Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 23)
October 15, 2017
Text: Matt. 22:1-14
The grapes have been gathered in and the wine is now ready. The food has been prepared and the Table is set. The LORD of hosts makes for all people a Feast of rich food and aged wine. The meat is full of marrow and marbled, and the wine is the very best (Is. 25:6). Our Lord Jesus has swallowed up death forever in His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. The veil has been removed. He wipes away our tears. For He has saved us. Our life is in Him. And in Him we have joy. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. He died, and He is risen from the dead, and behold, He lives forevermore. And now it’s time to party. This is no time for fasting. This is time for feasting and drinking. The Kingdom has come, and soon everyone will know. The Bridegroom has come to claim His Bride and enthrone Her by His side. Rejoice. Raise your glass, a toast to Christ and His holy Church. Come to the Altar and drink deeply of His mercy, and know that this is just the beginning of the celebration, a foretaste of the eternal Feast to come. His body, His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, your eternal life and salvation.
Don’t let anything keep you from this Feast. There is nothing more important for you to do right now than be here, where Jesus is, the Bridegroom, bestowing His gifts on you, His wedding guests, His Bride. He washes you and clothes you in His own righteousness in Holy Baptism. He bespeaks you righteous and forgives your sins in His Gospel and Absolution. He sets a Table before you that makes the miracle at the wedding in Cana look like child’s play. Where else could you possibly be than here, where heaven comes down to earth and you’re surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the Church of all times and places, all your loved ones who have died in the faith, and Jesus enthroned on the Altar in bread and wine?
But so many do not want to come to the Feast. And it breaks our hearts. We all have loved ones who have received the invitation, from our own mouths. “Come to Church with me. I want to share this with you. I want you to know the peace that passes all understanding. I want you to know Jesus and His love for you, that God is your loving heavenly Father, and I want you to have His Spirit upon you and in you. I want you to have eternal life. Come to the party. Come to the wedding Feast!”… But they say no.
Now, in one sense, this should give us great boldness in confessing Christ all the more and inviting people to Church all the more. The worst they can say is “no.” Once you get past that fear and that initial sting of rejection, you just keep praying for that person and you keep speaking of Jesus and even inviting them as the opportunity presents itself. Love can take the rejection. Love, remember… true Christian love… says and does the hard things for the beloved and even bears the pain of rejection willingly for the sake of the beloved… as Jesus did for you and for me on the cross.
But it is the reasons people give for missing the Feast that is so heartbreaking, the excuses and the misplaced priorities. In the parable, one goes off to tend his farm, and another to his business. These are the folks who are too busy with the real matters of the world for all that Jesus stuff. Those, at least, are better excuses than I usually hear as a pastor. I’ve been told, “Pastor, Sunday is the only day I can possibly do the laundry!” Okay. “It’s my only day to relax.” “It’s my only day to sleep in.” “Your sermons are always the same anyway. Too much doctrine. Your preaching doesn’t inspire me.” “The service takes too long.” “Church is boring.” “Mrs. Grumpypants said a mean thing to me once. I don’t remember what it was, but it really, really, hurt.” “I don’t like the music.” “I don’t like the people.” “I don’t like you, Pastor.” Well, except for the last one maybe, these are actual excuses I’ve heard from the mouths of real people. Beloved, don’t let them ever be your excuse. Be here, as often as possible. Not just because that’s the Commandment (although it is… review your Catechism, the Third Commandment and its meaning: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”) But come because of the Promise: Here is Jesus, with all His gifts, for you! To not come would be like a Bride refusing to come to her own wedding. Don’t be ridiculous. And remember that the things you receive here from Jesus are eternal. Everything out there in the world, even the very best of the world for which we give thanks to God, only lasts the few measly years of your earthly life.
But then there are those who have a violent reaction to the festal invitation. There is the one in the Parable who seizes the King’s servants and treats them shamefully and kills them. That’s the world’s reward for Christians, for pastors, and especially for the Apostles. We think of the great persecution suffered by our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are being seized and abused and killed on account of Christ. We’re very blessed here in the United States with our freedom of religion. But how easily that can and will slip through our fingers. It’s slipping as we speak while Christians are made to pay for abortions and bake cakes for gay weddings and our preaching is legislated against as hate speech. So it goes. This is what we are promised in this fallen world. Jesus never said it would be easy. He said we should take up our cross and follow Him. To Golgotha. The road to resurrection always leads through death.
What does the King do to those who refuse His invitation? This is a tough one for us to read. We don’t like it, but then again, don’t blame me. Blame Jesus. He says it. The King is angry and sends in His troops. He destroys those murderers and burns their city. In the context of the Parable, Jesus is speaking about the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and refusal to have any part in His Kingdom. He is speaking of their persecution of the Prophets and Apostles and the holy Church. What happens? Here come the Romans. A+D 70, the Holy City is destroyed and many Jews are killed. But this, of course, is not the whole sum and substance of our Lord’s warning. The siege of Jerusalem is a type of the greater wrath to come on all who reject the King and His Son, Jesus. There is a Judgment Day and there is a hell and people really do go there. This world will be destroyed, St. Peter says, by fire (2 Peter 3:7, 10; ESV): “the heavens and the earth that now exist,” he says, “are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Those who reject the Lord’s invitation will perish eternally with the devil and his angels in hell, where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). That is the Word of Jesus Christ. It’s no joke.
But the Lord will not have His banquet Table empty. So when the invited guests refuse to come, He sends His servants, His pastors and His Christians, you, out to the highways and byways to invite to the wedding as many as they find. Jesus eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, so you can imagine the kind of crowd He wants us to gather in. He even wants the Missouri Synod Lutherans. He even wants you. Yes, you. In spite of all you’ve done. In spite of all the mean words you’ve said. Even you, Mrs. Grumpypants. And you, you Mr. Oversensitive who can’t let the mean thing Mrs. Grumpypants said go. You’re both forgiven, and Jesus wants you for Himself. Forgive each other, and let’s move on. And you, Mr. Looks At What He Shouldn’t on the Internet. Jesus wants you. He forgives you that sin. And you, Ms. Gossip, and you, little Jimmy Mischief. He wants you at His Table. And He forgives you all your sins. There is even room at the Table for Pastor Krenz, so great is the Lord’s mercy. And so we rejoice. Always. I will say it again, rejoice.
When a great noble, like a king, threw a wedding feast in the ancient world, he would clothe the guests in splendid robes upon their arrival. This tells us what is going on with the last part of the parable. The man, whom the King, incidentally, addresses as “Friend,” has had the audacity to walk into the wedding Feast like he has a right to be there. Like he’s worthy. Like his own clothing is splendid enough. So he refuses the robe offered him freely upon his entrance to the Feast. He refuses the free gift of the King. Beloved in the Lord, you have no right to come to this Feast, and you are not worthy. The robes you bring to the Feast are torn and tattered and smeared with the ugliness of sin. What Jesus does in Holy Baptism is wash you and anoint your wounds with the salve of His Gospel, and put a new robe on you, the robe of His righteousness, the robe of Christ Himself. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” St. Paul writes (Gal. 3:27). The robe is free. It is provided for you when you enter the Holy Church. It is a gift. Baptism is not your work for Jesus. It is Jesus’ work for you. He does it. And so you are clothed with Him. If you refuse to wear His righteousness, though… If you insist that you are worthy and you can wear your own works, your own righteousness, and that you deserve to be here… You are the man who is cast into the outer darkness. The Feast is for you, but it is for you on Jesus’ terms, not your own. The Feast is for the baptized who have been instructed and absolved. Everyone is welcome at this Table, but there is a way you come to it, and that way is what Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: Make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Baptism and instruction. That is the way.
So, now, here you are, baptized into Christ, clothed with Him by grace alone, and the Table is set. Come to the Feast! Come, you rich. Come, you poor. Come, oh sinner, sainted by the blood of Jesus. Come with singing and great rejoicing. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus died for you. Jesus is risen for you. You shall not die, but live. Let’s eat, and let’s drink, and let’s be merry, for tomorrow we do not die. We live forever with Christ, who will raise us from the dead. And He’s here, now. Really and substantially. His body. His blood. On the Altar. For you. Rejoice in the Lord, always, beloved! I will say it again, rejoice! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 24)
October 22, 2017
Our Lord Jesus teaches us that now, in this earthly life, we do owe certain things to Caesar, to the earthly government that God has established for the ordering of our outward life together. St. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that every person should “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (v. 1; ESV). That means that government is God’s good gift to us, to be received with thanksgiving and honored by proper use. We call this in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Left Hand,” which He rules by human reason, the coercive force of the law of the land, and the sword placed in the hands of human rulers. He gives us this gift to protect society from descending into chaos, with each person doing what is right in his own eyes. God gives the gift of government to approve what is good and to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, again, St. Paul’s words (vv. 3-4). This is a Fourth Commandment issue: “Honor your father and your mother,” and by extension, all who are in authority over you. “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” This is what we owe Caesar. And so we should render tax money. We should render service to our neighbor by participation in civil society. We’ve been granted the marvelous privilege of voting here in America, and we should do so with our biblically informed Christian consciences. Those of us who can should serve in public office. We should honor our leaders. We should respect their office. St. Paul reminds us that we should pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2), a very important responsibility we have as members of the Christian Church. We should support them. We should speak the truth in love to them and to our fellow citizens. And we should obey them in everything, with one major exception: When the governing authorities ask us to violate God’s Law, then “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21). Our citizenship is in heaven, to be sure, but God has placed us in the world to love and serve our neighbor in the world, and to participate fully in the world as Christians, as Christ’s emissaries who work faithfully in our various vocations and confess Christ to those around us.
But Jesus says you are also to render to God the things that are God’s (v. 21), and this is really the point of our text. What is God’s? Everything. You are to render to God everything. Your very self. All that you are and all that you have. No exceptions. After all, you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19). God created you, body and soul, for Himself. And in spite of your unfaithfulness to Him, your selling yourself to other masters, to the devil, to the world, to the sin that dwells in your flesh, God has redeemed you by the blood and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. You were bought at a price (v. 20). And now God has made you His own by applying that redemption to you in Baptism. He has breathed His Spirit into you, so that by faith in Jesus Christ you are a true son of the Father. Now you live under Him in His Kingdom, under His rule. This is what we call in theology, “The Kingdom of God’s Right Hand,” ruled by the Word of God. And that which you owe God in this Kingdom is comprehensive. You owe Him everything. You are to render unto Him everything.
But you haven’t so rendered, neither to Caesar, nor to God. You haven’t rendered to Caesar. You regularly break the speed limit. You fail to report income paid under the table. You don’t just criticize your leaders, you disrespect their office. You so often fail to serve your fellow citizens, all the while patting yourself on the back for all that you do and for the model citizen you are. And as for God, you have not begun to render unto Him the things that are His. It is not just a matter of what you do or don’t put in the offering plate (though you should note how you think nothing of it when you spend $5 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but you feel oh so generous when you drop an extra five dollar bill at Church). You begrudge the Lord the demands He makes of you, the time He wants you to spend in the Divine Service, in Bible Study, and in prayer and devotion at home. His Commandments with which you disagree or which you don’t like. His demand that you love the neighbor you can’t stand, forgive the brother who has sinned against you, live for others, live for God, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Repent. You have not rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. You have not rendered to God the things that are God’s.
But there is One who has: Christ Jesus, your Savior and your Substitute. His rendering counts as your own. He perfectly rendered unto Caesar, even in His mother’s womb, traveling to Bethlehem for the Census, for the tax. He was obedient to the governing authorities. He stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, submitted to his judgment, confessed that Pilate’s authority had been given him from above (John 19:11). He submitted to the soldiers, bore their insults, their mockery, their torture, as they carried out His execution, crucifixion between two thieves. And this He did, even as He rendered unto God the things that are God’s: Himself, all that He was, and all that He had, right down to the very last drop of His sacred blood. He never sinned. He perfectly fulfilled God’s Law. He loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. And He perfectly loved His neighbor, loved you, giving Himself up for you, for your redemption and the forgiveness of your sins.
Therefore God, His heavenly Father, raised Him from the dead. And now, incredibly, incomprehensibly, this Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior, renders unto you the things that are God’s. He renders unto you forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, His love, His care, His protection, His divine help, His Holy Spirit, His divine Sonship, the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, heaven, the resurrection, and all things. He renders unto you His Body given for you, His Blood shed for you, His Words spoken for you, His intercession before the Father for you. Mystery of mysteries, He renders unto you what He does not owe you, to you who owe Him everything. He renders unto you, that He might render you to the Father. “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one,” He says to His Father (John 18:9). He renders to God all that you are and all that you have. He renders you wholly and completely. He renders everything. He renders you as God’s own Child, and as one who can pray with Him, as He has taught you, “Our Father who art in heaven.”
Now you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom. And this frees you to render unto Caesar, to live in this world for the sake of the world. Earthly governments will never be perfect and most earthly rulers won’t even be Christians. America will never be the Kingdom of God on earth, nor will Israel, or any other nation. In fact, many earthly governments and rulers will be patently evil. They will persecute Christians. They will rule tyrannically. They will kill the unborn and the elderly. They will commit genocide. They will make marriage meaningless. They will be cruel taskmasters. But behind them, and in spite of them, and contrary to their wicked designs, God will be ordering and preserving the world through them for the sake of His Christians, for you, and for those to be added to God’s Kingdom by coming to faith in Christ. So in spite of it all, do what Jesus and St. Paul tell you to do. Pay your taxes. Obey your leaders (but give your first obedience to God). Honor them. Serve them. Love them. Pray for them. But remember they and you belong to God. The earthly authorities may rule a town, a state, or a country, but God rules everything. And He loves you. He will prevail in the end. You will be saved, and justice and righteousness will triumph in that Day. You’ll see. “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.