“Invited to the Wedding Feast” (Luke 14:1-24)

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2010

“Invited to the Wedding Feast” (Luke 14:1-24)

Last week in our Gospel reading from Luke 13, Jesus talked about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets of Israel–as well as a multitude of people from east and west and north and south–all of them “reclining at table in the kingdom of God.” “Reclining at table”: That’s the image of an ancient Near Eastern feast, which Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of God. Now in today’s Gospel from Luke 14, Jesus extends the idea of the feast and specifically uses the image of a wedding feast to describe the kingdom. He talks about being invited to the wedding feast and taking your place there at the feast. Well, to top it all off, it just so happens that yesterday I went up to Chicago for the wedding of my goddaughter and the dinner thereafter. So guess what I’m going to talk about this morning? You guessed it. Our theme today is “Invited to the Wedding Feast.”

You know, Jesus often used the image of a wedding feast to talk about the kingdom of God. It was one of his more common teaching themes. In Matthew 22, for instance, he tells a parable and begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” The king in this story of course is God the Father and his son is obviously Jesus himself. The king holds the celebration in honor of his son, and the rest of the parable there in Matthew is very similar to the one we heard today from Luke, in that many people are invited but begin to make excuses. The account in Matthew, though, adds the sidebar about the man who gets kicked out of the wedding feast because he is not wearing an appropriate garment for the occasion, thus showing the necessity of a true and genuine faith for admittance into the kingdom of God.

On another occasion, Jesus used the language of a wedding feast in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Remember, they were waiting for the start of the wedding feast, but it was a long time in coming, and their lamps went out. The five wise virgins had oil ready to go, but the five foolish ones did not.

So Jesus liked to use the language and the imagery and the metaphor of the marriage feast in order to teach about the kingdom of God, and today’s reading fits into that category. Today we want to explore why and how–why Jesus uses that imagery and how it applies to us.

Why a wedding feast? Why does Jesus use that experience from everyday life to describe the kingdom of God? Well, for one thing, it’s not such an everyday occurrence. A wedding and its feast is a very special occasion. It stands out. It is memorable. There are things there that do happen in everyday life but they are heightened, accentuated–wonderful things like joy, fellowship, friends and family, community, love and life, eating and drinking, music–all brought together and magnified to a high degree at the special occasion of the wedding feast. If you wanted people to think of the most joyous special celebration they could think of, you might just pick the wedding feast. Especially in that ancient Near Eastern culture. Those folks really knew how to do it up big when it came to wedding feasts. The celebration might last for days. They pulled out all the stops. Big, lavish affairs, with the richest of foods and the finest of wines, freely flowing. Great hospitality and conviviality. What a joyous celebration!

And so that is why Jesus uses this imagery to speak about the kingdom of God. And remember, Jesus himself was invited to a wedding feast and used that occasion to demonstrate something about the kingdom he came to bring. It was at the wedding at Cana. They ran out of wine, but Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, Jesus, the king of creation, then created huge jars full of wine, good wine, the best wine, to provide for the ongoing party. He did this to be a sign of the kingdom of heaven he was bringing to earth. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like–a never-ending supply of joy and gladness, an everlasting celebration, creation restored and then some.

And now we come to our text for today. Once again Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding feast. And here’s how it applies to us. Three points, very briefly: 1) You’ve been invited to the banquet. 2) Don’t blow off the invitation. And 3) Don’t worry about the place where you’ll be sitting.

First, you’ve been invited to the banquet. You all have received the invitation, and you’re receiving it once again here today. “Come to the wedding feast. Come, for everything is now ready.” Yes, God has made all the preparations, and he wants you to come. Christ has finished the work of redemption, and the Holy Spirit is calling you by the gospel. There is a party for you to attend, the best one you’ll ever go to.

Look, it is the feast of forgiveness and life. Christ Jesus won those gifts for mankind when he came down from heaven and gave his life as the ransom for the world. By his blood shed and his body sacrificed on the cross, the Son of God purchased our salvation, gained the forgiveness we need for our many sins, supplied the righteousness we were lacking–namely, all of it–and destroyed the power of death for us, which he showed when he himself rose from the grave. That’s quite a deal! Salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, life–nothing better! All of it, freely and plenteously given.

And the Holy Spirit has called you to come and partake. The invitation comes in all the ways the gospel has come to your doorstep, with your name written on it. When you were baptized, you were invited to the party. Each time you hear the word of God being preached or taught, you are getting the invitation. Whenever the Holy Sacrament is offered here, you are invited to the celebration. Really, every time you have the opportunity to go to church, there is your invitation to come and take part in the ongoing feast that God is holding, to come and receive the gifts he has for you, to share in the celebration of Christ’s sweet victory for you and humankind.

So, therefore, point two, don’t blow off the invitation! Don’t refuse or reject God’s call to the banqueting hall. Don’t make excuses. That’s what the people in the story did, wasn’t it? “They all alike began to make excuses.” “Oh, I can’t come, I’ve got better things to do. Too busy. Other priorities. Please have me excused.” Well, no, you don’t have better things to do with your time. You may think you do, but you would be wrong. It is absolutely the stupidest thing to do in life, is to blow off God’s invitation, but people do it all the time. They are invited, repeatedly, to come to God’s house and receive God’s gifts, but they ignore the invitation, dismiss it, make excuses for why they’re not coming. Church members even, people who should know better. How dumb!

For coming to God’s party at once addresses your greatest need and gives you your greatest treasure. Your greatest need is your ongoing need for forgiveness, for we are all sinners, every one of us. You need to be in right relationship with God, be reconciled to him. You need life and strength and renewed faith to live out your calling to be God’s child. That does not happen apart from the means of grace that God supplies. And therein is your greatest treasure. It is to know Christ and to receive his life–there is nothing more wonderful or more necessary or more joyous than that.

Faith is your R.S.V.P. to the invitation. Faith is saying “Yes” to God’s “Come.” And that faith, by the way–faith likewise is a gift of God, created in your heart by the Holy Spirit, working through the word. The Spirit says “Come,” and so we come. We come now, whenever the invitation is issued to come to church, for that is also saying yes to the heavenly celebration. You see, it’s a package deal. You cannot set going to church against saying yes to Jesus and going to heaven, for it’s all of the same piece. If you don’t want Jesus at church, you’re not going to want him in heaven. Jesus is present here, he is speaking to us here with his wonderful words of life. And the feast we receive here–the Lord’s Supper, his Supper–is a foretaste of the feast to come.

And then the third point: Don’t worry about your place at the party. Don’t be a social climber, trying to claw your way forward to a higher place of honor, a seat at the head table. Look, if the host wants to advance you forward, he’ll do that. After all, this whole thing is by grace, isn’t it, not by merit. Jesus invites the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame. That’s us. Oh, and by the way, that’s how we treat others also. We don’t look down our noses at others in the church, as though we’re superior to them and they don’t deserve to be here on an equal basis with us. No, none of that in God’s kingdom. None of us deserves to be here. I’m here, not because I’m so great, but because I’m so lousy. I’m a rotten sinner, and I’m here at the party because God has graciously invited me in because of Christ. I need what God is giving, that’s why I’m here. So it’s all by grace, not by merit, from start to finish. Pride has no place at a feast for sinners. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The kingdom of God is like a wedding feast. That’s the message Jesus is sending us today. That’s the celebration Jesus has won for us and the Holy Spirit is inviting us to. It’s a never-ending celebration, the greatest feast of joy and gladness and community there has ever been or ever will be. It starts now, and it will last forever. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Or, as the Book of Revelation has it, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Yes, blessed indeed! “Come to the wedding feast. Come, for everything is now ready.”

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Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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