Sermon audio here.
Despite having entered into the season of the church year known as ordinary time, these Sundays are no less special than Christmas or Easter. After all, the Holy Spirit has gathered us here today to hear the living voice of Christ and eat and drink with the Risen Lord at His Table. Nothing could be more extraordinary! Here the Lord of Life invites you to His wedding feast, sending you a personal invitation: “Come, eat of my Bread and drink of the Wine I have mixed!” (Proverbs 9:5). What a marvelous gift!
But our Lord’s gifts come hidden in great weakness. His invitation doesn’t come down out of heaven printed on parchment made out of pure gold. It’s hidden in the weakness of the preaching of His ministers. So that you might never doubt that you personally are invited to the Lord’s feast, He sends His preachers to tell you so. Your heavenly Father wants you to hear the eternal Gospel of His Son spoken directly and personally to you, which is why He calls men to preach in His Name.
Sermons aren’t lectures. To hear a sermon is to hear the living voice of Christ. The sermon is your personal invitation to the Lord’s Wedding Feast. Our Lord says, “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,” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus wants you to hear His voice and eat with Him. That’s why He has given you preaching, where you hear the voice of Jesus, and the Sacrament, where you feast with Him. The sermon always comes before the Sacrament because preaching is your invitation to the Lord’s Table. Come, eat of His Bread and drink of the Wine He has mixed!
Preaching and the Sacrament come hidden in weakness, which is the way Jesus works. One of His greatest gifts comes hidden in such weakness it often looks more like a curse than a blessing (and I’m not just talking about a long, rambling sermon). This is the gift of suffering.
Hebrews 12 admits that the Lord’s discipline always seems painful at the time, but He always does it for your good. The prophets Zechariah and Malachi speak of a blessed burning, how God purifies you as through a refiner’s fire. The refining process can be painful, but such purification is needed in order to enter into the Lamb’s heavenly Wedding Feast. Nothing accursed can ever enter there (Revelation 22:3), thanks be to God!
Painful though it may be, St. Paul reminds you that suffering is a gift of God, one that makes you more like Christ (Philippians 3:10). In suffering, the Holy Spirit teaches you to trust more fully in your heavenly Father, even as our Lord continued to trust in His Father’s goodness during His suffering. Like a good salad with bitter seasoning, cross and trail work up an appetite for our Lord’s eternal Wedding Feast (Spangenberg, 240).
As God’s child, you can receive even suffering from the hand of God as a gift, trusting that He is in control and works all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). Suffering is not only a gift hidden in weakness, it’s the gift of weakness itself.
Luther describes suffering as the “colors of Christ’s team.” Our Lord doesn’t give out any other clothing for His side (Through Faith Alone, May 12). He bids you to take up your cross and follow Him. It’s for your own good, even for your salvation.
Suffering is a gift because it brings you face to face with your need for Christ. There are some problems that no amount of human effort, technology, or medicine can solve. Unfortunately, you aren’t always aware of just how needy you are, which is why you all too easily excuse yourself to the foretaste of the Feast to come here in the Sacrament.
We heard about those who declined the Master’s invitation in today’s Holy Gospel. If there ever were a legitimate excuse to decline an invitation, they had it. One guy had to deal with property concerns, the other had to attend to his livelihood, and the third had a honeymoon to get to. Like them, we sometimes have pressing needs to attend to on Sunday morning. Even so, no need is nearly as urgent as your participation in the Lord’s heavenly Wedding Feast.
There have been times when you’ve excused yourself from the Lord’s Supper for much less. Though there’s nothing more important, it isn’t hard to treat His invitation like junk mail. Most of the time I don’t even open junk mail. I don’t think I’m going to find anything important in there, so I don’t even waste my time with it.
Sadly, we often treat our Lord’s Sabbath the same way. The First Commandment instructs us to love God above all things. That means Sunday is God’s day. It’s not football day, little league day, catch up on sleep day, or the day to do x, y, or z. It can be all of those things too, so long as they don’t keep you from preaching and the Sacrament.
All too easily do we prioritize the physical over the spiritual. As Pastor Giertz once said,
“It’s easy to begin the day without prayer. It’s even easier to skip reading the Bible. It’s easy to find things to do on Sunday morning that keep us away from worship. But it’s not an easy thing to cut off the connection with everything that pulls you away from God, be it books, friends, entertainment, or even an “innocent” hobby,” (paraphrased from Giertz, Christ’s Church, 146).
To excuse yourself from preaching and the Sacrament is to choose the world over Jesus, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The more you decline the Lord’s invitation, the colder and more calloused it will make your heart until you despise our Lord and His gifts entirely. Repent.
Those who declined the invitation in today’s Holy Gospel had better excuses than we typically do, and not even their reasons were good. Their thinking reflects Satanic lie that infects the mind of every Christian, that there are things in this life that are more important than Jesus. He’s given you everything you have, yet you struggle to give Him one hour, once per week. All Satan needs is a tiny opening. Repent.
Jesus doesn’t invite you here to make you do bitter work, nor would He have you leave here in despair. He invites you here that you might know your sin, repent, and make you well by the gift of His bitter suffering and death, given to you at font, pulpit, and altar. Your very best efforts, the most advanced technology and medicine in the world—these things will eventually all fail you, but Jesus never will.
In Christ, we see the greatest blessing of all hidden in the most extraordinary display of weakness the world has even known. From heaven above to earth Christ came—not as a rich and powerful king—but in humility and poverty. He came in weakness to secure your place at His Wedding Feast, where the price per plate was His death. On the cross, Christ has turned suffering and death into the instrument of your salvation, the greatest gift you could ever receive.
As Luther once preached:
“In Christ there is pure joy, yes, everlasting joy; He is no longer sorrowful or fainthearted; He no longer sweats drops of blood as He did in the Garden; but in Him there is true joy and gladness. And the same Christ, in Whom comfort and joy are to be found, has become our food, served up in the Word and eaten by faith.
For this reason if we are forsaken, cast down, oppressed, and assailed, we should hasten to Christ, and there revive and strengthen ourselves. If Christ, our food, is filled with gladness, joy, and life, we, too, shall be filled with the same. Come sorrow, depression, temptation, and whatever else, I ought joyfully lift up my heart and say, I look to Christ, in Whom is neither sorrow nor dejection; my faith testifies that He suffered for me…
Even though I… have listlessness and melancholy stirring within me, nevertheless, such listlessness and melancholy will not overpower me. For in Christ are everlasting comfort, joy, peace, and gladness. These things are set forth for me in the Word. I have laid hold of Him in faith, and there is where I put my trust. Though all in this world is confusing and disorder, though death and worms consume me, I shall still rise again and live, just as Christ has risen and lives,” (Luther, Complete Sermons, Vol. 6; 245–6).
When Jesus comes again in glory, His reign will no longer be hidden in weakness. He will present you to Himself in splendor, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). Your body, which was sown in weakness, will be raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43). Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9–11). Blessed are those who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). Come, eat of His Bread and drink of the Wine He has mixed!
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 14:15–24
The Second Sunday after Trinity, 2015: The Gift of Suffering
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