Sunday, October 12, 2008

Warning: Gospel Ahead

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Matthew 22:1-14

Warning concerns judgment. Warning concerns bad things to come or least things to be aware of so you don’t fall into trouble. But today’s Gospel reading shows us of another warning: there’s Gospel ahead. It’s clear that the Judgment of God is severe and He indeed warns us of that. But it almost seems to be saying: Warning, God is about to do something good. He’s about to give you a Gift beyond imagination, so you’d better watch out. Why would this be a warning? Because if someone does something nice for you you now have the opportunity to reject it.

When Jesus is telling a parable, you know that He is teaching something spiritual. So when a king gives a wedding feast for his son, you can think about the Heavenly King God giving a wedding feast for His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He is the groom and we, His Church, are the bride. In English the king tells his servants to go to those who were invited to the celebration. But what Jesus actually said was, go call those who were called. This is Gospel language. That’s what God specializes in, the Gospel. When He calls, that’s a Gospel thing. Invited is okay, but when you’re called, that means that you’re in. You have a front row seat in heaven, you don’t even need to RSVP.

But when the servants went to the called, they were refused. This is the warning we need. When God calls, He is doing His Gospel work. When He does His Gospel work, we become aware that it’s not just me in my own little world. The King of the Universe is calling me into His eternal Kingdom—I can no longer remain in a state of ignorance that I’m fine here in my own little world. But God doing His Gospel work, never gives up. When He calls, that means you’re in. So He’s going to reach out again.

What will He tell you? That you are called. You’re in. The servants said to the people: I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. All is prepared. There is nothing for you to do. There are no forms to fill out. No background checks. No hoops to jump through. You’re called. You’re in.

But let me warn you now. When God decides that He’s not going to give up on you, that means that He’s not going to give up on you. You might just as soon that He leave you alone. You might have better things to do. But surely you don’t treat Him the way the people in the parable did. Some ignored the servants. Some went back to their own business. Some even had the audacity to treat them shamefully and even kill them. We may not want what God gives, but at least we don’t react in such an appalling manner.

The warning is here. Whenever a gift is given, there is always the opportunity to reject it. There’s even the opportunity to scorn it. Whenever God works His Gospel work, we have the choice of renouncing it. We may do this by ignoring it. We may just go about our business. We may even blatantly mistreat God. The danger would be for us, though, to think that as long as we’re not in outright denial of God’s gift of the Gospel, then we’re okay. We would be missing the warning entirely. The ones who ignored and the ones who went about their business outright denied the king just as the ones who killed the servants did. Because all of them were called. They were all in. But they all said, no thanks, I’d rather be out. I want to have nothing to do with you.

The king’s response, of course, is a warning. The king’s response was swift. In his anger, he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. The warning here pertains to the Day of Judgment. When a person dies, there is no more calling, no more reaching out. In this life if you reject the grace of God and die in that state you are separated from Him and tormented for eternity.

But God is still about the business of the Gospel. The king tells his servants that the wedding feast is ready, but that those were called were not worthy. When characterizing what it is that makes one called, there is only one thing that can be said: you are called because God calls you. There is no worthiness in you. There is nothing you have done or will be expected to do. You are called freely and solely by the grace and mercy of God. That is His Gospel work. He gives freely, not on the condition of something in return. It’s all completely one-sided.

So why does the king tell his servants that the called were not worthy? Did they somehow mess up between the calling and the actual wedding feast? No, it’s because they rejected their worthiness. In and of themselves they were not worthy. But the king called them. Therein was their worthiness. They were counted as worthy because the king wanted them to be at the feast of his son. There is no worthiness in us. God calls us and that is how we become worthy. It is Christ alone who is worthy. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain is the acclamation of the Church. Christ takes on our unworthiness and replaces it with His worthiness, His righteousness.

That’s why God does His Gospel work. His Gospel work is to call sinners to righteousness. Not by calling them to reform or try harder or live in an exemplary way. By calling them to righteousness. What that means is that when He calls you He gives you the righteousness of Christ. When He calls you, He saves you. His calling work of the Gospel brings about in you the very thing He calls you to, which is eternal life.

To drive the point home, He pictures it in this way. The king commands his servants: “‘Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” His call goes out. It is not partial. It goes out far and wide, to the high and the low. There’s no sign on the door of heaven that some need not apply. If the first group of people don’t convince you that God has called you to eternal life in His Kingdom, this second one ought to. Because it’s the call to everyone.

The Son is the Groom and celebrating His Wedding Feast because He has laid down His life for His Bride. When you’re called, you’re called. When you’re called, you’re in. The celebration is eternal. It is fully realized in the glory of heaven but begins now. This altar is the place where our husband, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ celebrates His Wedding Feast with us. Guess what’s for dinner? He is the Host and the Meal. He celebrates our salvation by giving to us what He has accomplished our salvation: His Body and His Blood.

But warning: this is no namby-pamby invitation. This is a call. There’s Gospel ahead, and rejection of it brings disaster. An eternity of being separated from the one who has called you is real. Those who are not worthy should not partake of the Meal our Lord has prepared. While we are never worthy because of anything we have done, we are indeed worthy because our Lord has called us. Because we have confessed our sins and believe that Jesus’ Body and Blood given and shed on the cross is the only sacrifice which accomplishes our salvation and grants us righteousness, we are considered worthy by Him.

The wedding feast of the king was filled. So is heaven. But there’s still room for all of us. In fact, because God continues to do His Gospel work, we share even now in the Communion of our Lord Jesus Christ with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. Those who deny that Christ is actually present in and with the bread and wine are not in true communion with Christ and His heavenly and earthly Church. If they partake of the Lord’s Supper they receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but to their harm.

Do you wonder why the man who somehow got into that wedding feast was speechless? We know what the king would have done if met with an excuse or a defense. But do you wonder what the king would have said if the man had realized his guilt, apologized, and repented of his sin? We know what kind of a king he was. He was a king who called. He was a king who wanted people to share in the joy of the wedding feast. Many rejected his gift. There was a guy who was in there physically, but not really in, because He didn’t want to be in there on the king’s terms. He held on to the fleshly clothes of his own worthiness. It is only by stripping those off that we’re truly in. It is only clothed with the righteousness of Christ that we celebrate in full communion at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Our God is a giving God, He is a Gospel God, He is the God who does His Gospel work. If you are ever in doubt; if you ever sin to such a great extent that you don’t see how God can forgive you; if you ever wonder if it’s all just too far above your head; if you have any question or objection whatsoever, be warned. We’re prone to these thoughts because we want to wrap ourselves in our sinful flesh. But there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. There is Gospel ahead. There is Gospel here, for you now. It was given to you in your Baptism. It is delivered to you here, at His altar, often. He has called you. Everything is prepared, He has done it all. You are in. Welcome to the Feast. Amen.


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