Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: October 15, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

Altar reflected on piano

Altar reflected on piano

Did you know that God loves planning a wedding? He is probably the only Father who doesn’t dread the expense that looms on the horizon. He doesn’t roll his eyes when He looks at the ever-increasing guest list. In fact, a wedding was the first thing God had arranged, right after He created man and woman. Our Lord is THE specialist in setting up a relationship that is based on unconditional love, without a hint of fear, and with no requirement of paying Him back. No reality TV show producer comes close. God is most pleased when a man obeys His divine command and leaves father and mother to be joined to his wife. Such an activity proclaims to the world that the Son of God, true God and true Man, wants to join Himself to us in an eternal spiritual marriage. Such an invitation is precious, and ever since the world fell into sin, the invitation has gotten all the more valuable, because now the alternative to the heavenly wedding is everlasting punishment, you know, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a totally free invitation to the Lord’s wedding, and it would be ludicrous to turn Him down.

The prophet Isaiah sings about this wedding feast that the Almighty Lord is putting on: the rich food, the well-aged wine. Nothing will be left out. It is truly going to be perfect. It is set on scenic Mount Zion, which is a favorite Old Testament symbol for the dwelling of God with men, and it is a fitting description that the Old Testament prophets have of the Christian Church, which for them was still to come. This banquet is not an empty symbol, it doesn’t merely stand for some future, heavenly happiness, but it also describes the gift you have standing before you this day in the worship service. Not only is this a wedding banquet, but a royal wedding banquet, and that if you’re invited to this event, you have just been given the highest honor that you’ll ever receive. And if you ever get to read through the whole Bible, you’ll find that it is all about this royal wedding banquet, about all the invitations that went out, the many and repeated rejection of those invitations, then the invitations were given to other people, and finally what will happen once the Royal Host of the wedding finally visits face-to-face with His guests. So Jesus, in telling this parable, is actually giving you the entire history of the world, from God’s point-of-view, in the form of a little story.

So, since this parable is a summary of the world’s history, where do you and I fit in to it? Now, the first invitation already went out: Adam and Eve were given the promise of a Savior immediately after they fell into sin. Many other generations after them received the same invite anew. The dinner has already been prepared, the animals have been slaughtered and everything is ready: this refers to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection. Plainly speaking, the way of salvation is complete, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have said “It is finished,” while He was hanging there on the cursed tree of Mount Calvary. Those who were invited first and rejected Him have already been demolished, meaning the old Jewish way of Temple sacrifice and the many detailed preparations for the Messiah are over. You can therefore find yourself in the final invitation: where the King’s servants went out to the roads all over the world to gather all people, good and bad, so that the wedding hall of the Church would be filled with guests.

I can understand if this identification hurts your pride a little bit. No one wants to take an invitation merely out of charity. If you weren’t first on the list, then it’s a slap in the face, even if there’s free food. At first glance, it looks from this story at least like you were God’s second-thought guests. Like it was all by chance that you ever came to faith and received the forgiveness of all your sins. Just so you know, that is all cleared up in other parts of the Bible that speak of your eternal election, that your heavenly Father had it in mind from before creation to save you and make you His own. What is emphasized here, though, is that those guests who were last invited, they relied totally on the generosity of the Host. That you can identify with. In the exact same way, you had nothing about you that made you worthy to receive the Gospel invitation; it was all by grace that you got in to the banquet of the Lord’s salvation.

But remember from this Gospel parable, getting in the door is not where it ends. There is a wedding garment to put on; house rules. Mind you, this is not something those guests needed before they arrived. They were fresh off the street. The wedding garments were handed out as the guests walked in. These clothes meant something very important. They were a sign that the guests belonged inside; a sign that the Master of the banquet had done everything to make it possible for them to attend the banquet. If they refused these garments, they would be no different from the other guests who had outright refused the earlier invitation. Which also means that they would suffer a similar retribution of destruction, complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

For each and every one of you, your heavenly Father has set aside a wedding garment for you to wear. It is the pure white gown of Christ’s perfect righteousness that clothed you when you were baptized. Though you were completely soiled in sin ever since your conception within your mother’s womb, it doesn’t matter anymore to God. He has washed away your sin completely and you are clean. You are presented to the Lord in radiant white wedding clothes that you did not earn or work for, but were given to you by God’s free grace, which is the main reason why many families pass along a baptismal gown from one generation to the next as a family heirloom. Since you are dressed in the forgiveness of all your sins, which was paid for by the Blood of Jesus Christ, you are most certainly welcome to your heavenly Father’s wedding banquet.

And yet, for the rest of your life you will face the constant temptation to throw this all away. You remain a sinner, and sinners reject the Lord and insist on their own way. They want to be independent from God; a sinner often falls for the alluring, but empty promises of the devil. Like others before you who rejected the Master’s invitation and one preferred to tend to his farm, another to his business, the pattern continues today: one to believe it’s more important to watch the football game, one to take the weekend off to relax, and another, she may be worried about what she’ll see in their next retirement fund or social security statement. All sinners, that is, all human beings, face these opportunities to gratify their sinful flesh. But for you, your Lord offers to strengthen you through these temptations and take away your sin, clothing you over and over again in the perfect wedding garment that you inherited when you were baptized.

And yes, there will be some, some even within the Church itself, who will continually refuse to receive this forgiveness. There are those who will insist on their own way of trusting in themselves rather than in Christ and what His Holy Word clearly says. A few will listen only so far as they agree with what the Lord has to say. In fact, God has promised that there will be such guests appearing for a time at the banquet. You might recall a similarity between this parable and the story Jesus tells about the weeds that grow in the field of wheat. False Christians will indeed look very good to others in this world, they may even stand as religious examples. Unless they make a clear denial of the faith in word or in action, you would probably never realize it.

But the Lord, the Master of the Banquet Himself, He will know when He personally appears to meet with His guests who heard His generous invitation and got inside. This refers to what will happen at the Last Judgment following the resurrection of everyone who has ever died. Then, all people, good and bad, will appear before His throne. Those who wish to continue independent of the Lord and refuse His forgiveness, will be instantly ushered out of the banquet hall and into utter darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is no symbol either, that is chillingly literal. But those wearing the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness, even though they did not deserve it, they will dine at the never ending feast, and forever enjoy the presence of God in heaven.

That baptismal wedding garment is still available to you. Repent of your sin, including your worries and concerns. Believe that as the called and ordained servant of the Word speaks it, you have actually received full forgiveness; then extend that forgiveness within the context of your particular vocation, and forgive those who sin against you with the same Divine power that God gives to the pastor in his vocation. Believe that the heavenly banquet is here laid before you on the Altar, only for now it is hidden under bread and wine that truly is the Body and Blood of Christ, just as He says. You are worthy of this feast because Christ Your Savior bestowed His perfect worthiness upon You by faith. Be assured that your heavenly Father loves to put on His Son’s wedding feast to end all wedding feasts, sparing no expense, and that He and the myriad host of angels rejoice to know that they will one day also welcome you in face-to-face.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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