Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Nature of a Gift

Second Sunday after Trinity
June 9, 2013
The words that come to my mind when I think of what a gift is are “Thank you.” When you receive a gift, it’s natural to say, “Thank you.” Some people simply aren’t grateful. They take gifts for granted. Even though they don’t show gratitude, they nevertheless receive the same thing as the one who expresses his gratitude: a gift.

And that is the nature of a gift. The nature of a gift is not in how a person receives it, but rather in that it is given. It is not forced on someone. If it is, then it is not a gift. It is simply given, whether the person appreciates it or not.

The nature of a gift, therefore, also is that it can be rejected. This does not take away from the gift. It doesn’t cease to be a gift just because it is rejected. What is given is given. A gift remains a gift whether it is received in gratitude, or ingratitude, or even rejected.

And this, my friends, is simultaneously the greatest thing about gifts and the most frustrating. We love to receive gifts. Something unexpected, something we were really hoping for, something we can see that was given to us because a lot of thought and love were put into it. Some people, as well, love giving gifts. They love putting a lot of thought and love into giving something to someone they love because it expresses that love and they know the person they love who is receiving it will love receiving the gift.

This is the greatest thing about gifts. It’s a win-win situation. But what if the person isn’t grateful? What if they outright reject the gift? This is the worst thing about gifts. What is important to you, in giving the gift, is not met with the same enthusiasm. What brings you joy brings to another apathy or even disdain. At that point, your gift to the person doesn’t seem very much like a gift. You are deflated. Perhaps you’re even angry. Maybe you’re confused. You might very well feel like taking it back. Okay, if you don’t want it, you don’t get it.

But the nature of a gift is that it is given. A gift is an act of love. It is something that is given out of love. It doesn’t demand anything or even expect anything. It is simply given. And so surely a gift that is met with ingratitude or rejection will cause sadness and deflation. Why doesn’t the person want what I want to give them? Why aren’t they seeing this is as a wonderful thing in the same way I am? When all you want to do is love the other person, do something wonderful for the person, show them in a significant way that they mean a lot to you, and their response is, shall we say, lacking, well, now you know how God feels.

God gives gifts. God loves. And God loves to give to the people He loves. He prepares it all. His great feast. His spread of love, and forgiveness, and life, and salvation, and blessings beyond compare. He prepares it all and sets it before you. And what does He get in return? Is He asking for anything in return? Actually, that’s part of our problem. We’re thinking yes. But He’s not. He’s not expecting anything, He’s just giving. He’s saying, “It’s all ready, come partake of it.”

The people in Jesus’ story who reject this invitation aren’t outright obnoxious about it. In fact, the first two are quite polite about it, perhaps even feeling a little bad that they have these pressing things right now, one who just bought a field, the other who just got some oxen. The third one is just more matter-of-fact. I’ve just gotten married, I need to spend some time with my wife before I go making time for others.

And this is just the problem. You see, outright rejection is just as bad as those who really would like to come, really they would, but have these important things going on. God always extends His invitation. But there comes a moment when your heart stops beating. Your brain shuts down. Your blood stops flowing. Your body no longer moves and begins slowly to decay. It’s at that moment that there are no more pressing matters in your life. At that moment your life has come to an end and all those important and wonderful things you had going on in your life are no longer in your life. It is, as the Bible teaches, appointed for man once to die and then the judgment.

This is Jesus’ urgent plea in the parable He tells today. All things are ready, He extends the invitation. But are you ready? Do you have more pressing things going on that you need to attend to? Is God just going to have to wait? Maybe you are thinking, I believe Jesus is my Savior, so what’s the urgency? If someone doesn’t believe, the urgency is there because if they die without faith in Christ, as God says in the parable today, “They will never taste of My banquet.” But you are not an unbeliever. You know Jesus as your Lord. So where is the urgency?

It is in this, that your Lord that you believe in, is your Lord who has prepared a feast for you. Do not take it for granted. What prompted this whole parable of Jesus was someone’s well-meaning statement that the person is blessed who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Let me tell you who will be blessed, Jesus is saying, in giving us this parable. Are there future blessings? Oh yeah. Jesus never denies that. But who was that man saying this to? Jesus Himself. The Bread of Life Himself. The man was talking about those being blessed who will receive rewards far off into the future, and didn’t even realize that the blessings are now. The feast is prepared now. The invitation is given now.

Those who look off into the future take for granted what is given to them now. Those who have more pressing things in their life don’t see that Jesus has more important things to give them now.

There is in this life always the tension between the now and the not yet. Everything is ready, it’s all prepared. He has accomplished all things, and you have eternal salvation now. But it won’t be until you die and are received into heaven that you will experience the blessings in their full glory. Perhaps this is why we make our excuses. Perhaps this is why we take for granted the blessings our Lord gives to us now. Perhaps this is why we don’t see the preaching of the Gospel and the receiving of the Lord’s Supper and the daily living in our Baptism for what they really are: they are the Feast your Lord has prepared for you. Now.

He’s not telling you to look to the future for something He’ll give you then. He’s not promising that you’ll find out what He’s got in store for you when you the time is right. He has prepared His Feast now. And even as you have a bunch of things on your plate, and a bunch of important and God-pleasing things at that, you are extended His invitation right now to partake of His royal banquet of forgiveness, life, and salvation. All of those things you’ve got going on, your work, your family, your recreation, your hobbies, your friends, everything God has given you in your life, they are good and it is pleasing to Him that you make use of them and enjoy them for all their worth.

But not at the expense of His banquet which He has prepared for you. When you put those things before this Thing, you have taken for granted His gift. You are not simply ungrateful, but rejecting the gift. That, after all, is the nature of a gift. It can be rejected, even as it remains a gift.

The fact that a gift can be rejected makes it a very sad thing when it is rejected. At the same time, it also shows what a wonderful thing a gift is. Since a gift is given freely, with no strings attached, it is indeed a wonderful thing even if the person doesn’t want it. And when the person who gives has it in his nature to give, then we see that a gift is by nature something greater than we could ever imagine or get by our own ability. God is such a giver. He gives freely. And He keeps giving.

I find it refreshing that when the man in the parable who prepares the feast is rejected by the ones who were invited doesn’t bat an eye when his servant takes the initiative to go out and invite other people to the feast. When the man tells his servant to do just this, the servant says, “It’s already done.” I’ve already taken care of it, Master. What do we learn about the man from this? The servant knew what kind of master he had. He was a giving master. One who loves to give. And one who will not only not take umbrage, but will be glad when his servants go out and give some more.

And when the servant says, “But the only problem, Sir, is that even though we have already invited a bunch more people, there’s still more room. What should we do?” I suppose they should have known, but such is the case with our limited understanding of God. Go out into the highways and hedges and compel the people to come in. In other words, go out into the places where the people who are not accustomed to enjoying the fine life of feasts and feasting. Why do they have to be compelled? It is not that they are forced, otherwise the original invitees would be there, against their will. It is that they are exhorted and encouraged. Something along the lines of, “Hey, my Master, he’s an astonishingly wealthy guy and is throwing a huge party, and I completely understand that you think that I’m messing with you or playing a practical joke on you, but this real. He wants you to be there. He wants you to join in on the Feast. Just come with me and you’ll see what I mean!”

See, that’s the nature of a gift. It can be rejected. It can also be seen as too good to be true. So what does God do? He gives. And He gives some more. He gives His Word. He puts it in black and white for all to see. He preaches His Gospel and He preaches it some more. He does this through His Church, and specifically those called in the Church to proclaim the Gospel purely and faithfully. He gives forgiveness and new life in Baptism. And daily He gives blessings in this Baptismal life, as we daily die and rise to life in Christ. He gives His Son. He gives Himself in the Second Person of His Godhead, the Trinity. He gives Him to us, right here on earth, to be born, to live, to suffer and die in our place, to rise victoriously from the grave, and to ascend into heaven so that He may reign in glorious grace and mercy. And He continues to give Him, as He comes to us in the Word, in preaching, in Baptism, and in His Holy Supper.

Basically, God gives a great big Feast, and it’s never ending. And you’re invited. And He keeps giving it and giving it and never lets up. He will never force it upon you. But He will continue to give, because that’s who He is. It’s what He does. That’s the nature of His gift. Amen.


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