Today we hear in Luke’s gospel of a king throwing a great banquet. It is one of the most common images in scripture for the church. It’s so common, that the parallel passage from Matthew – in which the king is throwing a wedding banquet for his son, but no one wants to come – is the reading for Trinity 20. We hear about the king throwing a banquet twice a year. The Matthew reading, being closer to the end of the church year, has a much stronger theme of judgment. Today’s reading is one of invitation. A Joyous occasion. A time for celebration.
We live in quite a different culture from Jesus day. Customs have changed dramatically from then until now. But the idea of a feast – with the attendant rejoicing and celebrating – is one we still understand today. We know what it is to throw a party. We know what it is to invite people. We know about the preparations. We know about the disappointment when people send regrets, but then also the great joy of the day itself when friends gather to join in our celebrating. In the parable the king has a banquet, and he invites many people. These would almost certainly have been other wealthy and powerful people in the kingdom. Perhaps visiting royalty from nearby kingdoms as well.
But the response is not what you would expect. They all make excuses – and the excuses are all terrible. I bought a field. If I don’t check it today, who know what could happen to the piece of ground that’s been there since the creation. Oxen – haven’t taken delivery yet. But I want to inspect them. Can’t wait until tomorrow. Wife – married. We all know that married people never attend parties together. What can I do but decline? The truth is that the people do not want to come to the banquet. They don’t even do the king the courtesy of coming up with decent excuses. They despise the king and his invitation to a feast.
They will not hear the gracious invitation. How often have we invited someone to church, only to have them decline on the thinnest of reasons. People don’t want to come to the great banquet, and those who will not hear, will not hear. They reject the invitation outright. And there is really nothing we can do to force them.
The Old Testament reading talks about this. It is a beautiful description of wisdom – throwing a great feast. But then, we hear this:
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you, reprove a wise man, and he will love you…
Then this at the end:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Correct a scoffer and you get abuse. In other words – people who refuse to listen, will not listen. Jesus encounters this over and over again. He says something to the people, and they get upset and try to kill him. On one occasion they try and throw him off a cliff. Another time, they pick up stones to stone him. And of course, the plot with Judas that leads to his arrest and ends in his crucifixion. The people will not hear. They know he heals, they know he raises from the dead. John tells us they even tried to kill Lazarus, because people saw that he was raised from the dead and believed in Jesus. Those who refuse to believe, who harden their hearts against God and His Word, will not believe. They refuse to hear the word of God. They refuse even when they know it is the Word and work of God.
You can’t argue someone into the faith. Only the Holy Spirit can create faith in the heart. It is not our work. It’s his. Does this mean we should not even try – don’t invite people to church. Don’t tell them the good news about Jesus? Of course not. In the parable, the servants of the great king invite the people. And when that fails, they invite others. And so on. First the friends of the king. When that fails, then the poor and the weak. Then the homeless the wanderers. The servants invite and invite and invite. They do not rest until the banquet hall is filled.
God lets us be a part of his church, and a part of his saving work. It doesn’t have to be that way. He could have made it, as some claim, so that God just zaps people apart from His holy word – choosing some for salvation, and others to be condemned. No church needed, just the random choice of God and nothing for us to do but hope that when the judgment comes we’ll find out we were in the going-up group all along. Yes, god elects some to salvation. But he brings that salvation through the Word of God preached and spoken and lived out by his holy church.
We get to tell others about Jesus. We get to share the word with them, and then when and where the Spirit wills, He creates faith. We get to be a part of that by bringing the good news of salvation to others. Informally in conversation one on one – work that any Christian can do. And formally in the church where the word is preached and taught publicly by those called to that task.
The response of the sinful heart is the same – to reject the word of God outright. But as Saint Augustine said – and our confessions quote approvingly – “In conversion, God makes willing persons out of unwilling and dwells in the willing.” This is a great mystery. We can’t do the work ourselves. We can only give thanks that God has chosen us to be his own, and has brought us to faith in the promise of salvation for Jesus sake.
That’s why Saint Paul says that, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone, the whole structure – with the apostles and prophets as a foundation – is being joined together in a holy temple, and you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. That is the Spirit’s work trough Christ’s Holy Church – to bring you to faith through the word preached, through the new birth of water and spirit in the font. To work in your heart so that you accept the promise, so you grab tightly to it and grow in the grace and mercy of God daily, growing in faith toward God, and doing works of love for your neighbor.
That’s how we live our lives in the Spirit.
That’s why we prayed today that He would “work in us perpetual fear and love of His holy name”. Because that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And that fear moves into love when we hear and receive the promise and so have salvation worked in our hearts by the Spirit.
And now we are not idle, but rather God gives his law to us – which used to terrify us and bring only accusation and death – now we have the commandments so that we can live according to the word of God. We have it as a guide in our lives, a precious gift to show us what good works God would have us do in the freedom of sins forgiven and new life in Christ. And those works are to love God and serve our neighbor. It isn’t how big a cathedral we can build. It isn’t how grand our home can be. It’s raising children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. It’s being faithful and forgiving in our family life, it’s being a hard worker at our job. The basic humble daily tasks God gives us – those are the true good works in Christ, according to his Law. They are so simple that, in faith, even a child can do what God calls him to do. The world doesn’t think they are great works. They are simple and humble things. But they are the works of God, that he works in us according to his mercy when faith grows and produces fruit.
And the prayer today is that this fear and love of God would be perpetual because there is so much to distract us. As we heard in the Gospel reading – a new wife! A new cow! Fields! So much to do. So little time to do it. Church is too much to ask of Christians. Except of course it is where our Lord Jesus promises to be. And if we would follow him, we need to follow him where he is. The king throws the banquet. He doesn’t just pitch bread, wine, meat, and cheese into the forest or into a meadow, or into lakes. No. He prepares the banquet hall, he invites us to the great feast. And we also have the promise that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is in the midst of us. The fullness of the church, gathered around this altar, font, and pulpit to receive the gifts of God. There is no greater or better church somewhere else where God is extra-special present. This is the very house of God, the place where God makes his dwelling with men. The place where sins are forgiven.
And this morning when each of you got up and came here to hear and receive the word and promise of God, Satan was already laying out plans to keep that word from bearing fruit. Trying to distract you, so that the word is stolen and does not even find its way into the soil of your heart. If that fails, he is also laying out plans to try and distract you from that word throughout the week. And if that fails, he has important business to keep you away from the feast next Sunday.
The church is a banquet given by God for all who believe. He even gives himself as food at this banquet.
And if the rich, the powerful of the world will not come into the presence of God to receive his gifts, then he will call the halt, the lame, the blind, the weak and foolish things of this world, to shame the wise. Saint Paul says he does just that very thing. And here in Luke we hear it as well. The ones invited are not worthy to taste of the banquet. So our Lord moves on to others who will hear.
This should be a warning to us all – we better not ignore the call when it comes. We must make it a priority, lest our hearts be hardened against the king, and lest the spot to which we were invited be given to another. There is now still time to hear and believe. Such may not always be the case. Luther speaks of the spirit’s work as a rain shower. It comes to one place for a time. Initially, salvation was proclaimed to the Jews, and many believed. Then, when they rejected the word, it moved to the Gentiles. To Turkey which was once a great center of Christian thought. To Rome – which went chasing after idol prayers to saints. In Luther’s Day The Spirit was in Germany – today Germany is almost entirely secular, and Islam is making tremendous inroads.
So also in America we see the signs – is the shower of the Spirit moving away from us? Our nation seems bent on abandoning God and his word. Abandoning the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. Of course, each person must be faithful for themselves. We can’t make anyone else believe. But the prayer of the righteous man is effective. Let us not cease to pray for ourselves and for the church, that we would remain in the fear and love of the Lord. And let us also pray for those who do not or will not hear, that the Spirit would soften their hearts, that the word would be effective also for them, so that they would believe the word and receive the promised salvation of Jesus Christ.
May God grant it, for Jesus sake.