But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Trinity 2 – 2024

Luke 14:15-24

The kingdom of God is often described in Jesus’ parables as a banquet, or as a great and festive dinner. Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is one such example.

The imagery of a great fellowship meal with God points us forward to the way things will be for his people in the new heavens and the new earth. But this imagery also points us to the wondrous fellowship that God’s people have with him in the church, through Word and Sacrament, here and now: which is a foretaste of the great heavenly feast that is to come.

In today’s parable, the master, who is the host of the great dinner, represents God the Father. And the servant whom he sends out to inform the guests that the banquet is ready, and to invite them to come to it, is Jesus.

St. Mark tells us that when Jesus began his public ministry, he did so by preaching these words:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

That’s the reality that the invitation to the banquet in the parable is symbolically referring to.

The focus of the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in this parable is not, however, on the lavishness and splendor of the banquet, but is on who is invited to that banquet, and on how they are invited.

Regarding the three steps or stages that this invitation process involves, there were clear applications for the historical circumstance in which Jesus originally told the parable. And there are clear applications for us today, as Jesus – through the pages of Holy Scripture – once again tells us this parable.

Jesus describes the first group that was invited, and the responses of that group, in these words:

“A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master.”

In the original context, these would have been the religious Jews. Through the Old Testaments promises regarding the future coming of the Messiah, they had, in effect, been sent a preliminary “save the date” invitation.

They knew the Scriptures. They had been taught what the Lord gives to his people, and what he expects from his people in return.

It would naturally have been expected that when God finally brought about the fulfillment of his ancient plan of salvation, through the sending of his Son into the world, they would have welcomed him eagerly, and would have responded positively and without hesitation to God’s announcement that the feast of redemption was now fully ready.

But with few exceptions, the religious Jews of the first century did not welcome Christ, or respond positively to his coming. They were too busy with other things.

In the parable, the things they were busy with were not in themselves wicked or evil things. Just the opposite, in fact. The work of farmers who till the land or who raise livestock is good and godly work. Marriage is a good and godly institution.

But the way in which these otherwise good things and activities were used as excuses for refusing the master’s invitation, shows that the people in this first category of invited guests had turned those things into idols. When God told them to look up from these mundane things, so that they could see the eternal things that were now before them, they refused to do so.

God was not telling them that fields, cattle, and family were unimportant. But he was telling them that the banquet – and the salvation of their souls – was more important. And they ignored him.

Now, to refuse to listen to God, and to ignore God, is a serious matter. And God’s reaction to this is a serious reaction. In the parable, when the servant told the master how his invitation had been treated, he was angry.

There are two sides to God. He is merciful and compassionate, so that he is grieved and anguished when his love is rejected. But God is also wrathful against those who despise him, and he will punish those who disobey him.

Many today would prefer to believe only in a God of mercy, and not in a God of wrath. But God as he actually exists, is both.

And it is especially important that this would be remembered by those today whose situation is similar to the situation of the religious Jews in the first century. I’m thinking now of people who were raised in the church, who were catechized and confirmed, and who even made vows of lifelong faithfulness to God and his Word: but who are now gone.

They, too, like the first category of invited guests in the parable, know what God’s Word is, and what it says. They have been taught its warnings and its promises.

They have professed in the past that they believed that those warnings were valid and that those promises were true. But now, as they pursue their livelihoods, and pay attention to their families, they no longer care. They have no time left for God or for God’s church.

They ignore and dismiss God when he calls them to the feast. Their excuses are good enough for them, and so they need to be good enough for God.

Friends: Anything that disconnects you from God’s banquet of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ – and from the ministry of Word and sacrament by which God would feed your faith and nurture your soul – is, for you, an idol. This is still so, even if that thing in itself is otherwise a good thing that God would ordinarily want you to enjoy.

But, he wants us to enjoy the good and honorable things of this world in thanksgiving for his grace and for the means of grace, seeing them as temporal blessings that come from his Fatherly hand. And he wants us to enjoy these things in subordination to our enjoyment of, and our faith in, his gospel – which must always come first.

God does not want us to enjoy these otherwise good things as a substitute for his banquet of salvation. Jesus said in another time and place:

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

In the parable, when those who would be expected to be most open to the invitation refuse to accept it, the master – that is, God – does not just throw up his hands, or shrug his shoulders, and cancel the banquet.

When those who know better stop caring about God’s Word and about their own souls, that side of God that can get angry, does get angry at them. And then, God sends forth his servant – that is, Jesus the Savior – to invite new people.

“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 here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’”

In the original context, this represents Jews who are not particularly religious, and who are spiritually and morally wounded and crippled. But they, too, are now invited.

Jesus’ opponents considered it to be a put-down when they described him as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” but that was really just an accurate description of his love for the fallen and his compassion for the lost.

To be sure, Jesus, in the way he lived, did not join them in their fallenness and in their lostness. But he reached down to where they were, pulled them up and out in forgiveness, and in God’s name gave them another chance.

Jesus once said to some critical Pharisees:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

This category of “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind” can represent in our time those who are part of our communities and who may have deep roots in those communities, and who also may have a remote family history in the Christian church.

But they personally are strangers to God’s house and to God’s ways. They don’t know what goes on in church, or why anyone goes there.

They can’t imagine why anyone would abstain from fornication or drunkenness. Perhaps they struggle with addiction issues. Perhaps they have disgraced themselves through public scandal, or through criminal behavior and jail time. But God is inviting them to the banquet.

Because of their distance from God’s Word, they may not, as it were, have received a “save the date” invitation in the past. They may never have been baptized, or attended Sunday School in childhood.

But they are definitely being invited now. God the Father is inviting them through Jesus, who was crucified for them and who was raised from the dead for them.

And Jesus is inviting them through you and me: as Jesus’ words of law and gospel are spoken to them by you and me; and as a sincere welcoming demeanor is shown to them by you and me.

But God’s banquet hall is not yet full. There are more still to be invited. The Lord’s parable continues:

“The servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

The highways and hedges, in the original context, would have referred to places where people who had no true and lasting home among the Jews could nevertheless be found.

Hedges were places where drifters and sojourners might try to find temporary shelter. Highways were, of course, the roads that Gentiles, foreigners, and strangers would take through a community: usually without intending to stop in that community, but remaining separate and disconnected from it as they simply passed through.

But these, too, are invited to the banquet of the Lord. They are all invited.

Strangers and foreigners on the road might have a hard time believing that such an invitation is real and genuine. That’s why the master tells his servant to “compel” them to come. In effect, he tells him to grab them by the lapels, shake them, and say, “You really need to come!”

During the time of his earthly ministry, the scope of Jesus’ vocation as a preacher and teacher was limited. He said on one occasion:

“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But now, since the day of Pentecost, Jesus is going to all nations, as he sends his disciples to all nations, and as he promises to be with them as he sends them.

And sometimes, the way in which the church goes to other nations today, is to notice that other nations have come to us, and to the places where we live in this world.

Are there people in our communities who are from somewhere else, with no roots among us; or who have no roots in the Christian faith, but adhere instead to a man-made religion or a false belief system?

I would say that there most certainly are such people, even if we don’t notice them. But God notices them. And God invites them.

And if God invites them, we invite them. Our church is actually his church. And God wants his church also to be their church. God wants his Son also to be their Savior.

And if they don’t believe us the first time we tell them that they would be welcome among us on a Sunday morning, then we need to “compel them to come in.” I don’t mean literally tie them up and drag them over here, but verbally emphasize that

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The world of sinners for whom Jesus died and rose again, is a world that includes them.

Indeed, that world of sinners includes all of us who are here, and who in one way or another, at one time or another, heeded the invitation of Christ to believe in him, to become a part of the kingdom of his Father, and to partake of the marvelous banquet of eternal life that we are enjoying even now in the fellowship of his church.

God’s grace brought us here. God’s grace can bring them here, too.

Our congregation’s services are webcast and archived on YouTube. This is one of the methods by which our congregation seeks to expand its reach and influence beyond those who currently worship here.

And this is one of the ways through which we hope and pray that God will work: to invite other people to come, to confess what he has taught us to confess, and to believe what he has taught us to believe.

To anyone in the first category of invited guests who may be watching now, I say this: Please come home – home to God and home to his church. You know that you belong here. If you no longer live in the town where you grew up, then go to church where you live now.

And if I am to be faithful to my calling as God’s spokesman, I also need to tell you that God is angry at your indifference to him and at your disrespect for his Word. I can’t change the lesson that Jesus teaches us in today’s parable, to avoid having to tell you that. Indeed, Jesus speaks of “the master of the house, being angry.”

But I can also tell you that if you once again put your trust in your crucified Savior, then you will once again know that God’s anger at your sins was absorbed by Christ into himself, in your place, so that you can once again enjoy the grace of God’s forgiveness in Christ, and the lavish banquet of salvation to which he still invites you. Please come to the banquet.

To anyone in the second category of invited guests who may be watching now, I say this: Please know that God’s house can and should become your home. We who have already found a spiritual home here definitely want you here, too.

You will not be mocked or judged by us – although God does judge your sin. But God, in his willingness to forgive, also welcomes you, and we too will welcome you. You are welcome to come next Sunday, and to find a seat next to one of us, so that you can hear God’s Word with us, sing God’s praises with us, and pray for God’s pardon, help, and guidance with us.

You are also welcome to begin walking the special pathway of discipleship and learning that can someday bring you to the Lord’s table with us. God has for you a better way than the way you have chosen up until now. Please come to the banquet.

To anyone in the third category of invited guests who may be watching now, I say this: Please believe us when we tell you that we lovingly acknowledge you as a member with us of one human family, originally created by God in his image and likeness.

Indeed, we all descend together from one ancient father, Adam. Yet we all have inherited from Adam an ancient contagion of sin: which corrupts us on the inside, and which alienates us from our Creator and from each other. From our bondage to this sin we cannot set ourselves free.

But to all of us – to the whole human race – God announces in his gospel that a Redeemer has been sent to reconcile us, to restore us, to heal us, and to unite us to each other in the new fellowship of the new redeemed humanity that this gospel creates.

This message of forgiveness and hope is really for you. You really are invited to become a citizen of God’s eternal kingdom through believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord. Here you will always know God’s protection.

You really are invited to receive from Jesus Christ his Spirit of adoption, by whom you will be brought into God’s eternal family. Here you will always know God’s peace. Please come to the banquet.

We close with these words from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

“You were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.” Amen.