Friday, March 4, 2016

You are hereby invited...


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Why would anyone refuse an invitation to happiness?  The king’s subjects in the parable who were invited to the royal wedding were passing up a wonderful opportunity.  In contemporary terms it would be like being offered shares of Microsoft for a penny each.  The problem apparently was that these subjects did not define themselves primarily as subjects, but as independent individuals, so don’t wonder why they were angry at the messengers.  It wasn’t about the messengers.  They were in rebellion against the king himself.  The messengers who were faithfully inviting them were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Pastors often feel that way today.  We preach to offer people happiness.  The particular happiness we offer is a chance to be a servant to the King of Kings, to wear the livery of heaven.  That is never popular because our contemporaries have been drugged with self-esteem, with a society that affirms their sins, congratulates them for their relentless pursuit of self-interest, and over all casts its hideous gospel, I’m OK, you’re OK.  The world is lying when it says that.  We are definitely not OK.  We are sinners in the hands of God, and by our rebellion we constantly bite the hand that stands between us and hell.

So we resist the messengers.  The first messenger is our own conscience.  The world knows that it can never fill us with self-esteem until it intoxicates our consciences and puts them to sleep, so it attempts to train us to accept increasingly outrageous evils, continuously berating us with appeals to diversity and inclusion, but never being diverse or inclusive enough to tolerate a call to repentance.  Conscience is the first such call, family is the second, so the society, on cue from the devil, seeks to redefine the family.  The third messenger is the Church.  The society is constantly seeking to belittle and discredit the Church.  It cannot afford to let anybody discover that the Church has the truth, so it must institutionalize the worship of man.  To coin a Greek term for that, we might call it "anthropolatry," but since anthropolatry would imply that the object of our worship is collective humanity, we need a more specific term for what our society presents as the highest good.  The more specific term is "autolatry," the worship of the self.  Of course this is incompatible with Jesus, who never sought anything for Himself, so Jesus must be put down.  The world hopes that faithless theology professors can disarm Jesus.  If true faith endures anyway, then the world becomes irrationally violent.  It turns on the messengers to silence the message.  The Gospel is attacked from behind by the ACLU, even while it's resisting a frontal charge by jihad.

God has prepared a feast of joy for us.  Yes, we come into His house as exiles, long separated from the divine fellowship, yet knowing that our real citizenship is in heaven.  While we are here we see a preview of heaven, hear the hints of its music, enjoy a foretaste of its peace.  To be in heaven is to be a subject of the Messiah, the King, Jesus once crucified, now risen, so the invitation of God is a call to repent, to turn away from the rebellion, and to wear the livery of the King of Kings.  Hard as it may be to believe it, He wants us.  He doesn’t want to punish us, but that we should be His retinue, His troops manning the towers of the Holy City, His servants of every description, doing the work we were predestined in eternity to do, especially those personal things that no other person could do.  The clothing of the royal household declares our absolute right to come and go throughout the palace.  We don’t have to buy these garments.  The King furnishes them.  All we have to do is wear them.

Scripture has much to say about the garments of righteousness.  When St. Paul speaks of "putting on the new man" he is talking about the spiritual life which is God’s gift.  It comes to us along with the forgiveness of sins through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  When the Apocalypse pictures the blessed wearing white robes, the elder tells the apostle that the blood of the Lamb has cleansed them, in other words, it comes with the forgiveness of sins.  In the Song of Solomon the marriage imagery describes the bride getting dressed in the garments provided by the King.  The King and the Lamb are one and the same.  The garments He provides for us cover our sin just as the garments of skin covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve.

Let’s try to put ourselves into this parable.  Are we going to identify with those who were first invited, only with the resolution in our minds not to be too busy for church?  No, this invitation is not just to church, it is to faith, which necessarily involves wearing the King’s livery.  You may not have to be one of the messengers, but you are part of the feast in some way.  Neither must one be a messenger to be in peril because of faith.  We can display our allegiance by putting crosses on our walls, palm branches on our shelves, Bibles on our end tables, asking the blessing on our meals in public places, avoiding profane speech, practicing kindness and generosity wherever we go, and being content with life.  What a contrast that makes to a world that is always complaining!  These things have a peril of their own, of course, since our Lord warns us not to practice our piety before men.  Understand the right time and place.

We are on the way to heaven.  We long for God.  Therefore we must hate the devil, the world, and the flesh.  We don’t only condemn the obvious sin – things like pornography, but also the more refined and respectable forms of mortal sin.  The world may praise Frank Sinatra for doing it his way, but we condemn such arrogance.  We look to the Psalmist for better lyrics:  Where can I flee from Your presence?...See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.  There was no offensive way in Jesus.  He let His self-esteem go, in order to make atonement for ours.  The truly penitent soul sees itself as having no value at all except in the service of Him who bought it, but it also knows that through Holy Baptism it was united with Jesus in His crucifixion and His resurrection.  You and I can be certain that our sins are forgiven.  The feast of joy awaits.

So you see, it’s not about the messengers.  It’s about the King.  Our esteem consists in the fact that we are united with Him.  It isn’t just about being in church.  Entering the palace without donning the King’s livery merely gets one thrown out.  The invitation is to eternal happiness that awaits those who repent and believe in Jesus who made atonement for our sins.  What awaits us is indescribable goodness.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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