Sunday, June 14, 2015

Unexcused Absences

No Excuses Accepted

Second Sunday after Trinity
Gospel: Luke 14:16-24 (15 added for context)
15 And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.
16 Then said he unto him,  A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.
23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

Have you ever invited a family to come for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and gone to great trouble to prepare to entertain? Then they call a couple of hours before you plan to serve and tell you something has come up, and they can’t come after all. You might be nice and accept their excuse over the phone, but I expect you would be spitting nails when you got off the phone. And you probably you would say to yourself, “See if I ever invite them again!”

An experience like that can help you understand the story Jesus told about a Great Supper.

1.  The Story

A.  Setting.  Jesus was eating at the home of a Pharisee on a Sabbath day - something like Sunday dinner for us - when someone said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The Jews thought about the age of the Messiah as a great banquet, even as the book of Revelation speaks of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as the beginning of the age to come. Their expectation was that righteous Jews would be included, while Gentiles and Jews who lived unrighteous lives would be excluded. What he said was something like someone today saying, “It’s gonna be great in heaven!”

But Jesus responded with a disturbing story:

B.  Invitation.  A man planned a great banquet to which he invited many guests. There was no email , or telephones, or even postal service. So the custom was that the host would send a servant around with invitations to the prospective guests. They would have indicated their acceptance of the invitation, and the servant would have reported the acceptances to his master, so that he as host could plan accordingly, buying and preparing food and drink.

The custom was that when the banquet was actually ready a servant would be sent around again to to announce, “Come for everything is now ready.” It was time for the guests to  go to the banquet. However, none of the guests came.

C. Excuses.  Rather all made excuses. Jesus describes three representative excuses.

One said, “I have bought a field, and I must go out to see it. Please have me excused.” It doesn’t seem to be much of an excuse. Who buys property either as an investment or to farm without first seeing it?

Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” Who would buy oxen without “test driving” them to see if they can do the work?

And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” The Old Testament did excuse men from military service for a year after marriage, but there was nothing about staying home with your new wife for a year. I suspect the bride was ready for him to go out and give her some peace and quiet for awhile.

As excuses go, these are dogs that won’t hunt. The banquet is ready now, and nothing should take precedence over attending.

D. Response.  When the servant reported back to his master, the master became angry at the men who had snubbed him with their excuses for not attending. But what to do now? The food and drink are prepared. Shall they go to waste? No.

So the master sent his servant into the city to go into the streets and lanes where the poor, blind, and lame people would be found - the riff raff, not the sort of people a rich man would invite to a banquet.

The servant went and did as he was told, but he had to report to the master, “I have done as you said, but there are still a lot of unfilled seats.” So the master said, “Then go outside the city into the highways and the hedges where people who don’t live in the city will be found. Compel them to come so that my house will be filled with banqueters.”

This was done, but the master’s anger at those who refused remained. “I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.” All the absences were unexcused. The consequence is that those who asked to be excused are excluded.

2. The Significance

That’s the story, but what is the significance of it? What’s the point?

A. Jesus.  The primary significance is that, with the coming of Jesus and the work of salvation he will accomplish, the great banquet of the kingdom of God is prepared and ready. The decisive moment has arrived. Now it is time to respond to the invitation to the banquet with the “yes” of faith.

The holy Supper of our Lord is a beautiful picture of this banquet. We are invited to come, to eat the bread of our Lord’s sacrificed body, and to drink the cup of his shed blood. We literally receive just small wafer and a sip of wine, but they point to something much greater and more abundant - they point to Christ’s once for all and completed sacrifice that gained for us the forgiveness of our sins, the declaration that in Christ we are righteous before God, our reconciliation with God, our inclusion in God’s family, our possession of eternal life. All is prepared; there is nothing more that needs to be done by Christ; there is nothing we need to to bring to contribute. We need only come and feed upon him by faith. The Eucharist is not just a symbol that points us to Christ. When we receive it with faith, it is the means by which we are united to Christ and partake of the feast of salvation.

B. The Jews.  Then Jesus is saying something to the Jews. It is true that the person is blessed who eats bread in the kingdom of God. The opportunity to eat that bread is now, for with the coming of Jesus the kingdom banquet has begun.

God has issued invitations to the Jews through the covenant he established with Abraham, through the law he gave to Moses, through all the warnings, exhortations, and promises given by the prophets. God gave his people the Messianic hope. They longed for the coming of Messiah, and they looked for his coming with joyful anticipation. They earnestly desire to sit down with the Messiah in the banquet of the kingdom of God.

What they do not see is that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they longed and that the banquet is now ready because Jesus has come and will shortly accomplish everything needed for their salvation. It is time for the Jews to respond to the announcement that the banquet is ready by putting aside everything and hurrying to take their places.

But so far, they are not coming. They are  making excuses and snubbing God’s invitation to them. They do not recognize or receive Jesus as the Messiah, and they do not see in him what they expect of the kingdom banquet. If they continue to refuse the invitation, they, who fully expect that they will have a place in the kingdom of God, will find themselves excluded.

C. The Church.  This story also tells us about the mission of Jesus’ church.  The servant sent by the master is the church. Our calling is to issue the invitation to the banquet of salvation by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus’ saving work and calling on people to repent and to believe this good news.

The master sent his servant to the people who had already been invited, the Jews such as those with whom Jesus was eating on this Sabbath day. When they refused, the master sent his servant to those whom upright and respectable Jews would never invite to one of their banquets, to those they did not envision at the banquet of the kingdom of God - the poor, the blind, the lame, those who would be found in the streets and lanes. These people represent Jewish outcasts, those they would have called “the sinners” - people who were not careful to keep the law, such as tax collectors and  immoral women. In the next chapter of Luke we find these righteous people complaining that Jesus received sinners and actually ate meals with them. It’s good news for us that sinners are invited to the banquet of salvation. And, as we issue the invitation to come to the banquet, we need to remember that Jesus is interested in saving people we might ignore, people we might consider unworthy of the kingdom of God, people we would find least likely to to be saved.

When there was still room, Jesus sent the servant outside the city to the highways and hedges and told him to compel the people he found there to come to the banquet, to force them to come, because the master intends to have a full house at his banquet. These are the Gentiles whom Christ first called Paul to invite to participate in salvation.

Augustine and others have taken the word “compel” as justification for using the power of the government to compel repentance in wayward Christians. Augustine, who was right about so much, was wrong about this. Jesus did not authorize the the use of external compulsion to bring about repentance or conversion.  Jesus never intended that the church should use jails, or torture, or armies to force people to acknowledge him. The church has no weapons except spiritual ones.

How does the church compel people to come to the banquet of salvation? First by the power of persuasion. When Christ’s ministers preach and his people bear witness to the faith, we seek to be as winsome as we can be in manner and to be as convincing as possible in our words. Christ intends for us to present to people all the blessings that will be theirs when they put their faith in Christ and partake in the feast of salvation. 

But the ultimate persuasive power that compels faith is not in anything we are, or do, or say. It is the powerful inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. The Spirit uses our preaching and our witness to compel people to come to the salvation banquet - to make them drop everything and rush to take their places.  Our task is to proclaim the good news about Jesus without using manipulation but as persuasively as we know how and in reliance on the Spirit who so compels sinners that they offer no excuses but willingly come to Christ and receive the blessings of his salvation.

D. Us.  There is a point to the story that we must not miss. We are invited to the banquet. That invitation is repeated to us every Sunday by Word and by Sacrament. We should be certain that our response is “Yes.” The invitation is urgent, because the banquet is fully prepared. The invitation will not be forever issued. The time to respond is now not later. Make no excuses. Set aside all hindrances. Don’t dilly dally.  You are invited. There is no reason for you not to come.  Won’t you come to  Christ and and feast your soul at the banquet of salvation?

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