Whether you follow Lutheran Service Book’s Daily Lectionary or not, you know the parable from Matthew 21 assigned for yesterday, the parable of the tenants who killed the vineyard owner’s son – and the chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them.
In today’s parable, the Son of the King is alive again, with the wedding feast all prepared by His Father. And you know that Jesus is talking about you. It is pretty easy to put yourself in the sandals of the King’s servants. God sends you out to call the world He has invited, saying that the Lamb has been slaughtered to save them from their sin. Everything is ready for them to be in the presence of God and not die, so come to the Divine Service. But the inactives of your congregation and those lost in your community have not come. They pay no attention to your encouragements and warnings. Too engulfed in the busy-ness of life in this world, they have earned the right to be lazy on Sunday morning. Besides, God is alright with them and they are alright with God – or whatever other reasons they give for not being in church. Yes, dear brother, though you have not yet been seized and killed by those the King has invited to His Son’s wedding feast, it is easy for you to see your role in this parable as one of the King’s servants.
But there is a problem with that. Not that you are not the King’s messenger servant – you are. Rather, the uncomfortable truth is that we spend time as those who are invited to the feast but will not come. And not just in the past, where you might have been like me and spent some time away from the church. But even now, God sends His servants to us – whether they be a fellow pastor or a layperson – and we find ways to pay no attention to them. Can’t you see how busy I am with being a pastor here?
When I was in Seminary, my pastor told me about his first day in Hom 1. The professor told his class, “You have enjoyed your last sermon.” You know what he meant. You know the struggle to listen to a sermon – or even just to listen to the Scriptures. When you are not busy working, taking mental notes of what you want to say in your preaching, you are critiquing the preacher, thinking to yourself that you would say what he said better, or not said it at all. Either way, you keep yourself from resting in the green pastures of God’s Word of grace and mercy.
The difference between the inactives, the lost in our communities, and you and me is only a matter of degrees. We share the same spirit that wants to serve ourselves at the buffet of spirituality. We face the same temptations to self-medicate our wounds, to deny our sins are sins through justifying excuses, and we have the same opportunities to use worldly amusements like the internet and alcohol to numb ourselves to the pain. When we become full of ourselves, we cannot be interested in the feast of fellowship with God. Even when we have noticed the hunger pangs for righteousness, we have rejected the invitation, for instance, when you and I complain about the way that servant laid out before us the Bread of Heaven and the fruits of the Spirit. Their presentation was not good enough. A servant comes to warn us of the shameful nakedness our sin is causing, and we refuse to listen to one person simply because of who they are, while we would have listened if a servant we liked better had warned us in the exact same way.
How terrible would it be if, after you preached to others the invitation to the feast, you yourself would be disqualified, bound and cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? God does not want you speechless, for this is the Lord who opens our lips so that our mouths might declare His praise with pure voices forever. So that you will not be naked in shame, but be found forever wearing white robes, with a palm of victory in your hand, put yourself in the sandals of the good and the bad. For our Lord does not give up in sending His Suffering Servant to you, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world as His mouth is closed in death – but then re-opened on Easter to declare His “Peace be with you”.
On a recent “CSI”, the new leader of the department was struggling. She had received a bad review from a former worker who complained she was a bad leader and because of her the team had no unity. When she went to another police officer with her doubts about her abilities, he told her that the previous leader, Grissom, “had one thing you don’t have – He had you.” Things went better after she appointed an assistant leader to her team, even as she had assisted Grissom.
Dear brothers, do your people have one thing you don’t have? It should not be that way. God provides plenty of men who could be your pastor. With modern technology, you can easily find a brother who regularly posts audio recordings of his sermons on the internet and listen to them. Listen to them not for your own sermon fodder, but so that you may preach the faith because faith has first come to you by hearing Christ’s Word.
But more than that, you need your own pastor who will speak God’s word to you as an individual and who will speak to God for you, praying for you and your family at the hospital, or in whatever other troubles or joys you find yourself in. You need a pastor who will show you how you have rejected God’s invitation to feast upon His love. And then you need all the more your pastor to forgive all your sin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And what you need, God will provide. Amen.