Sermon on Luke 14:15-24 (by Martin Damašek)

Dear brothers and sisters,

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” What does this exclamation mean? How are we to understand this statement? Blessed, in the light of the Lord´s Sermon on the Mount, refers to “provided for” or “saved”. The one, who is provided for or saved, is in the kingdom of God. Splendid! We expect something like this. But now comes a thing that is a surprise or can be an offense to us, modern people. To eat brad?! First of all, we, modern people who tend to be so “spiritual” and “self-standing” or so “full of ourselves”, do not expect to be provided for with something to eat in the state of blessedness. If we “make it” to the kingdom of God, we do not expect to be provided for such worldly need as eating. What a humiliating thing! After all, we are striving for spirituality and in this respect want to be like the angels. This is the devil whispering to our years: “Hear me, incline your ear to me and strive to be like God – pure spirit.” How often have you fallen to this temptation?! I fall to it pretty often…until I find out my belly is hurting and screaming to be provided for. But there is the second offense in the statement that we, comfortable and meat-eating people, can encounter. The bread! Often, we despise bread. Meat is better than plain and dry bread. Bread is made out of grass seeds, it takes a lot of labor and patience to make it and one must be pretty desperate and poor to be provided for with just bread. After all, eating the bread taken with hard labor out of the ground is God´s punishment for man´s breaking Lord´s commandment. Eating hard-toiled bread is man´s lot and portion under the judgment of the law. Every time, you take up a piece of bread, remember who you are: Ecce homo! In your sweat, you toil this bread from the dust of the ground, the dust that you are yourself and to this dust you will return. (Genesis). Bread that you eat is a reminder of your sin for which the law condemns you to labor and return to the dust. Remember! This bag of dust that eats grass seed you are! And remind me I am the same every time I may forget it and puff up. Still, these sinners who are condemned to toil for their bread can find themselves in the kingdom of God and be provided for and saved.

Have you ever been to a banquet, to a party? Do you enjoy the eating and drinking? Well, the kingdom of God is described as one never-ending party. Blessed are those who find themselves at the party. But now, the Gospel text gets deeper, more colorful and dramatic. The Master of the house, clearly the Lord Himself, is throwing a party and sends out invitations. Have you ever received an invitation to a prestigious party? One hopes to receive such an invitation, is honored by receiving it. Such an invitation to a party means to be in a relationship to the one who is throwing the party. Even today, to receive an invitation to a party is a confirmation of a relationship with the host and not to receive an invitation from someone is a sign of being outcast, of broken relationship and of loneliness. To turn down the invitation is a sign of breaking the relationship and of offending the host. The unwritten law is: If invited, accept the invitation and come with due respect to the host, lest you break the law and can destroy the relationship. Imagine, the President of the Czech Republic invites the President of Slovakia to Prague Castle for a State Dinner. The diplomatic law dictates to accept such an invitation and to come with all respect to the host, lest the relationship between the two countries will be broken and the one who refused will end up in an isolation.

So, the servers of the house Master go out to tell the people the good news they are invited to the party. And now comes the tragedy: Something is more important than the invitation and the relationship to the host. Actually, when we take a look of the reasons, they all point to putting the self above the relationship to the Host and throwing out the good news of the invitation. They all run from the good news of the invitation like the chicks from the protective wings of the hen when Christ is weeping over Jerusalem. One has to take care of his field, one has to examine his oxen and one has to spend time with his new wife.  All of them prefer their own business and will over and against the law that is at place with such invitation, they refuse and throw away the good news of the invitation and offend the Host and destroy the relationship with Him. And even worse, they all refuse with excuses. That is the old Adam after breaking God´s commandment: “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me and I ate…” (Genesis). The same in the Gospel text when the people who refuse the good news of the invitation: Sorry, not because of me, but because of the field….the oxen…the wife… Man knows he is guilty, he broke the law, that is why the excuses. What is the result? With Adam and Eve and with all the three refusers, the result of breaking the law is the corruption of the relationship to the Lord and being excluded from His holiness and comfort, so, Adam and Eve are thrown out of the Paradise and the three refusers face the Master´s wrath and judgment to be excluded from His party and favor. This is a memento for us, for you, for me!

In the Gospel text, Christ was clearly referring to the Pharisees. They were called into the relationship, into the covenant with the Lord, but when the Lord came among them to bring the good news of the invitation to the kingdom of God, they despised and rejected Him – for they sought their own self-justification according to the law, but the same law that they could not keep perfectly did accuse and condemned them. They were busy with themselves and missed the Truth and Grace who was among them and was inviting them to the banquet of salvation.

Brothers and sisters, let us be aware of the Pharisees and let us daily remember the invited ones who made excuses and did not accept the invitation. The tempter is busy and we can easily find ourselves at the place of the Pharisees or the ones who rejected the invitation. Are we so persuaded we are keeping God´s law well? Then, we are falling to the temptation of the self-justification of the Pharisees. Are we busy with our well-living or are we devoting all of our self to the spouse or the girlfriend or boyfriend as much as we miss to see the suffering Lord who is coming to us in the simple Word of the Gospel and the simple bread and wine? Woe to us! We can be invited but we can slip away and despise the invitation. Be aware of the temptation and the possibility of offense and turning down Lord´s invitation and be aware that our sinful heart comes with whatever elaborate excuse for this rejection!

But the Gospel parable that Jesus gives goes on. When the invited refuse, the Master sends the servers to invite whoever live in the city. And when those turn out not to be enough to fill the banquet, the Master sends the servers to invite whoever they find outside of the city. We can understand the Master´s willingness to extend the invitation to the rest of the city, i.e. to the people of His own who may still expect to be invited. After all, we too like to party with those of our class or our social standing, it is fun and we may beneficially extend our social bubble. But do we like and enjoy to party with vagabonds who dwell at the outskirt of the society? No! That would be a scandal and our other guests would take offense and leave or think we are either crazy or desperate. Still, these vagabonds and social outcasts are invited by the Master! Is the Master crazy or desperate that He is inviting these vagabonds and desperados? Let us look at Jesus suffering and bleeding on the shameful cross: He chose not to help Himself, meekly taking insults, spits and pain. Is He crazy or desperate inviting the criminal and outcast who is crucified with Him?

Pilate did not see the Truth standing in front of him and most of the people present at the Calvary Hill did not see the Grace patiently suffering nailed and pierced on the cross. But the soldier shattered by the ultimate mercy that he saw hanging on the wood, shattered to his knees gave this testimony: “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39) There is no greater love than, out of pure mercy, to give life for other and to comfort and invite the other when one is suffering Himself. This grace is done at Golgotha: The Son of God is dying to invite to salvation the outcast who was justly condemned by the law. This is Christ and you and me, brothers and sisters. The pure and holy Lamb is dying shameful death for us, the criminals whom the law condemns to death.

And the banquet parable comforts us that all are invited and, when some refuse, the Master´s love is so great that He keeps extending His invitation. The outsiders, the vagabonds were supposed to turn down the invitation, because they were not worthy of accepting it. Still, the Master´s love is so out of our expectation that His mercy covers the difference and the vagabonds are compelled to come to the Master´s house. Out of His love the Master throws the party, opens His house, extends His invitation, and His mercy covers the difference. So those, who are supposed to be worthy of His invitation and refused it are exchanged for those, who are aware of their unworthiness, but the difference is atoned for by the Master´s mercy, so they are received to dine with Him. This is the scandalous reversal of pure grace. Be sure of the Lord´s promise of this grace every time when you are ridiculed, despised, cast out, overlooked or refused – to these who are outcasts and who are unworthy, to these Lord Jesus speaks the loving promise of His invitation: Come to me, come to my house, come to the kingdom of heaven, I have prepared a party for you.