Text: Luke 14:15-24
Lutherans are known for their potlucks (or “covered dish dinners” if you don’t want to mention luck). It brings people together at church. Eating is something we all have in common, regardless of differing opinions or backgrounds. In fact, it’s a widely-known church growth practice that handing out food will get people to come to your church…at least the building.
In an effort to connect with people, many a church have fallen into a dependency on being a place that gives handouts. By itself, it’s a beautiful expression of the Lord’s command, “Freely have you received, freely shall you give.” (Matt. 10:8) But the other side of handouts is when they offer to people what they did not have to work for. This plagues Indian Reservations, DHS offices, and pandemic aid because people flock to it. They grow to rely on it. They rave when it’s threatened to be taken away.
Isn’t it interesting, however, that as soon as the Word of God says, “Come, for everything is now ready,” people begin to make excuses about why they can do without? “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’”
That’s when we realize it’s not just a matter of physical nourishment. Yes, people will flock to the earthly handouts because they satisfy the belly. But when the Gospel is freely given, then something else takes over: our sin.
Nonetheless, we can use the language of meals to understand what our Lord is teaching us here. What would cause someone pass up an invitation to a meal for which all that’s required of them is to be the recipient?
They’re not hungry – Who wants to go to an all-you-can-eat banquet on a full stomach? Similarly, a self-righteousness that fails to understand or acknowledge the darkness of one’s sin. What’s being offered on the menu—forgiveness, life, and salvation don’t taste good. Consider this analogy of Martin Luther in the Large Catechism:
Suppose there were a physician who had such skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live forever. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon him! Because of the pressing crowd of rich men no one else could get near him. Now, here in Baptism there is brought free to every man’s door just such a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men. (Large Catechism, Article IV “Baptism” para. 43)
Taking a detour on the road of bodily health, consider what funds and sacrifice we pour into the medical complex. It promises to relieve our temporal suffering, and often doctors are successful. But the truth remains that no man can cure death. Only Christ can, and has done that for us! How do we receive such a healing? “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16) “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:32-33) This perfect and eternal healing of body and soul was delivered in humble water, and the lips of the pastor—whoever he was: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” [Matt. 28:19] If you’re not hungry for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, it’s likely because you imagine your sin isn’t that serious, you’re not all that dead, and you think salvation comes to those who try hard enough.
They’ve got more appealing things – I have a wife and earthly affairs that need my attention more than my soul. In this case, it’s not necessarily that forgiveness doesn’t sound wonderful. It’s just that the things of this life sound more appealing and capture our time and attention. Someone from our congregation pointed out when Pop Warner Baseball started having games on Sunday, it made a change in the congregation. It’s not just that baseball games alone caused unbelief, but it allowed an outlet for those whose hearts were more devoted to the things of this life. Never underestimate our power to harden our hearts against God’s clear Word and even tangible evidence [Ex. 7:13].
What is offered doesn’t satisfy immediately – In the weakness of our mortal, sinful flesh, we are drawn toward what brings fulfillment here and now. How can I feel and touch the kingdom of God? Well, if it won’t come on my terms, then I’ll find assurance somewhere else that does. Be it popularity, or health, or a life free from struggle—these are the temptations we have to forsake the faith and turn toward the promise of immediate payout of the lies.
Back to the topic of handouts, there is a protest when people might lose these gratis benefits. And we know that our sin can cause an indifference to the gift of the Gospel. But where’s the protest when the Christian congregation is threatened? When the ministry of the Word falls into disuse, and the house of God is in disrepair? We are presently suffering some of the consequence of many who have “begun to make excuses.” But now that we’re here, shall we just throw up our hands, and say, “I guess that’s how it goes?” What has taken the fight out of us, the zeal, for the “food and drink” which truly satisfy, for our Lord says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:55)
This parable a warning to us who are hearing this Word of Christ and holding fast to Him: Beware, lest we also miss the Kingdom of God in our midst, and give in to earthly things over heavenly. God’s Word will fill His banquet hall. God shows no favorites toward us or those who came before us. Apart from a steadfast faith, we have no promise of a place at His table.
It won’t be by our own strength that we remain steadfast in this faith until the end. It will be where our gracious Lord grants it to us. And where we find this spiritual zeal, let God the Holy Spirit do His good work! Do not let this vine which the Lord planted by the hand of our predecessors bear thorns or die out [Isa. 5:1-7]. Lord, let this congregation be roused from our complacency, our satiation to the hunger we’re supposed to have! Save us, Lord Jesus, from putting our hope and trust in the things of this life. Rather, let our fear, love, and trust, be in You alone. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.