Monday, August 30, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 14:13-14
Theme: Guests at the Lord’s Table

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God desires that our relationship with Him be characterized by intimacy, not aloofness. The Holy Spirit directs us to Christ. Christ gives us access to the Father. And this is so not merely through the intangible mediums of thoughts and emotions, but through the very concrete means of the spoken word of truth, baptismal water, and the body and blood of Jesus. Our participation in the blessings of the triune God- though still by faith- nevertheless allows us communion in eternal realities.

These blessings are possible only because the Son of God assumed human flesh and blood. As such Christ became a participant in the peculiarities of human existence- our physical, corporeal vulnerabilities and capacities. He shares our joys and sorrows, only without sin. It’s not by coincidence the Bible often describes Christ’s saving work in the context of eating and sharing meals. Appropriately that is the case today.

Today we find Jesus at the home of a prominent Pharisee for a meal. Our text says, “When He noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, He told them [a] parable.”1 Their cultural expectations were a little different than ours. The closer one was seated to the host at a dinner, the greater the honour that was indicated. We might think of a modern wedding reception. Normally the wedding party is seated near the bride and groom. Other guests are often seated according to the bride and groom’s preferences. It would be both conceited and embarrassing for someone else to sit in the place reserved for the maid or matron of honour, or the best man.

The issue is one of presumption or entitlement. Jesus is teaching humility. Do we approach God with the assumption that we deserve the highest honour in His presence? Do we act as if we are deserving of His blessings. Are we happy to agree with the problem of sin without really believing it applies to us? Are our sins trivial and insignificant in our own sight? Are the sins of others magnified? Often without even realizing it ourselves, our actions show whether or not repentance is genuine. If we only feign sorrow when called to account then the humility Jesus seeks is shown to be lacking. No one has the entitlement to enter God’s heavenly feast.

The imagery of a heavenly banquet is a central motif of the Scriptures. It is often described in the context of a wedding celebration. Christ, the bridegroom, draws to Himself the church, His bride. The celebration of that union is eternal. We see this truth reflected in St. Paul’s important words on marriage, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”2 Jesus will later teach that we enter that eternal wedding banquet only when clothed with the appropriate attire: His righteous. It is with His righteousness that we are first clothed in baptism. The benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross not only become available to us but become our shelter, clothing and nourishment.

Jesus then turns from instructing the guests to instructing the host. Jesus is clear in directing him to invite to a banquet people who would be unable to repay. To do so is a genuine expression of faith at work. The moment we are motivated by the prospect of repayment is the very moment the good work is ruined. It is turned into a show of vanity. The Scripture says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”3

Here we see faith in action. Not only in the general way of generously providing for those in need; but in a specific, life-sustaining gift. Food maintains our lives. We must consume it regularly or perish. The same is true for our spiritual lives. Faith that is not fed with forgiveness becomes malnourished. Trust that is not sustained with truth becomes frail. Hope that is not buoyed by promise becomes bleak. Eventually faith collapses and perishes.

Jesus also says that those who show such hospitality will be blessed. In what way will you be blessed? Here our perspective must be changed from a worldly one to a heavenly one. We cannot estimate a cost/benefit ratio in human terms. Rather we trust God’s promise of heavenly treasures. In very real terms you are blessed because the integrity of your witness invites the ridicule of the world and as such you are in good company. Truth induces conflict from the ungodly. The devil will tell you it’s a waste of time. The world will tell you it’s a waste of resources. Even your conscience may make you feel uneasy. But remember these remarkable words of Jesus. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”4

The very fact that we are dependent on God to provide every need of body and soul- everyday- should constantly remind us of the transient nature of this life. We’re always travelers, never permanent dwellers. We are always stewards, never owners. That we work towards stability is a godly use of wisdom. God intends that we care for the needs of our neighbours- beginning with our closest neighbours; spouse and family. But to invest everything in building personal kingdoms and reputations is to pursue idolatry. We pray that God would give us our daily bread for today5- that we would trust Him to supply what we need when we need it.

Dear friends, God gathers to His table beggars who cannot repay Him. Even if they had the desire they wouldn’t have the means. Even if they had the means, they wouldn’t have the desire. His love to us is unconditional, unrestricted and expressed with no expectation of repayment. Were that the case grace would no longer be grace. The sacrifice of Christ would then be a loan and not a gift. His crucifixion would be martyrdom, but not a redeeming act. His resurrection would be an illustration but not an effective paradigm. Jesus was not merely an example- whose suffering, sacrifice, and service; whose death and resurrection- is something for us to imitate, but a substitute and Saviour through whom these things are realized.

We are always guests at the Lord’s Table. He is both the host and the meal, just as at the altar he is the priest and the sacrifice. The gifts we partake of now are previews of what is to come. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
29 August 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 14:7
2 Ephesians 5:25-27
3 Hebrews 13:2
4 Matthew 5:10
5 See Luke 11:3