June 10, 2018
Etiquette hasn't died; it's just changed. What is polite is largely determined by where and when you live. What is perfectly acceptable at a dinner in America may be a terrible faux pas in another country. When students learn a foreign language in school, they also learn the unique social rules that they might encounter before they visit the country of the language they are learning. And even within the United States there are subtle differences in social etiquette.
So, why was the master of the house so angry at those, who refused his invitation? He even makes an oath that they will never taste his banquet! In first century Israel, was it greatly offensive to refuse a dinner invitation? I've wondered this, but I don't think so. At least, not so much greater an offense as it is for us now. Rather, the point of Jesus' parable is that this banquette is different than any banquette we can experience here on earth. And the problem we see here does not have to do with being polite or rude, but rather, whether we will attain eternal life or eternal death.
The feast to which our Lord invites us is not to feast upon pizza or roast chicken or even prime rib. The feast to which our Lord invites all of us is to feast on himself, as he himself says in John chapter 6. "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (vs. 51) A fellow dinner guest said to Jesus, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" What he probably didn't realize is that Jesus is the bread, which is eaten in the kingdom of God! Christ Jesus is our meat and drink indeed! He was prepared for us not in an oven or on a spit, but upon the cross, where he felt the fires of hell and the punishment for sin upon his flesh and soul. And we feast upon this gruesomely prepared meal spiritually through faith, when we believe that Christ died for our sins and that by this death God is pleased to forgive us and to welcome us into his kingdom and to raise us bodily from the dead, just as he raised his Son, Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus himself says, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54)
This is truly a wonderful promise that should draw all people to rush to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments of Christ, so that they can receive eternal life as well. I tease some of my relatives for the health foods they'll eat and supplements they take, which supposedly will make you live longer. Yet, they aren't alone. Billions of dollars are spent on super foods, super supplements, etc. People spend money, even on things that have no real evidence that they work! Could you imagine if someone could offer you food that cured all your diseases and made you live forever (and it actually worked)? He'd be the richest man alive! Yet, congregations which preach the pure Gospel and administer the Sacraments of Christ rightly and are in the black are about as rare as hen's teeth.
And this leads us to point out that the wonderful benefits of eternal life offered in the feast of our Lord Jesus also has its dark side, which Jesus does not avoid expressing. "For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." If you refuse to feast on Jesus today in faith, you will by no means feast at the marriage banquet on the last day! This is the consistent teaching of Jesus. Our Lord says in John 6, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (vs. 53) This is why when believers invite their loved ones to church to feast on Jesus, there is this great tension between following social norms of politeness and trying to communicate the urgency of the situation. This spiritual meal is necessary for salvation. There is no other way to eternal life than to feast upon the Savior Jesus through faith. "Don't turn down this invitation. I'm not inviting you over for a cup of tea, but to have your sins forgiven and to be strengthened with the power to defeat death and the grave!" Yet when our invitations are politely rejected or simply ignored, we put on a hollow smile and continue on.
The excuses of those, who refused the invitation are interesting, because of how lame they are. I've bought a field. I've bought some oxen. Yeah? So, what? What does that have to do with attending a banquet? Will the field run away while you're gone? Can't the oxen wait for you to have a meal? And the excuse of having a wife is perhaps the lamest. Bring your wife with! What's the matter with you? These excuses would be offensive even if they were made for an earthly banquet. They are loudly saying, "I don't want your food! And I certainly don't want to spend time with you. I'd literally rather do anything else than come to your lousy meal."
Yet, this is exactly how people treat the invitation to hear the Gospel and partake of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament. The similarity to the excuses made in the parable to those made by people to avoid going to church is painfully obvious. You can simply add to fields, oxen, and wife: work, sports, and recreation. What's important to note about these excuses is that none of them are bad things. It's not bad to buy and work fields or oxen or to get married. In fact, these things are even commanded by God, that we earn honest livings and get married to avoid fornication and to beget godly children. Neither is it sinful to enjoy sports and recreation. Yet, we have to make distinctions between God's gifts. Work, money, wife, children, and sports are all fine things, but they don't give you eternal life. They have their proper place in life. But just as you shouldn't place recreation and the pursuit of money over the needs of your wife and children, you shouldn't place these earthly gifts from God over the great banquet of Christ Jesus.
"But, you need to work; otherwise, you can't live!" This is often the excuse used for not coming to church and feasting on Christ, as if God is naïve and doesn't understand how the world works. But we should remember our Catechism, "He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land, animals and all I have, he daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." And somehow, God has managed to feed and clothe even those who go to church every week.
This is a lesson that young Christians should learn. Work harder than your co-workers and be your boss's favorite employee. But make it clear early, that you worship the Lord Jesus Christ and you will not skip church for work. You will find that God will bless you both with gainful employment and eternal life.
The explanation to the Third Commandment is, "We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it." That is Law. The Law is what God commands of us. If we don't follow the Law perfectly, we will go to hell, as St. Paul reminds us, "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." (Galatians 3:10) You cannot be saved by following the Law, because we are by nature sinful and are incapable of fulfilling the demands of the Law. You will fail to hold God's preaching and word sacred and to gladly hear and learn it. Even if you do go to church every Sunday and read Scripture with your family every day, your sinful flesh will entice you to ignore the parts of Scripture that make you uncomfortable or simply get your mind to wander to things that seem more pressing. If you try to get to heaven by following the Third Commandment perfectly, you will fail.
Yet, the invitation to Christ's banquet is not Law. It is Gospel. The Gospel does not demand works on our part. Rather, it offers you the free work that Christ has already accomplished. He has been crucified for you. He has risen from the dead. Your sins are nailed to his cross and can never harm you again. The feast is prepared. You are heartily invited by your Lord to feast and be satisfied.
Just look at the people, whom the master gathers into his banquet hall: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. He does exactly what Jesus teaches; he invites those, who cannot repay him. It is usually polite, when invited over to someone's house for dinner to offer to bring something. And, if the dinner went well to reply, "We'll have to have you over to our place now!" Yet, the master gathers into his banquet those, who cannot perform this social norm. They can offer nothing, but filth and odor and the inconvenience of their disabilities.
And so, God invites you. You are poor and can offer nothing to God. You are crippled, lame, and blinded by your sin, so that you are a burden on God, yet he bears the burden gladly. He offers you a feast that the richest man cannot afford and no money can buy. Yet, he gives it freely to you to be received by faith. He gives you the forgiveness of sins from Jesus, which your ravenous soul devours and is satisfied. And he offers this meal not only to us gathered here today, but to all those far off, in the highways and hedges; those who have been estranged from the church and Jesus Christ their entire lives he compels to come into his house, so that it can be filled.
The Third Commandment is good and right and holy. You should follow it. But that is not how you'll get to heaven. Because you'll fail. And you don't come to church in order to fulfill some command of God and earn your salvation. You come to church to be fed at God's banquet to which he heartily invites you. You come to be satisfied with that, which money cannot buy: Jesus Christ himself, his forgiveness and life. You answer the invitation to God's banquet not simply by showing up to church, but by believing and trusting in the Gospel, that it truly is for you. By faith, you can feast on the Lord every day that you have his word on your heart.
Lance and Lindsey Newland are being confirmed this morning. And they will for the first time partake of Christ's true body and blood in the Sacrament. Yet, they have been feasting on Jesus spiritually through faith for a while already, especially over the past few months as they have been learning the true and blessed teachings of Christ in the Small Catechism. And with such faith in Jesus' promises they will receive Christ's body and blood not only orally, as they eat the bread and drink the wine, but spiritually, as they believe that this truly is the foretaste of that blessed feast to come. And so, as they have prepared themselves to receive this wonderful meal, let all of us continue to prepare ourselves by clinging to Christ's promises in true faith. And in this way, we will be prepared to eat at the feast of salvation with all whom God gathers with this same Gospel. Amen.