[Picture: Invitation to the Great Banquet, etching by Jan Luyken for the Bowyer Bible, Free Art License]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Second Sunday After Trinity, 6/30/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson, Luke 14:15-24. To read the Bible texts for the Second Sunday After Trinity, click here.
Imagine, if you will, just how incredible this really sounds: A rich and benevolent ruler throws an absolutely free party, and he makes sure that it is an open bar full of the best wines and craft brews. There will be fresh-baked bread and ethically sourced meat, roasted to perfection.
The artist known as David will be playing a harp, accompanied by an other-worldly trumpet section with a full choir. And all your favorite celebrities, who you’ve only read about, will be there, too.
It is advertised as the party to end all parties, and everyone is teeming with excitement. Just by imagining it, one man cannot help but exclaim,
Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!
It’s high praise, and it’s true, even if he doesn’t understand why. In fact, maybe we should just name the party that: “The Kingdom of God.” But if it is that – if it really is the Kingdom of God, and if it really is the party to end all parties, then our dilemma is magnified, and we are left asking: Why would anyone decline the invitation?
[A]t the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses.
The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”
And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.”
And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
But none of those excuses are sincere. Nobody buys a field without inspecting it first; just as no one would buy some oxen without knowing exactly what he was getting. And no man in his right mind would pass on a free date night with his bride.
They’re terrible excuses because they’re produced on the fly, off the cuff, without much thought. Those who were invited realized in an instant that they didn’t want to come anymore. They were scandalized by the servant’s proclamation, when he said to them,
Come, for everything is now ready.
The word “everything” means the whole party was planned without their advice or contributions. And that one word “now” means the timing was arranged without checking their schedules. None of this, however, ought to have been a surprise. They really should have expected it to happen just this way.
But despite the clear writing on the invitation, they still don’t believe that the master’s banquet could possibly be ready, or now, or free. And they don’t want it to be free, either. They don’t want to feel as if they are in this master’s debt. They still want to bring something of their own, but they may not. They can’t bring a hot dish; they can’t bring a sixer, and there will be no collection to defray expenses.
But they will not be made into a charity case, and so, they refuse the generosity of the master. They refuse his company and imagine that they can have a feast on their own. In short: they refuse his invitation.
The invitation they refused was the Word of God. It was the Books of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets, given to Israel. The announcement of the ready banquet was the Word made Flesh, standing in their midst. They had not been duped. The invitation and the announcement were identical: “The Kingdom of God is yours, for free, in Christ.”
It’s free to you because it has already been paid for by Christ. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. The death of Jesus on the cross in your place is the cost of this banquet.
Thus, in 1523, six short years after the Reformation began, Luther preached on this text there in Wittenberg, saying, “It all was so prepared that it did not cost us anything; for the Father through Christ bore all its expenses, in order that we without our merit and assistance might enjoy his treasures…”
Of course, it would have been wonderful to be among those invited, But you aren’t – at least not in the historical sense. Those who had been invited, as Jesus says, were those Jews gathered around the table.
You are those who the servant was sent to find wandering around in the streets of the city. That’s Jesus-speak for the Gentiles and all those Jews who would not refuse grace. You are the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame. You are those who are nothing except given to; you are those who have nothing to bring to the party, except a friend.
For you have been brought in, and yet, the servant declares, “…still there is room.”
Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that My house may be filled.
Compel does not mean force, because that isn’t how gifts work. Compel means to give a joyful and winsome witness. It means to show people their need and God’s provision. It means to invite them the same way that everyone else is invited, with the Good News that the Kingdom of God is theirs for free, in Christ. And all of that, bundled up, should probably sound like they’re being invited to a party. Or better: It should probably sound like they are being invited to the party to end all parties.
Because they are.
That’s one more good reason to have bright colors and a parade; that’s one more good reason to have beautiful music and a Feast. That’s one more good reason to not wait a minute longer. Come, for everything is now ready.