A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
July 3, 2011

A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity

Passage: 1 John 3:13-24; Luke 14:16-24
Service Type:

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
1 St. John 3:13-24 & St. Luke 14:16-24

by William Klock

Our lessons today dovetail off last Sunday’s lessons about love—about God’s love amazing love for us and the fact that those who have experienced his love will always show it by sharing it with others—especially with the unlovely and the unlovable.  It’s a powerful love, and we see its power as it not only saves us, but as it also inevitably transforms us.  In last Sunday’s Epistle, St. John stressed that the love of God is so powerful that when we experience it, we can’t help but show it to others and that if we fail to share it with others, that’s simply proof that, despite what we may think about the state of our souls, despite however much we may come to church and sing songs about how much we love God, despite all our good works, we haven’t actually experienced God’s love ourselves.  In today’s Epistle John continues with this love theme, stressing that God’s love is so amazing that in it we can find assurance of our being in his grace.  He says in 1 John 3:19:

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him…

Do you ever wonder if you’re really “saved”?  Doubt is a real problem, especially I think after we’ve stumbled and fallen into sin.  We wonder if a real Christian would do what we’ve just done.  We question where we stand before God.  But John exhorts us:

…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; [he graciously and powerfully reassures us] and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:20-22)

The grace and mercy and love of God so transform the heart of the Christian that the transformation of the heart itself is one of the sources of our assurance.  Before we knew Jesus our hearts were filled with impurity, idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, and envy—filled with sin and every sinful and selfish desire—but when the Holy Spirit came into our hearts he radically transformed us and now we bear what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We’re now polar opposites of what we once were.  That’s why Paul warned the Corinthians: They wanted to know if people were filled with the Holy Spirit and they looked for the manifestation of certain gifts as proof, just as some people today insist that you have to speak in tongues if you’ve got the Spirit.  But Paul told them, “No.  If you want to know if someone’s got the Holy Spirit, you’ll know it if they’ve made Jesus their Lord.  No one can do that unless the Holy Spirit has come into them and changed their heart.”  We’re all naturally enemies of God.  Our hearts are fixed on sin.  But the amazing love of God that is manifested in his sending his Son to die for us on the cross, to take our sin and our sentence of eternal damnation on himself, will always radically transform the man or the woman who has faith in Jesus’ ability to save them from sin and death, who truly puts his or her trust in Jesus, admitting that they cannot save themselves.  That transformation, that making Jesus our Lord, that switch from sinner to saint, and especially as John stresses here, the new ability and desire to love the unlovely and the unlovable, is the sure evidence of God’s saving grace in our lives.  Isaac Williams called it the “chain which reaches to the throne of God, and connects with it every action of our daily life.”  John says:

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.  (1 John 3:23-24)

St. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 8:16:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

What’s amazing is that even though through Jesus, God offers us his love, his peace, and assurance of pardon from sin, there are people who turn him down.  We read these words about the love of God to us and our love in return and it’s utterly amazing—and then we go out into the world and see that reality is that most people refuse that amazing love.  And that’s what Jesus gets at in our Gospel today.  He compares the kingdom of God to a great banquet.  I think we can grasp part of the imagery there—part of the reason why Jesus chooses a banquet as a point of comparison—but I don’t really think it impacts us like it would have the people who originally heard him.  In our culture we don’t have banquets like they did.  These were big affairs and our closest comparison would be something like a big wedding reception, but even that doesn’t quite express how big a deal a banquet was in those days.  We also miss out on the meaning because our culture is very rapidly forgetting the concept of “hospitality”.  People don’t entertain or invite others to share meals with them the way they used to—even when I was young, which wasn’t very long ago.  There’s something about sharing a meal with someone.  Think about your circle of friends and acquaintances.  There are lots of people we might socialise with in a casual way.  We know them, but we don’t really know them.  There are people we might work with on a daily basis or friends we get together with at church or other social events, but we don’t usually invite people into our homes unless we know them well and feel comfortable and assured with them—and if we invite them home to sit at our table and we don’t know them, it’s because we want to get to know them better.  There’s just something about sharing a meal that builds a relationship and expresses a depth of fellowship that’s hard to express in any other way.

There’s probably nothing in the Old Testament that makes this point better than the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.  David had defeated Saul and his supporters, he’d defeated the Philistines, and after years of struggle, he’d finally got himself firmly established on the throne of Israel.  One of his first orders of business after all those years of fighting and turmoil was to seek out whether or not there was anyone left alive from the house of Saul.  In that day and age it was typical that when there was a hostile take-over of the throne, the new king would not only kill his rival, but would also kill off his close supporters, his family, and especially his sons and grandsons—the point was to eliminate your rivals.  But that’s not why David was looking for members of Saul’s family.  David looked up a man named Ziba who had been one of Saul’s servants and asked him, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”  You see, David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, had been best friends.  Jonathan had died in the battle between David and Saul and David now, instead of wanting to make sure he had no rivals, wanted for the sake of his friend to show kindness to one of his relatives.  Saul had made David’s life miserable, had even tried to murder him several times, but David wanted to show forgiveness to Saul’s family and kindness to his friend’s son.

Ziba tells David that, in fact, one of Jonathan’s sons was still alive—a man named Mephibosheth.  We read a few chapters earlier that when Saul and Jonathan had been killed, news was taken back to Jonathan’s home.  Mephibosheth’s nurse, fearing that David would soon come for the little boy, ran with him and that they had lived in hiding for all these years.  Ziba told David about Mephibosheth, whom he noted was also lame in both his feet.  It’s a sad and pathetic picture that he paints of this young man, the grandson of the deposed king, living in hiding for years, and crippled to boot. Mephibosheth’s story was a sad one.

And so David sends his men to get him.  The poor guy had to be afraid.  Here he’d been lame and living in hiding for most of his life and now the king has his men come and pick him up to take him to the palace.  And when he gets there, Mephibosheth throws himself down on his face before David, no doubt in fear, begging for mercy, “Behold!  I am your servant,” he says to David.  And that’s when David does what poor Mephibosheth never expected.  Instead of killing him or throwing him into the dungeon, David tells him, “Mephibosheth!  Don’t be afraid.  Your father, Jonathan was my best friend.  I loved him dearly and for his sake I brought you here to show you my kindness.  I’m restoring to you everything that belonged to your grandfather, Saul, and I want you to live in my house and eat bread at my table.”  Wow!  But that’s exactly what happened.  The author of Samuel tells us, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons….So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.”

Mephibosheth was the son of David’s best friend.  David wanted fellowship with him, he wanted to show him the greatest honour he could, he wanted to be close to him, so he seated him at his own table.  Brothers and sisters, Mephibosheth is a type of you and me.  As Mephibosheth was born the son of David’s rival to the throne, so we are by birth the sons of the prince of this world—sons and daughters of the devil.  We are by birth, every one of us, rivals to God.  He’s our sovereign, but we’ve turned our backs on him and thrown him out of our lives.  We were his enemies.  Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and you and I are just as lame spiritually as he was physically.  We’re spiritual good-for-nothings.  And yet God loves us still.  He sent Jesus to die for us that we might be reconciled to him, and now as the brothers and sisters of Christ and as God’s own children by adoption, he invites us to sit at his table—to share bread with him as sons and daughters of the King.  David didn’t care that Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul and by that his hereditary enemy.  He didn’t care that Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and good for nothing.  He loved him for the sake of his friend Jonathan.  Similarly, God doesn’t look at our sins anymore, he doesn’t look at our spiritual lameness or the fact that we were once his enemies, instead he looks at us and he loves us for the sake of his own Son, Jesus.  Think about that when you come to his Table each Sunday.  Think of Mephibosheth and consider that there’s nothing arbitrary about the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper.  God wants to show us kindness for the sake of his Son, so he invites us to sit and eat bread at his Table as his own sons and daughters.

Can you see why Jesus would compare the kingdom of God to a great banquet?  Jesus was himself at a banquet and had just been saying, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your family or your rich neighbours.  That’s no credit to you, because they’ll just invite you to their own banquet.  No, if you want to truly do good, invite the poor and blind and lame—people like Mephibosheth—people who can’t pay you back.  That shows real love—the same kind of love that God has shown you.”  The Holy Trinity had its own divine fellowship party going on for all eternity, but that wasn’t enough.  Just as it wasn’t enough for David to have his friends and supporters at his table, but instead wanted to bring in the grandson of his enemy, to show kindness and grace to him, so God seeks us out—his enemies—and brings us into his fellowship.  Jesus says that we should do the same.  And the Pharisee sitting next to him, completely missing the point, toasts Jesus and says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

I can imagine Jesus shaking his head and then telling this story:

A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  (John 14:16-17)

That’s exactly what God has done.  Jesus took on himself the form of a servant, he came to his own, and lovingly calls us into his kingdom with the Good News of the Gospel.  He calls us to wash ourselves in his grace, to set aside all the things of this world.  He even offers to dress us in his own royal robes of salvation.  And yet, Jesus goes on in his story:

But they all alike began to make excuses. (Luke 14:18)

They didn’t refuse him outright, but every one of them came up with some excuse why he or she couldn’t come.  God in his goodness spread a table, in his graciousness he invites us—even his enemies—and we start making excuses and turning down the invitation.

The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said,  ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:18-20)

If this hits close to home, that’s because it should.  Jesus picks three perfect examples that pretty well cover every part of life that might distract us from him and from being conformed to that love of God and neighbour that St. John writes about in today’s Epistle.  Notice, these people aren’t guilty of doing anything that’s outright wrong.  “Sorry, no, I can’t make it to dinner tonight because I’ve got a prior obligation to rob a bank.”  “Sorry, I’d really rather stay home and surf porn on the Internet.”  “Thanks for the invite, but I was planning to spend this evening on the phone spreading all the latest church gossip.”  No, the reasons these men give for not coming are all very reasonable.  The man really does need to look after his new field.  The other needs to take care of his oxen.  And we’d all agree that the third man shouldn’t be ignoring his new wife.  But the thing is that the man’s invitation to his banquet doesn’t require any of these men to abandon their worldly obligations.  The man isn’t asking them to give up their fields, or their livestock, or their wives.  Had they wanted to, they could have come to the banquet.  The problem wasn’t in their obligations; it was in their hearts.  They didn’t want to go to the banquet because at the moment they each had something new and shiny that was more important to them.

How often do we do the same thing?  When I’m working on a project—and I’ve been working on quite a few lately—I tend to get consumed by them.  I’ve been publishing resources for preachers on the Internet and I’ve been re-typesetting and publishing some long out-of-print books and commentaries on preaching.  It’s easy to get up in the morning and skip Morning Prayer.  And it would certainly be easy to justify.  “Hey, I’m working on something good and edifying—it even involves a lot of Scripture!”  It’s easy to let “things” consume us and in the end we become so focused on them that we lose our focus on God.  Our projects, our work, our hobbies and sports, our household chores, even our families, can all distract us from the love of God.  That’s a dangerous thing to have happen.  St. John writes:

Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.  (1 John 2:15-16)

So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:21)

If the scribes and Pharisees won’t come, Jesus calls all the louder and opens the doors even wider.  If the self-righteous aren’t moved by his loving-kindness, there are people who are poor and sick who are ready to take hold of the hem of his garment.  There are those who know their need—who know that they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—and who know that Jesus will meet their needs.  And yet the master is angry with men because they love death.  He offers them life and they refuse his invitation.  We can be thankful, though, that “his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5).

The wonderful thing about God’s banquet is that there’s always room for more.  The servant said to the master:

‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:22-24)

If we won’t accept the invitation, the Master’s call goes out to other sheep.  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus taught with parables, but in this case the line between the parable and the real world is hard to define, because through Jesus our heavenly Father really has prepared a feast for the faithful.  The sacrament he offers at the Table here today, in the bread and in the wine, is the sign and the seal of the life he offers us and it’s the earnest of the heavenly banquet that awaits us on the other side of eternity—that feast of true and unending and perfect fellowship with God.  The meal to which we’re invited today is the sign and seal of divine love.  As we gather here at the Table, we’re all made to be One Bread and One Body.  The bread from the “grain of wheat” which died that it might “bring forth much fruit;” and formed of that One Body that was freely given in death for us, that now lives, and that as he lives gives us life.  The Table reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

This morning we eat the bread that came down from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world.  As we do that, meditate on Jesus’ offering of himself for us.  Think of Mephibosheth—the king’s rival, his hereditary enemy, but also the man whom the king forgave, the man to whom he showed kindness, all for the sake of another.  That’s what God does for us when he invites us to his Supper.  Think on that. Think on the amazing love of God for us, because brothers and sisters, there’s nothing else that will drive out the lust of the flesh and the love of the world; there’s nothing else that will humble our pride and drive us to share the Good News with others, than to think of the shame and sorrow we have laid on him and that he willingly bore for our sakes.  As we read in the Epistle, we’re called to love those around us—even to lay down our lives for them just as Jesus laid down his life for us.  If we truly understand what our Lord has done for us, if we truly understand what he offers at his Table, and if we truly understand that to which he invites us in heaven, we should be able to do nothing else but share his love with all those around us.  Let us not forsake the Lord’s invitation to the feast, but as we go there, as we anticipate the goodness of our God, let us carry his call in our words and deeds of love to all those in the streets and lanes, and in the highways and hedges, that they might sit at the Table with us.

Let us pray: Lord God we acknowledged in the Collect that you have brought us up in your steadfast love.  Let us never take your love for granted.  Let us never be so consumed by the things of the world that we forsake your invitation to eat bread at your Table.  And, Father, let your love never become so common-place in our hearts and minds that we are not moved to share it with others.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour and Lord.  Amen.

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