their might and guile, were hugging and exchanging congratulations.  Gregg Popovich, the Spurs gnarly gnome of a coach, laughed and smiled as he shook hands and hugged with Eric Spoelstra, the wunderkind coach of the Heat who looks like he’s 23.  All the players from both teams were exchanging pleasantries, and saying nice things about each other to TV interviewers.  Where was the anger, the animosity, the fierce battle cries that had punctuated the last two weeks?  What kind of enemies are they?   

     They aren’t really enemies.  By and large, the players on the Spurs and Heat are friends, competitors, yes, but also fellow professionals, who might find themselves teammates in a future season.  They are not real enemies, because they are playing a game.  So they could easily smile and congratulate after the game, because despite how much they each wanted to win, they realize they are grown men blessed to make their living playing a game. 

     Life is not a game.  And getting along with your enemies in real life isn’t so easy, is it?  Some days go fine, but not all of them. And when life is a struggle, with everyone against you, when you feel someone, or a group of someones, is persecuting you unjustly, turning around and making nice with them feels awful.  At least it does to me.    

     And yet, today we are called to do much more than just make nice after losing a game.  Today we are called to bless, to do good, to turn the other cheek to the wicked people who are slapping us in the face, who are talking about us, running our name into the dirt, behind our back, or maybe right to our faces.  Today we are called to forgive, and do good to those who persecute us, called to rise above anger and hatred, and love our enemies.  And we are called to do so by no less an authority than the Apostle Paul:
     Repay no one evil for evil, Paul instructs, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

     That last bit from Paul is over the top, don’t you think?  After removing revenge and fighting back against your enemy from your list of options as a Christian, Paul goes on to tell you to instead do good to him, to help your enemy in his needs, in order to heap burning coals on his head.  That is, your acts of kindness will be an offense to him, done, as they are, in righteousness and innocence and love.  Oh great.  Thanks Paul.  First you say I can’t fight back, then you tell me to get myself killed.  Because if my enemy doesn’t kill me with his first attack, his anger at my good deeds done in return, his anger at my heaping burning coals on his head, will certainly make it all the more likely he will come after me harder the next time.  Overcoming evil with good seems to like a good way to get punched in the nose, or worse.  
     Paul’s way of Christian living is tough, but Jesus, the Master, speaks an even more difficult Word.  For Jesus reminds us how often the enemies who really trouble us are the ones we create, when we mistreat our brothers and sisters.  When homicide detectives start investigating a murder, the first suspects they consider are always the family members, because statistically, family members commit most murders.  So also with lesser offenses – the saddest part of human existence is that our daily enemies are usually the people we should be closest to.  All too often we make ourselves enemies, by trying to fix each other.  We really do love each other, and want the best for our loved ones.  And yet, how often do we hurt the ones we love most of all, by trying to fix them?  And so Jesus says, Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite. 

     My real battles, most days anyway, come not from far away, from some strange country or dangerous neighborhood.  No, they come from hurt people who have lashed out because I took it upon myself to help them fix some deficiency I see in their life.  “Spend our money more carefully, honey.”  “Brother, if you’d just eat better and get some exercise, you’d be a lot healthier and happier.”  “Why don’t you get serious about your life, son?”  “Here, friend, let me show you how to do it right.”  Pretty soon I can’t understand why everyone close to me has daggers in their eyes, and pain in their expression whenever I come in the room. 

     Jesus suggests a solution to this problem of making enemies out of brothers.  “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”  In other words, would-be physician, heal thyself; then you can feel free to fix your brother.  Only one problem with that, though.  If I take the time to really examine myself, if I truly try to get the log of sin and failure out of my own eye, I’ll never get around to fixing my brother, because I can’t fix myself.  I can no more truly correct my own sins than I can will myself to be an NBA basketball player.  I can get better at basketball, but I can’t make myself good enough to play for the Spurs.  I’m simply don’t have it in me.  Even more, I can sin less, outwardly at least, but I can’t stop being a sinner.               

     Which begins to bring us to the heart of the matter, for both Paul and Jesus.  There are real enemies out there, terrorists and criminals and people bent on destruction.  And God has instituted numerous offices, numerous vocations whose calling it is to restrain their violence, like our elected leaders, our police, our military.  And you, as a brother, a neighbor, a father, a mother, may also find yourself, from time to time, called to fight evil, in order to protect your loved ones.  These difficult teachings about doing good to our enemies do not mean that we must resign ourselves to living in chaos and watching our loved ones suffer.  Just remember that defending someone from evil and avenging ourselves are two very different things.  And as Christians, vengeance is not ours to enact, because God reserves vengeance to Himself, since the Avenger must be innocent. 

     Which brings us to the heart of the matter for you personally, the heart of the matter that God needs to help you realize again today, which is that you have no right to protest your innocence.  You have no leg to stand on for pointing out your righteousness, or someone else’s wickedness.  For the log in your eye is your sinful nature, and the myriad sins you commit.  From these you can never free yourself.  Even worse, your sinful nature and your sins make you the enemy of God. 

     All of our readings today are about Christian living, about how you and I as baptized believers in Christ are to conduct ourselves in our daily lives.  This is the bit new members and confirmands promise – to live a godly life in accordance with God’s Word.  Every communicant member here has made this same promise.  But the great irony, the great paradox of Christian living is this:  the beginning of living a godly life is confessing that you cannot do it.  You must do it, for God requires it.  Those who refuse to forgive, those who refuse to  love their enemies and show mercy to the merciless are subject to God’s condemnation.  Jesus has a word for those who do not clean up their own mess before advising another on how to clean up theirs.  He calls them hypocrites, false judges, deserving to be cast out of God’s presence.  And so, as soon we begin trying to live the Christian life, we end up terrified that we do not truly belong to Christ, for we fail at living as we should.  Wretched sinners we are, finding our best efforts at loving our enemies, or even just our friends, to be full of hidden motives and self-serving purposes.  How can we be saved? 

     Associate with the lowly, says Paul.  Before the Apostle launches into describing how Christians are to do good to their enemies, he reminds us to not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. And never be conceited.  This sounds a bit like another famous passage from Paul, where he says:  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.   And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 

     What does it mean to be lowly?  It is to acknowledge your sinfulness,  your complete unworthiness, before God.  And this, Jesus did for you.  For the lowly one, the most humble person ever, is Christ Jesus.  Indeed Jesus, the most righteous one, the most worthy, the eternal glory of the Father, the only begotten Son of God, made Himself lowly, made Himself to be sin, taking on the role of the unworthy sinner, fulfilling it completely, to the end, to death on a cross, under His Father’s wrath.  Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, so be of good cheer, because the sins of the world are completely avenged, in the suffering and death of Christ, for you.  You are the enemy loved perfectly by your merciful Father.  You are the brother with the log in your eye, which Jesus gently removes by the wood of His Cross.  You are forgiven, of all your sins, in the blood of Jesus.  Good has overcome evil, once and for all, in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

    So, know Christ first, Christian, and then you will live.  Associate with the Lowly One by hearing, and fearing, and rejoicing in the Word of His love, the Word of His Cross, where all your guilt has been washed away.  Know Christ first, Christian.  Marvel at His love for His enemies, including you, and you will find yourself changed, as the Spirit begins to make you live like a Christian.  For our ability to love our enemies is strictly tied to knowing how God has loved us.  We, by nature and action were sinful enemies of everything good, but God has reconciled us to Himself by the Cross of Jesus.  Our ability to truly forgive and seek the good of another, be it brother or enemy, rests in the forgiveness that Jesus has won for all sinners.  Our willingness to risk persecution by doing good to those who hate us can only flow from faith that knows the God who faced persecution, in order to set us free from sin, making us worthy to live with Him forever.   This worthiness, this gift of forgiveness and new life, this is the peace of God, which passes all understanding, and will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, for Christian living, forever, and today, Amen. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jesus Receives Sinners and Eats with Them

Third Sunday after Trinity, June 16th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Jesus Receives Sinners and Eats With Them - Luke 15:1-10
Vicar Jason Toombs

Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.

This sentence is meant as an insult.  This sentence should be shocking but it doesn’t shock in the way the Pharisees and the scribes meant.  We are used to hearing this, it goes in one ear and out the other.  Every week you hear that Jesus loves sinners.  Let’s put these “sinners” into real perspective: Jesus receives drug dealers. Jesus receives terrorists. Jesus receives sex traffickers.  Imagine seeing our Lord sitting down to eat a meal with the Boston terrorists.  This should be shocking to us.  The truth lies with why He is willing to receive sinners and eat with them; He is wanting them to repent.

He wants you to repent too.  Repent of your sin.  Repent of your failings.  Repent of thinking your works will get you into heaven.  Repent of thinking your upstanding moral life will get you there either.  Jesus receives real sinners.  Jesus receives sinners like you and me.  Jesus didn’t come to die for the morally upright, the moderately decent, the people who meant well but made a few mistakes.  Jesus died for sinners who are the lowest of the low.  He died for all people.  For the Jews, the Muslims, the Mormons.  Jesus died for the Catholics, the Baptists, and other Christians.  Jesus died for the pagans, the Agnostics, and the Atheists.  ...  Jesus died for you.

Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all sins.  His death covers the sins of the the worst, the ugliest and cruelest members of our race.  Jesus receives and eats with sinners without discrimination.  It is shocking to hear this.  Admit it, we all like to believe that people who have wronged us personally will be tormented in hell for all eternity.  We like to think that people who have murdered someone we care about, people who have stolen from us, people who have lied about us will be in hell.  We don’t like to hear that Jesus receives sinners like them.  But that’s exactly what happens.  Jesus receives sinners like them.  ...  Jesus receives sinners like you.

There is nothing in you that deserves this.  It is solely on Jesus that this rests.  You can take no credit for your salvation.  There is no trying to earn your salvation before God, you will either be with Him in heaven solely on His work or suffering in hell for all of your sin covered works.  It is the same for all people, Jesus alone is the way of salvation.  Not Jesus plus works, not Jesus plus another prophet, not Jesus as moral example for us to follow.  Jesus as your crucified and risen Savior is the only way to heaven.

You were like the sheep in Jesus’ parable.  You were lost, you left behind perfection and were born in sin.  And by your own power you would stay there, like a pig in mud, wallowing in it.  But you are not a pig, you are a little lamb.  You are a lost sheep, who your Good Shepherd went after to find.  And when He found you, He lays you on His shoulder.  He rejoices that He found you.  He calls together all of the angels in heaven who rejoice with Him because you are no longer straying but are resting in Him.

You have repented of your past thoughts, words, and deeds.  You have confessed your sins before God the Father in heaven.  You have repented and received His forgiveness.  You have been washed clean of your sins in baptism.  You have received a new garment, the garment of heaven, the invisible garment Christ has handed over to you in baptism. 

The waters of baptism are not a one time washing away of sin only.  Yes, your baptism happened on a particular day, at the hands of somebody, but pastors are merely God’s agent.  God is the one who is behind all of this, God is the one who is the actor.  You, the baptized, are the one who joyfully receives this gift of God.  These waters are now your home as a Christian.  Return to these waters daily through contrition and repentance, where you have sorrow for your sins and repent of them, and be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.  Only once you are dead can you be raised anew, daily emerging and arising to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

There is joy in this cycle of dying and rising with Christ.  Daily dying to your sinful self and arising new, refreshed, clean in Christ.  It is this new person who can look at others for whom Christ died and help them.  They too need to repent of thinking more highly of themselves, repent and believe.

Would that all people repent and believe.  But that is not the case.  We all have family and friends who have left the church, who have went back on their confirmation vows, who have turned their back to Christ.  These people also need to hear the message of the Gospel.  When we visit with our friends who have left the church, we can call them sinners and “beat them up with the Bible.”  We can point out all their sins and demand that they repent, right there, on the spot.  Make sure they “give their heart to Jesus.”  Is that how you would want your friends to treat you?

Maybe we can be more loving in our proclamation, maybe we can say to our friends, “Jesus loves you, you can continue living in your sin.”  Hmm, something smells a little strange with that phrase: “You can continue living in your sin.”  It proclaims a message of “It’s okay, Jesus forgives you, just believe in Him.  It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you love Him that counts.”  Is this what the Christian message is about?

These false Jesuses are waiting around for the rug to be pulled out from under them.  The real Jesus came to receive sinners and eat with them.  The real Jesus calls people to repent and follow Him.  He alone can give them what they truly need, peace.  His peace, perfect peace.  Not worldly peace, not familial peace, not financial peace.  Eternal peace.  Peace with God.

And this peace is what He gives to you.  His peace is shared in the gathering of His people.  He is your God, you are His people gathered together to hear what He has done for you.  You are here to hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  If you don’t want to hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection, why are you here?  It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus for you.  It’s not your works, it’s Jesus’ death in your place.  It’s not about your life, it’s about Jesus resurrection from the dead for you.  But it is about you, you dying with Jesus and being raised to live a new life in Him.  It’s about being received by Jesus, received into His presence and eating with Him.

He richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support this body and life.  He gives to you the daily bread you need which includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.  May God lead you to realize this and receive His good gifts with thanksgiving, returning thanks to Him. 

He feeds you through the bread which is His Word.  Receive this nourishment for your soul.  Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word given to you.  Meditate upon the Good Shepherd dying to protect His sheep.  Meditate on your Good Shepherd seeking and finding you, bringing you back to Himself.  Receive His Word with joy as it is powerful and active, bringing people to faith in Him.

He also feeds those who have been taught His truths.  You who receive our Lord’s body and blood are not better Christians, you are not better than other people.  You are simply blessed to know your Savior.  You have confessed your faith in Him, the same faith as those with whom you eat.  This meal is His body given for you.  This meal is His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  His body given into death on the cross; His blood shed for the washing away of your sin.  This is the meal where Jesus eats with sinners who have repented and believe in Him.

He who once came down from heaven to seek His lost sheep and bring them back to the fold is still active today.  He is still seeking His lost sheep.  He is wanting them to repent of their sin and follow Him.  Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Jesus receives you and eats with you.  Jesus feeds your soul to life everlasting.  Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Consider the Master of the Banquet

Second Sunday after Trinity, June 9th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Consider the Master of the Banquet – Luke 14:15-24, Ephesians 2:13-22, Proverbs 9:1-10

     Does it seem strange to you, considering the readings appointed for this Sunday, that we are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper this morning? 

     From Proverbs 9 we heard Wisdom preparing her banquet, calling the simple to life, by calling them to come and eat her bread, and drink her mixed wine.  And remember that in Proverbs 8 we hear Wisdom described in ways that can only make us associate her with the Son of God, for Wisdom is from everlasting, and she is the master workman, working hand in hand with God as He laid out the Creation.  Even more, Wisdom teaches us that “he who finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the LORD… and All those who hate me love death."  If you hear an echo of John’s Gospel, in particular the way he describes the Word of God made flesh, who was with God in the beginning, and who is God, and through whom all things were made, and in whom is light and life, then your ears are wise, for the Church has always seen a close connection between Wisdom, personified in Proverbs 8 and 9, and Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God.  And so, as we hear of Wisdom setting her table with bread and wine which give life, certainly we quite rightly think of Holy Communion. 

     If that weren’t enough to get you questioning why we don’t have the Supper today, the Epistle continues the theme.  Paul speaks of Gentile and Jew being made one, by the blood of Christ, former enemies reconciled in one Body, through the Cross, made members of the household of God.  The Lord’s Supper is a meal for members, that is, Baptized believers who share a common confession of the one true Faith.  The meal we receive at this altar both brings us into the closest communion with God, and binds us also to each other, in a communion, a fellowship, created by Christ.  Holy Communion is a meal for members of the household of God, that is, those who confess the foundational  teaching of the Prophets and Apostles, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.  To such members of His Body, the Holy Spirit comes to make them, to make us, a dwelling place for God.  In His grace, God dwells, right here in our midst, Immanuel, God with us, even entering into us by His Body and Blood. 

      Finally, we have Luke telling us of Jesus, teaching at a meal, speaking of the Kingdom of God, in terms of a great banquet, which the Master has determined will have every seat filled, and every guest satisfied. 

     Yes, there are Eucharistic references all over our readings today, and it occurs to me that I could use this sermon to talk about, nay, extol and encourage, every Sunday Communion, or at least a more frequent celebration of Communion in our midst.  I could bring to bear many arguments in favor of increasing the frequency of our celebrations, such as that this is the historic practice of the Church across the ages.  Indeed, in our Lutheran Confessions, specifically in the Augsburg Confession, our Lutheran forebears stated that they celebrated the Supper every Lord’s Day, and feast days, and whenever the people demanded it.  Jesus doesn’t give a specific frequency requirement in His institution of the Supper, but certainly, “do this, as often as you drink it” sounds like we should do it often. 

     Moving from historical reasons to ‘loving your neighbor’ reasons, I could note that, with our increasingly random work schedules, and for our many members who struggle with chronic illnesses, our 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday schedule for the Supper is problematic.  Members can miss the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ for a long time, if their Sundays off, or the Sundays they feel well enough to come to Church, happen to hit only non-communion Sundays. 

     How would you feel, if, when truly needing the reassurance of the Supper, after struggling with schedules or sickness or travel, finally, you were able to come to Church on Sunday, only to find out that there would be no Supper that day?  Better luck next time,  Come back next week, if you can.  It happens, right here, to your brothers and sisters in Christ, maybe also to you, maybe today. 

     I could talk about having more Gospel.  The Supper is the Gospel we eat, and I could talk about how more Gospel is always a good thing, and that God will not allow His Supper to become routine if only we stick closely to His Word and let it have its way with us.  I could talk about how, if you’d miss the other services, Matins, or today’s service, Prayer and Preaching, we could still do those services, at other times, or how we could bring beloved elements of those services into the Divine Service, the Communion Service. 

     I could make the argument for increasing our communion frequency, but I won’t.  It is, I strongly believe, the right direction for us to head, but a Sunday Sermon is not the place for this conversation, I don’t think, especially since a sermon is an awfully one sided conversation.  Better to take it up with the Elder Board and the Altar Guild.  We’ll study a bit, and give you a chance to speak, to ask your questions and give your input, and we’ll see where God leads this Body concerning this question.  So, I won’t make the case in this sermon. 

     But then, what should I preach about?  I could, quite easily, talk about the foolishness and dangers of refusing to come to God’s banquet.  In His dinner time teaching, our Lord Jesus is quite pointedly giving a warning to the Jews, who were not very much interested in coming to receive the Gospel that the Lord was giving.  Many of the Jews were quite self-satisfied, it seems, since they were part of God’s specially chosen people, already blessed, in their minds, to be eating bread in the Kingdom of God.  They were quite proud of their unique status and didn’t mind lording it over their non-Jewish neighbors, the Gentiles, as they called them.  But the Jews had developed the mistaken idea that God had chosen them because they were so special, so good.  The truth is, God chose Abraham and his descendents because God is gracious and merciful and simply chose to pour out His favor, undeservedly, on the very normal, very unimpressive, very sinful children of Abraham.  Nothing about them, but rather only God’s gracious choice made them special. 

     The Jews enjoyed their special status before the Lord, but they didn’t much want to listen to what the Lord actually had to say, or to do what the Lord directed.  They didn’t even really like to receive the gifts God gave them.  The miraculous Manna, given day after day in the wilderness, they soon despised as loathsome food.  The people of God grew bored with Temple worship, in which the Lord directed simple sacrifices through which He promised to maintain their status in grace.  They started avoiding and neglecting God’s gifts in worship. 
     Then there’s the foreshadowing in the Temple worship, described throughout the Hebrew Scripture, the reality that the sacrifices of animals pointed to a future, final, all-fulfilling sacrifice by which God would overcome once and for all the utter sinfulness of His people, and all people.  This Good News the Jews didn’t like to hear.  Why should they need a sacrificial Savior when they were already God’s chosen people? 

     So when the Fulfillment of all that  Old Testament foreshadowing arrived, when the Son of God became the Son of Mary, come to save His people from their sins, well, the Jews responded lukewarmly, at best.  They enjoyed Jesus’ miracles, but not His confrontation of their sin, not His condemnation of  of works righteousness, that is their false teaching that they must and could earn their way into heaven.  The stern warnings Jesus gave about works righteousness the Jews didn’t want to hear, because they liked to think they had already pretty much earned God’s eternal favor, and certainly didn’t need a self-sacrificing Savior.   

     I could talk about how the self-satisfied Jews considered their membership in God’s Kingdom an earned right, as their personal property, rather than an underserved gift from God for which they rightfully should praise Him, day after day.  I could talk about how their earthly lives and pleasures were more important than coming to the Master’s banquet, but what application would that have for us today? 

     I suppose maybe, maybe I could also talk about how we Christians today are a lot more like those Jews than we care to admit, how the Baptized members of God’s Church sometimes treat their relationship to God as a work they have completed, an access card they have earned, in Baptism, or maybe Confirmation, an access card they can pull out of their wallet and use when they need to, or feel like it, maybe around the big holidays, or when they have some problems in their life and would like some prayers.  I could talk about how refusing the Master’s invitation to the banquet applies to us when we stay away from the services of God’s Household because we have more important or more entertaining things to do. 

     There is nothing more important in this earthly life than the continued sustaining of your righteous status before God, by grace through faith, unearned, a free gift.  There is nothing more important than you and your loved ones having a good relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And God is the only one who can do this sustaining, a work of grace He does through His Word, most especially through His Word proclaimed in the midst of His congregations. 

     I could lay all that out there, kind of like I did in the June-July newsletter.  But since I just did that in the Newsletter, I won’t do it again here. 

     Instead, I believe the most important thing I can talk about here this morning is not what we should be doing, or what we aren’t doing, no, considering that will always end up being depressing.  Rather, we should consider most of all the God who prepares such a banquet, for guests such as you and me. 

      Consider the God who, since He can’t find any worthy guests for the great banquet He is preparing, chooses to go seek and find and bring in the lowest of the low, the poor, the crippled, the obviously weak and sinful, fallen creatures lying in the gutters of life.  Consider the God who went to find guests among the lowest of the low, and then to make them worthy of His Banquet, takes their lowliness upon Himself.  Consider the God who became unworthy, indeed, the sinless Son of God who became sin for us, so that He could destroy sin and raise us sinful, lowly creatures to glory, by dying on a Cross. 

     Consider the God who makes Himself the Servant, coming down from glory to suffer and die and rise again, so that the weak and lowly can be washed and dressed and made ready for the best meal, ever, and forever.  Consider the God who just won’t take no for an answer, who sends His servants out to the highways and hedges, beating the bushes to find one more guest, to find you, and make you believe there is no other place you’d rather be than at the Master’s table, eating and drinking forgiveness, life and salvation. 

     Consider the God who has gathered you here this morning.  Despite all the sins you have committed, despite your guilt, despite your failure to be faithful, despite all the bad and even shameful things that are so obvious in your life, and in mine, God has still arranged for your ears to hear His mercy today, right now.  Jesus Christ, the suffering Servant, the Wisdom from on high come down to save us, Jesus Christ, the flesh and blood man who is also Almighty God, He is the host at our table, He is the Author of the Good News of forgiveness and new life for all who trust in Him, He is the One who speaks to you today, right now, and whenever His Word of Forgiveness strikes your ears. 

     Consider more closely the gifts Jesus has prepared for you at His Table, in His own Body and Blood, in the forgiveness and new life He has won for you.  Consider Jesus, and by His Spirit’s prompting, you will seek, maybe even demand His Supper, just as often as you should.  Consider Jesus closely and daily, and you will rejoice to gather and receive Him again and again, with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  But most of all, just consider Jesus, and know that in Him, by His Body given into death, in His Blood, shed to forgive, in His Resurrection victory over sin death and the devil, in Christ, you have a seat at God’s Banquet, now, today, and forever and ever, Amen.