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. 

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