Good & Bad – Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14 for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 22:1-14

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Invite as many as you find to the wedding feastGo therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Jesus tells a parable, you want to watch for something unexpected, something weird because that is usually the important clue to understanding the whole parable. But this parable is almost entirely unexpected.

The parable starts out great. A king is throwing a wedding feast for his son. So far, so good. A nice king, a nice event, good food. Let’s get this party started. The king sends out his servants to call the invited guests to come. So, notice this is the second invitation. The first one came in the mail, and now the king’s servants are out to let everyone know that it’s time to party. But nobody comes. Normally, people would fight and clamor to be at such an event, but not in this parable. The people don’t come. The parable is already getting weird.

The king issues a third invitation. He again sends out his servants to tell the guests, “Come to the wedding feast. The food is ready. The meat is laid out. The table is set. Come to the wedding feast.” But some pay no attention to the servants. One heads off to his farm, another walks off to his business. But it’s about to get more shocking.

The rest of the people seize the king’s servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them. Some way to treat the king. Ignore his letters, brush off his messengers, and then grab his servants, beat them up, treat them shamefully, and murder them. Usually, a murderer has some motive. Rarely, there are random murders – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this goes beyond that – it makes no sense.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Word of the murderous mob gets back to the king, and he is angry. (Ya think?) Yes, he’s angry – righteously so. The king is done sending his servants. Now, he sends in the troops. Justice falls swiftly. His army invades the city, destroys the murderers, and burns everything to the ground.

A day that began with the anticipation of the king for his party has turned into a day of blood, ruin, smoke, and ashes. You would think the king would be sitting in a tower of his castle looking over the smoldering ruins and just give up on his party. But the surprises keep coming because this king’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

The king turns around, almost as though nothing has happened, and says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” (Notice that. Those who were invited were not worthy.) “Go to the main roads and invite to the feast as many as you can find.”

This is the fourth invitation from the king and the third time the king sends out his servants to bring people into the wedding feast. And I bet those servants go out a little timidly, but they don’t dare refuse to go. They find people here and there. And you can almost imagine the first time the servants start to tell random people about the feast they are hesitant. “Excuse me. Yeah, um, hi. The king is throwing a wedding feast. What’s that? Yeah, ignore the smoke. The king would like you to come to his banquet. Um, there’s like a lot of good food. And, um, yeah. You should come.”

And they do. People start to come. In fact, now everyone these servants meet is eager to go to the feast. Good people, respectable people, and average Joes come. And bad people, ugly and smelly people, loosers, and even shady characters come. Everyone this third group of servants meet is invited to the banquet hall, and every seat is taken.

Finally, the king has what he wanted – a party, a hall full of guests celebrating the wedding of his son.

Now, the parable isn’t done, but we have to pause briefly here. The guests who were invited first, the guests who didn’t come and now lie on the ground dead, the king has called ‘unworthy.’ And the guests who finally fill the king’s hall are ‘both good and bad.’ This is an important detail, so don’t miss it.

This parable is about being worthy to be at the feast. But that worthiness has nothing to do with being good or bad. Nothing whatsoever.

The rest of the parable drives this home. The king’s hall is filled. The music is playing. The food is being distributed. The guests are having a good time. And, now, the king comes into the banquet room. He looks over the crowd smiling at the guests who have come to his feast. The Marriage Feast published 1864 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896But there over at table 72 is a man who has no wedding garment. He is there in his smelly, sweat-stained cloths with dusty, dirty feet.

The king makes his way through the crowd, dodges waiters with trays, and bumps the backs of a few chairs. He stands before the man with no wedding garment and says, “Hey pal, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?”

Remember, all these guests had been pulled off the street, so none of them would have had the proper attire to be at such a fancy feast. The wedding garments the king expected everyone to have would have been paid for by the king and given out by his servants at the door.

So, when the king addresses this rascal, “Hey buster, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” the man is speechless. The man had no excuse because he knows that he has been caught refusing and rejecting the king’s gift.

So, the king says to his servants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Fellow sinners, the Jesus who tells this parable is not soft. He isn’t a Precious Moments Jesus. Jesus tells this parable today to shake us up and remind us who He is – He is the Lord, the King of all Creation, the Holy Ruler of all things. And Jesus tells this parable to remind you who you are – unworthy beggars brought in from the street. Yet, He has graciously, lovingly, carefully made you worthy to be at His feast by His grace and His provision.

Bride of Christ Full of EyesYour God is into feasts and parties and merry-making. His feast goes on, and He wants you there. He wants you to celebrate with Him, so He has provided you with everything you need to be at the feast. Don’t reject His invitation. Don’t reject His robe of righteousness.

On the cross, Jesus provided everything for you. He gave everything so you could have it all. His poured out His own blood for you. He gives His perfect righteousness to you. In Christ, you are washed. In Christ, you are clothed. In Christ, you have no spot or wrinkle. In Christ, you are holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27).

So repent. Be dressed in the holiness and perfection of Jesus. Come to the wedding feast. Hear His invitation that your soul may live. And don’t be afraid to invite others to this feast no matter who they are.Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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The Father’s Feast – Sermon for the Third Sunday of Trinity on Luke 15:1-32

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Three parables. A shepherd seeks and finds his lost sheep. A woman seeks and finds her lost coin. And a father seeks and finds his lost son. Yes, the father is the one doing all the work to restore his son – not the other way around.

Jesus teaches these parables in response to the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about the company Jesus was keeping. Christ was eating with tax collectors (read thieving traitors) and sinners (read prostitutes and adulterers).

Now, it is not as though the Pharisees and scribes would say they were sinless and perfect. They would admit their sin, that they weren’t perfect. But in their minds, their sin certainly wasn’t as bad as those shady characters surrounding Jesus.

In fact, these grumblers might have argued that they cared about the tax collectors and sinners more than Jesus because they didn’t want them to continue in their sin. They would have called them to repent and change their ways. Try harder. Live better. Do some good works.

The Pharisees and scribes see Jesus associating and eating with these sinners as though their behavior doesn’t matter at all. Is Jesus soft when it comes to sin? Is Jesus liberal when it comes to lifestyles? Is He tolerant and affirming of their evil? Does Jesus’ mercy mean that sin doesn’t matter to Him?

Tuck that question in the back of your mind because we will find the answer when we compare the parables. The three parables all have the same outline and progression. Something is lost; that thing is found and restored; and there is a party. But Jesus tells all three. He could have just told the parable of the shepherd seeking and finding his lost sheep, but He didn’t. Each parable helps us to see what is happening in the others.

First, we have to see who the hero is in each of the parables, and it is the one who finds, restores, and invites to the feast. As the shepherd finds and restores the sheep and as the woman finds and restores the coin, we have to remember the father finds and restores the lost son.

The son is not the hero. The son’s pig-pen plan is not to become a son again. As he is sitting in the slop, he realizes that his life would be better as a servant of his father. But the father is like the shepherd who does the work of searching out and carrying home the lost sheep. He sees his son from a distance, runs to him, and brings him home. The father is like the woman sweeping her house. He picks up his son from the dust of his slavish plan. The father cleans the piggy poo from his boy and brings him back into his home.

 

You see, the heroes in each story all do the same thing. They seek, find, and save the lost. Then, the hero throws a feast. So back to our question: By eating with these sinners, is Jesus implying that the sin doesn’t matter?

Well, again, look at the parables. Consider each thing that gets lost. Sheep get lost, and shepherds don’t blame the sheep. And the only time a coin gets lost is when its owner messes up. So, if Jesus had only told the first two parables, we might think that sin doesn’t matter. In fact, if we only consider the second parable the lostness is God’s fault.

But then, comes the third parable, and we see what causes that separation. The son who wishes his father was dead. The son who wastes his father’s living. The son who brings embarrassment and shame to his entire family. The son who squanders his father’s good gifts until there is nothing left. The son is to blame for his lostness.

The scribes and Pharisees were tough on sin, but Jesus is even more so. Jesus knows who He is eating with. He knows what these sinners have done. And He knows what you have done.

Jesus knows what you have taken. Jesus knows what your eyes have seen when they should have turned away. Jesus isn’t blind to your sin. He knows it all. He knows that you have acted like the lost son wishing that He were dead and out of your life.

And, yet, He still sees you as His lost sheep. He cherishes you and searches for you. He loves you regardless of yourself. He spares no cost in restoring you and rejoicing over you. This is how your heavenly Father is toward you, sinner.

Today, on Fathers’ Day it is good for us to remember that God is the source of all fatherhood. Too often, we flip the script. When the Bible talks about God being our Father, we think that our earthly fathers are where we can get an idea about who God is. It’s the other way around.

Fathers, learn your vocation from your Heavenly Father. Be the loving, seeking, restoring, patient, kind, merciful father to your family in the same way that God has been toward you. And remember that God and all the hosts of heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents and is restored.

You see, God cares about all the lost. He cares about the one out of one hundred. He cares about the one out of ten. He cares about the one out of two. And He still cares about the one who will not come and feast with Him. Your heavenly Father cares about all. He cares about you.

Because Jesus has died and lives again, He invites you to His feast. So, come. Come and celebrate your Father’s mercy toward you and toward all. Rejoice with God in what He is doing and what He has done. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

Excuses – Sermon for the Second Sunday of Trinity on Luke 14:15-24

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Luke 14:15-23

15When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

16But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Once, there was a young child whose parents loved him very much. They taught him the Scriptures, and the child was gradually learning to repeat the passages his parents read to him. The child grew, and it was time to train him to use the toilet. His parents would sit him on the potty chair and give him privacy to do his business. This child, schooled in the Scriptures, had a signal to his parents when he needed help cleaning himself after going number 2. He would recite from our text, “Come, for everything is now ready.” Thankfully, his parents were not like those who offered excuses in the parable. They were loving and went and cared for his needs.

The men who make excuses to escape going to the king’s banquet are treating the invitation like it is a call to help wipe a toddler’s derriere. They simply aren’t interested in going to the banquet because they thought they had something better to do, and they don’t care about the repercussions if they are absent. They are comfortable insulting the king, his invitation, and his feast because they have treasures on earth. They don’t realize that, unlike the feast, the invitation is not eternal.

The point of the parable is easy to see. Not everyone goes to heaven. Those who do not think they need God’s grace will find that, outside of His grace, there is only eternal loneliness and torment. As our hymn just said:

But they who have … resisted His grace
And on their own virtue depended,
Shall then be condemned and cast out from His face,
Eternally lost and unfriended.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus![1]

At the time of death or when Jesus returns, the invitation is withdrawn. Those who reject the invitation will get what they want. They won’t have to offer any more excuses to the king and his messengers. Those who continually reject God’s invitation will one day be free of God, but they will be eternal prisoners of themselves.

Invite as many as you find to the wedding feastSo, this parable should give us an urgency. There is still room for more at the feast. We should be those who go out and call more of the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. We should go out to the highways and hedges and compel more to come in. And we wouldn’t even have to go far from this very place. How many Muslim refugees do we have living less than one block away? They play in our yard and use our trees for shade. Jesus wants them to come to His feast as much as He wants you.

But this parable should hit each and every one of us harder because of the context. And when this parable hits us harder, we will become more eager to extend the invitation of Christ the King.

Here is why this parable should crush us – it isn’t just that it exposes our sinful hesitation to share the Gospel with others. Jesus tells this parable in response to a statement, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” In its context, that is a heretical benediction.

Now, don’t get me wrong. At face value, it is true. Everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God is blessed. But the person who says this is, at that very moment, eating with Jesus. In that context, this statement would be like a newlywed husband getting to the hotel on his wedding night and saying to his bride, “Today was nice, but I’m really looking forward to my retirement party.” The man who says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God,” doesn’t realize that he is, in truth, living in that present blessing. The blessed existence he that would come sometime in the future was going on right around him.

Wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mk. 1:14-15). And just a couple of chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said that because He was casting out demons by the finger of God that God’s kingdom had come (Lk. 11:20).

You see, the person sitting there with Jesus at the table was sitting with the present King and eating with God incarnate. So, this parable speaks to us today about being at church. When God’s people gather together to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts, there is the kingdom of God. So, if you are looking forward to going to heaven and being with Jesus, you should also look forward to coming to church because it is a foretaste of eternity with Jesus.

Each of the men who offer excuses in the parable aren’t saying that they never want to go to the party; they just want to go when it is more convenient for them. And their excuses show that they view the things of the world as more important than eternal things.

The pleasures and cares of this world are dangerous to faith when we appreciate and love them more than the blessing of gathering with our Lord and Savior and brothers and sisters in Christ here every Sunday morning.

Wedding Feast of the LambWeekends at the lake, sport tournaments, and even time with family are all blessings from God. But when those things keep us from gathering around God’s Word in the place where God says He meets with us, they are deadly. They are idols. When you are not in church for whatever reason on any given Sunday, you are missing the blessing of being and feasting with God.

The king is angry with those who offer excuses. And notice – this is the most amazing thing that is hard to wrap our minds around – the king is angry because all he wants is for them to be there with him. The king is angry because he wants these people to have the good and joyous things he has for them. God is much more desirous of giving to and helping us than we are of receiving or asking for those things (Luther).

Repent. Repent of your excuses. Jesus has died and shed His blood so that the sinful excuses you would offer are washed away. They are removed as far from you as the east is from the west. And know that God’s invitation stands. “Come. Come to my feast. Come and receive what you could never earn or deserve. Come, you who are worthy. Come, you who are unworthy. Come, for all the blessings of heaven are here for you for free. Come, for everything is now ready.”Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

[1]“There Many Shall Come” Ambassador Hymnal #627. Magnus Brostrup Landstad.