Tuesday, October 13, 2020

God does not need you but He wants you. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 23A, preached on Sunday, October 11, 2020.

     Most of us are universalists at heart.  We think that if God can forgive, He ought to and everyone should have their slate wiped clean – well everyone except the worst sinners.  We might reserve hell for child molesters and mass murderers and those guilty of heinous crimes.  But regular sinners we are not ready to consign to hell nor do we understand why God would condemn them either.  But Jesus is no universalist.  He dies for all but in order to be saved, faith is required.  Jesus blood can cleanse all sinners from their sins, no matter how terrible they may be, but Jesus will not coerce us into the Kingdom nor will He compel us to be saved.  He bids and invites and grants the Holy Spirit so that our feeble hearts may trust in His incredibly generous mercy.

    Though our hearts understand the Law better – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – we have lived too long in a kingdom of cheap grace to give up the secret wish that in the end God will shrug His shoulders and open heaven to anyone and everyone.  Grace has become comfortable to us.  We have drunk the poisoned koolaid of easy grace and have come to believe that just as it is God’s job to forgive, it is our job to give Him something to forgive.  And then all is as it should be.  At least until we hear the Gospel appointed for this Sunday.  What does it mean that the invited were unworthy or that it matters whether or not you are clothed with the right wedding garments?

    This parable is pointed and hits hard.  For most of us in this congregation do just what the folks in the story did.  We tell God that we have other things to do on Sunday morning.  We have family responsibilities, household chores, events to attend, and often we just plain don’t feel like coming.  The invitation has long ago been issued and Sunday is the appointed day of our Lord’s resurrection when the people of God are bidden to come and hear, come and be washed clean, come and eat.  But the pews are empty every week and half our congregation misses on a given Sunday.  How can God hold this against us?  Doesn’t He know how busy we are and how hard it is for us to balance all the things that fill our days and satisfy the desires of our hearts?

    How is it then that God would write off the invited to go after those clearly unworthy of His invitation?  It just does not seem right, does it?  That is the first challenge of this text.  But God who has given us everything in His Son refuses to be just one of our many appointments or one of the may responsibilities we balance in our busy lives.  He insists upon being everything to us as He has given everything for us to save us.  That may seem as if God is jealous but is He not jealous with good right?  After all, the salvation that is free to us cost His Son everything.  Jesus suffered in our place for our sin and died the death we should have died. His grace is free but not cheap.

    His perfect love reconciled all the world to Himself.  His Son was the Lamb of God whose offering atoned for the sins of the whole world whether or not we benefit from His sacrifice.  But God will not drag us into His Kingdom kicking and screaming.  He will not force His forgiveness on us.  Jesus watched the Jews reject Him even as He mounted the altar of the cross.  The reasons did not matter.  They made perfect sense to the people rejecting but not to God.  They justified their rejection with fake offense that God thought they really needed His charity or mercy.  From the cross the Lord saw those who would reject His blood to cleanse them from all sin, who would refuse His gift of the water of life, who would be offended that He thought them sinners in need of forgiveness or hungry in need of His flesh and blood.

    He came to His own and they knew Him not but to all who received Him He gave the right to be called the children of God.  In spite of what He knew and saw, Jesus did not waver with His gift of mercy.  Why do you?  Why do you find it so hard to forgive when He has forgiven you?  C. S. Lewis once said that if you cannot forgive the inexcusable in others, God cannot forgive the inexcusable in you.  Was he right?  You see, this parable is not mean to explain why some are not saved or to comfort you with some reasonable truth.  This is a parable of warning.  Do not take God’s mercy for granted or become complacent about the grace im which you stand.  For God does not need you but He does want you.  

    And then there is the man who snuck in without the right clothing.  What is up with that?  Why does it matter what you wear?  But it does.  Stand in your own righteousness and you stand on a lie but wear the righteousness of Christ and all your sin is covered.  Not everyone who calls Lord, Lord will be saved.  Not everyone who comes to church and sits in God’s banquet hall will be saved.  Not everyone who enters will be saved.  Only those who wear the clothing God has appointed and who trust in the mercy that covers all their sin with the blood of Christ and Christ’s righteousness.

    In our previous hymnal was a wonderful hymn based upon this text.  The refrain was more than profound.  I miss it.  “The feast is ready, come to the feast, the good and the bad, come and be glad, come to the feast...”  To the sinners who come without good works to earn their salvation, to the lost who have had the light of Christ shine into their darkness, to those who have no pedigree or place, to those who do not belong, God is waiting with open arms.  The marriage feast of the Lamb is set on the high mountain, where the veil is lifted and death is no more.  There a feast of finest food and drink is laid out for you and for all for whom it has been appointed.  And until that day, here is the foretaste of that feast to come.  Here is the body of Christ that feeds us the bread of heaven.  Here is the blood of Christ that satisfies our thirst forever.  Here is Christ.

    Some of you are here because of the accident of your birth.  Some of you immigrated out of desire.  But there are no accidents in God’s Kingdom nor are there people who are here because they chose.  God is the one who chooses.  God is the one who invites.  God is the one who sets the table and appoints the date.  God is the one who provides the wedding clothing.  God is the one who makes us equal by giving to us the same grace of forgiveness and the same clothing of righteousness and the same faith to rejoice in His gift and blessing.  God does not need you but He wants you.  You did not choose Him but He chose you and appointed you to be His own and to bear the good fruit of His Kingdom forevermore.  Come to Him.

    Repent and stop looking at yourself as if there were something in your that made you worthy of His gift and grace.  Repent and stop looking at those around you as if they really did not belong.  Repent and stop looking at the things that seem so darn important now but count for nothing in eternity.  Repent and look at Jesus.  Hear His voice.  Believe in His promise.  Rejoice in His salvation.  He loved you when you were not worth loving, invited you when you deserved no place, and has saved you because of His love, purchased and won you not with silver or gold but with the holy and precious blood of Jesus shed for you.

    Is it so hard to hear this Word?  Is it too difficult to accept the mercy God has shown to you?  Is it too much to ask for you to be here in His House, hearing His Word and receiving His Holy body and blood every Sunday?  Think about it.  And while you do recall that hymn refrain: The feast is ready, come to the feast, the good and the bad, come and be glad, come to the feast.  That is what Jesus is saying to you and warning you.  Don’t take His grace and favor for granted.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

“…but Jesus will not coerce us into the Kingdom nor will He compel us to be saved.” This seems like a truth with which all people should agree. The problem is that, thank God, the Gospel is not human reasoning, as God tells us in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
If it were not true that all of us are saved against our will, then it would be true that we contribute to our salvation, at least by “cooperating” with God. This is the Roman Catholic position on salvation. This is the position which, under the guidance of St. Augustine, the Church condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD.
Ironically, in Luke’s telling of this story, we read, Luke 14:23, "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
This is the heart of the Gospel. This is where we find assurance of our salvation, because we contribute nothing to it; God does it all.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Lutheran Lurker said...

But is giving us the Holy Spirit to make faith possible the same as coercing us against our will? Further, where in this sermon does it say that the saved contribute anything to their salvation? It looks like you are trying to make an issue where there is none.

Anonymous said...

Lutheran Lurker: It is not that simple. The Holy Spirit is not given to the enemies of God. That is what we are by nature. First, as Luther put it, the old self has to be drowned in the waters of Baptism. Then God causes a new creature to be born, in which the Holy Spirit dwells. This is what our Lord told Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, and Scripture further testifies to in Colossians 2:12, “…when you were buried with Him in Baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God…” That is why, every time you witness a Baptism, you see one of God’s greatest miracles, bringing a dead person to life.
You are right that the sermon nowhere says that the saved contribute to their salvation. Neither did I write that this is what the sermon says. It is, as I wrote, a deduction. If you assume that we are saved with our consent, rather than against our will, then without our consent, our salvation is not possible. It is the same deduction that the early Church made when it condemned Pelagianism, and stated that man is unable to contribute to his salvation.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Lutheran Lurker said...

You focus on consent but the sermon focused on rejection. You seemed to charge the preacher with Pelagianism when the sermon nowhere indicated that anything the individual does contributes to being saved while warning against the rejection which does result in being condemned.

William Tighe said...

I know that St. Vincent of Lerins was not a Lutheran, but I was unaware (if Mt. Marquardt is correct about Lutheran soteriology) that Luthersns have reversed his quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est to Quod nusque, quod nusquam, quod ab nullis creditum est.