Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Aug. 28th, 2022
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.”
One of the things that I enjoy doing from time to time is listening to or reading sermons by Lutheran pastors who are online.
One can learn a lot by doing this – as well as get some good illustrations or quotes once in a while for one’s own sermons (as many of you know!)
There is an LCMS pastor that I have been following for years who is a very interesting guy and who works very hard to do short and sweet sermons.
He says a lot of very good things and tries to do so in a very straightforward but interesting way – and he’s also able to make some rather big ideas pretty easy to grasp, understandable…
Sometimes though, he tries to be provocative and says some things that don’t sound quite right.
For example, in a recent sermon he seemed to say that what a Christian did… how a Christian lived… didn’t and couldn’t have anything to do with their salvation.
Emphasizing the work of God’s Holy Spirit, he went so far as to say that “There is nothing more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”
Well, what if they really are conflicted about a matter but ultimately choose what God desires?
I don’t think he really thought through this statement. I hope not.
At the same time, I certainly think that we can understand some of what I believe he was trying to convey if we consider the importance of the doctrine of man’s justification before God.
After all, the Bible talks about how things like faith and repentance themselves are gifts from God – things that He grants to His people!
The Bible says we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and the Bible says we are saved by faith, so which is it?
The answer is that the gift of faith receives the benefits that Christ wins, so it is both. If you ask faith why it saves it doesn’t point inward or to itself but only points to the blood of Jesus!
So that is what faith alone means! Because of the work of Jesus Christ, those who believe in Him have forgiveness, life, and salvation!
All this said, strictly speaking it is not true that we can have no effect on our salvation by the way we live.
The Bible does, after all, talk about shipwrecking one’s faith…
For each and every one of us has an old Adam. Yes, even the Christian, who is a genuine, bona fide, new creature in Christ with new spiritual impulses that truly begin to fear, love, and trust in God… still has an old Adam.
So even as the Christian is destined for a resurrection unto eternal life, we also still remain sinners until we die – and so we dare not mess around, coddling and feeding that sinner that remains in each one of us.
The particular paths that we follow…
The particular goals we find ourselves drawn to, lured to…
The particular places that we end up, here or there…
Can, and certainly do, deeply affect us…
Remember, for example, that the phrase “bad company corrupts good character” literally comes from the Bible… (I Cor. 15:33).
In other words, how we walk… where we walk… with whom we walk… is critical.
The struggle of faith – which includes even if it definitely is not limited to the struggle to walk rightly and safely! – is real.
As an old Lutheran hymn puts it, “I walk in danger all the way…”
This is why we, Jesus’ sheep, need to always huddle up close to our Shepherd as He leads us through the valley of death and in the paths that are right, safe, and true!
For as Jesus walked in God’s law by God’s Spirit, He enables and empowers us to do the same, and hence we too will fulfill the law of Christ (see Rom. 8:4, Gal. 6:2, Matthew 23:23).
Another really interesting thing this pastor said is that when a person feels the accusation of God’s law, it is normal for them to start to hate God.
This, I think, is true – and it certainly coincides with Martin Luther’s experience!
Luther was in a bad place where basically all he could hear were the commands of God’s law – which he knew he couldn’t do – and so he began to despair.
This is what happens when a person who takes God’s law very seriously – takes it as a word from God Himself – and yet does not possess the Gospel, that is, the message of God’s grace, mercy, tenderness, and long suffering in Jesus for sinners…
All this said, that is not all the pastor said.
Being provocative once again, he also went on to say this to the person who hates God: “Without Jesus you would be right to hate him…”
Why would he say this?
Well, he helpfully went on to explain.
It is because a person who feels this way does not really hate the true God, but their wrong idea of God. What they hate, then, is not the true God, but an idol (2x).
Are you following this? This actually tracks with the thought of perhaps the greatest – in terms of influence that is – theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth.
Now, I think Barth was a big problem for the church and I think this kind of statement is problematic.
I don’t doubt that we should be aware that people begin to not only resent God but even have very violent and palpable reactions towards God like Luther – and that we should be ready to deal with that – but at the same time, what does Romans 1 say?
It says that what may be known about God, His eternal power and divine nature, is clear to all people, and that they suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Neither glorifying Him nor giving thanks to Him, they are without excuse. Furthermore, even though they know God’s law condemns to death their sin, they continue to do it and approve of sin in others.
Therefore, God’s law is meant to silence them, and hold them accountable as it makes them become conscious of their sin, of the knowledge that they suppress.
Now, what I find interesting here is that in the midst of all of these very hard words about the objective guilt of man, God’s convicting man by His universal law, and the abject rebellion of man against God and His eternal will, it doesn’t say anything about how their view of this God they don’t like is an idol.
No, this isn’t even implied by the text. In fact, they, like everyone else in the world – Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor, black or white, good or bad in the eyes of the world – know enough about God, no matter how depraved they are, to know that He is righteous…
That they are not…
…and that they are indeed accountable before Him, they will answer to Him.
However much they might hate Him, that knowledge of God that they do have… that they retain even as they attempt to suppress it… is real knowledge and not some “idol”.
Instead, in Paul’s account, it is in suppressing this true knowledge that they proceed to create idols.
So, we should never tell people that they should hate God, but rather that they must stop hating Him…
Ultimately, things are not about their subjective and imperfect perceptions, but their concrete evil belief and behavior, and about the God Who is There and Not Silent.
Now, I hope that you found that enlightening…
It is a good thing when theological issues and questions begin to percolate more and more in us!…
In a world where cringe-worthy lawn signs and bumper stickers that announce man’s ignorance to the world are common, it is a good thing to learn to be different… to go much deeper… to think critically about matters divine.
To be driven to the Scriptures to learn more, to be driven to our God… and not away from Him and false ideas about Him…
That we might also more actively and publicly subject the world’s philosophies to critique in the light of God’s word!
So where did this pastor get this idea from?
Well, that is a much longer story, and I am not going to go there this morning (maybe someday in a Bible class [or you can start with the long footnote 4 here])
The main point, however, is this:
This is not how the Apostle Paul or the other Apostles, or Jesus Christ, spoke…
And we should endeavor to speak as they do… as the Apostle Paul put it, to speak according to the “pattern of sound words”… being careful not to go astray…
So, overall, where am I going with all of these things?
Why start with all of this deeper theological stuff this morning?
Well, regarding things not sounding quite right again… maybe you also felt that way when you heard Jesus say what He said in the text I selected to preach on…
I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it…
Jesus, are you kidding me?
This sounds so wrong!
Why are you saying this?
Maybe we should talk about this…
I know I say or imply this all the time, but Jesus always keeps us on our toes, doesn’t He?
Like that pastor, He says some very provocative things that cause us to wonder, that don’t sound quite right – and should cause us to want to dig a bit… look under this or that rock…
The difference, however, is that with Jesus there is always something solid that we will find…
So, let’s take a look at what He says again here, picking up at verse 12:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
A few things that jump out to me right away.
First of all, isn’t Jesus the guest of one of the Pharisees here? In light of His being invited to this banquet, it seems that this could be taken as His being a bit rude even if, strictly speaking, he is not criticizing his host.
In other words, we might think: “Should Jesus right now be talking about what those who have invited Him over to his home for a meal should be doing?” Still, Jesus is not always about manners, to be sure!
Second, this seems to go along with what Jesus just taught about the importance of humility, that is, how everyone exalting himself shall be humbled and the one humbling his own self shall be exalted…
Here, Jesus teaches about inviting those who society really would see as being at the extreme end of lowliness, the outcasts: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
Many would have suggested at this time that people like this were cursed by God, probably because of sin in their lives.
Something similar is believed in India even today, where the lowest class of persons is such because of bad karma that persists throughout generations, in effect inheriting the consequences of their ancestor’s sins…
Third, it might seem obvious to some, but I really can’t blame the Lutheran Study Bible for saying about this passage that “emphasis should be placed on generosity. Jesus is neither criticizing His host nor forbidding people to host their family and friends.”
We can say this because we don’t want to just take this saying from Jesus in bare isolation, apart from the fact, for example, that Jesus Himself attended a wedding feast that was no doubt full of family and friends! Jesus is making a point, instead, about generosity vis a vis reciprocity.
Fourth, going along with that, the thing that stands out to me the most: Jesus here seems to really be telling us that we should be placing a priority on inviting those of low status into our own homes, and that if there is a good chance they can somehow repay us then that we are doing this wrong.
Further, even if we don’t and can’t earn our salvation, we should nevertheless remember that God will remember these actions on our part and will at some point return the favor Himself in ways that we can’t possibly imagine.
So, it is not that all forms of reciprocity are bad, just that they are incomplete and do not measure up to God, who actually serves men who can not repay precisely because they can not repay… (Luke 6:35, see Fraanzman, CSSC)
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can honestly say I do not feel like I have even really begun to really learn… and put into practice… what Jesus is saying here…
Truth be told, I believe this passage, in addition to preparing the Pharisees for the next thing He’ll say, also is meant to simultaneously convict and guide them — and us as well!
And in every case this is meant to lead to an even greater proclamation of the goodness of our Father in Heaven, a showing forth and display of His greatness and mercy!
So folks — you who confess your sins and embrace God’s mercy in Christ— you are among the redeemed who have a great future ahead of you… with eternal dwellings that your Lord has already prepared for you!…
So don’t just stop with having family and friends over or volunteering in this or that way in the community!
Don’t just stop at church by having a Harvest Supper or VBS…
For “when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid…”
Again, it appears that Jesus really does want to encourage us. To encourage us to live in light of the Kingdom of God today… and to think of matters of eternity.
He doesn’t want us to do any of these things in order to get things like material blessings in heaven, but He wants us to know that these – along with people we really will know to be our loyal friends whom we enjoy! – will nevertheless be a part of our blessed life that is to come.
Perhaps even those who are not Christians can begin to understand the appeal here.
I think of some words, for instance, that I read a couple weeks ago from one of my favorite writers and bloggers, Rod Dreher.
Speaking of a recent visit to Austria, he said this:
“A few weeks back, I took my son to see the Kapuzinergruft, the burial place of Habsburg royalty since the 17th century. It’s the crypt of the Capuchin church in central Vienna. It is a wonder. Viennese funeral culture is a thing of its own; people here adore a beautiful death. The elaborate tombs of the Habsburg greats have to be seen to be believed. As we walked through, paying our respects, it struck me that these tombs were like spent nuclear fuel rods. Through the bodies of these men and women, immense power once flowed. They used to rule much of Europe, when Europe was the richest and most powerful civilization on earth. Now they are all dead, and warehoused in a crypt underneath a church in a rich, beautiful, democratic city. Sic transit gloria mundi [that is “Thus passes the glory of the world.”] It’s important to visit the Kapuzinergruft for the same reason it’s important to visit the ruins of ancient Rome: to be reminded of what happens to all power and pomp in this mortal world…”
This is looking at things from the negative side but it highlights the corresponding greatness of eternal life and its relationships….
But really, all this said, how encouraged do you really feel?
If you are encouraged by this kind of insight, how long do you think you can sustain that?
After all, we saints are still sinners, and we, my friends, also live among a sinful people with sinful lips as Isaiah said…
So, overall, I’d say:
Doesn’t Jesus’ message bother us?!
How hard it is for us to hear His message here!
How upsetting it is to know that God is, to say the least, unimpressed with our weak faith and our correspondingly weak priorities!
So, are you beginning to hate God yet?
Be honest with yourself: if you don’t feel a bit of anger towards Him – with Him having such high expectations of you – could it possibly be because you are not taking Him seriously enough?!
I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with any of you. Again though, for me, these words seem wrong. Earlier, I said I thought this:
“I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it – Jesus, are you kidding me?
This sounds so wrong!
Why are you saying this?”
But now let me add this:
“Lord have mercy!
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!
Lord, I know all your words are good!… help me to live them to the fullest…”
That, I am sure, is the right response!
In our confession each Sunday, we confess that we have sinned before almighty God, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We sometimes call these sins of commission – the sins we commit – and sins of omission, the things that we fail to do that we should.
The “what we have done” stuff is pretty easy to identify, as they are often readily brought to our awareness and confessed.
We know these faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sins are our sinful habits and weaknesses that we must constantly wage war against!
At the same time, there are sins of omission and these are a little bit harder to deal with and identify…
We all know, for example, that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan definitely condemns the actions of the priest and the Levite…
…but we cannot always know with certainty about all the things that we could have done and that God expected us to do… whether it was simply a good thing we could have done…
…or the best thing we could have done… (see I Cor. 7).
Nevertheless, we need to take this matter of our sins of omission seriously as well!
And it goes along with our passage this morning!
This is where our shepherd is leading us – even as He also always gives us rest for our soul, desiring our burdens be light with Him, not giving us more than we can bear…
The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther talked about how everyone must be ready to prove his holiness (AE 21:86).
What he meant to say is that all of us who are believers in Christ should be elated by the knowledge of God’s love for them and also eager to be known as Christians!
…striving to live as Christians for our neighbor’s sake.
How? He talked about “the seven principle parts of Christians sanctification” or “the seven holy possessions of the church”:
“By [using, these seven things: the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Pastors, Prayer and proclamation, and suffering[i]…] the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification and vivification in Christ, according to the first table of Moses. By [this sanctification] we obey it, albeit never perfectly in Christ. But we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sins, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal.”
He goes on a bit later to talk about another sign that helps identify the presence of Christ’s church in the world, love for one’s neighbors, the fulfillment of the second table of the commandments:
“[We see Christ’s church] when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments – all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place. We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in [holiness, that is] sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means ‘grow’ and ‘do so more and more’ [II Pet. 3:18]” (LW 41:166)
The pastor I talked about earlier, God bless Him, was truly mistaken…
What a Christian does… how a Christian lives… certainly does have something to do with their salvation as a whole (in other words, not just their justification, but everything the wider understanding of salvation can entail).
God means for you to be justified, to be continually sanctified, and to be pressing towards final glory… shining more powerfully each day with Christ’s love, compassion, and mercy to the world (see Philippians 2:12-18 here).
So let us all reflect more on how profound and wonderful is the love of God in Christ that overcomes this world!
This God who “lavish[es] his power and love on the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind..” (Fraanzman)
As a matter of fact, right after our reading for today He goes on to tell the Great Parable of the Wedding Feast, where He speaks of going out at once into the streets and lanes of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…
You see, this, actually, in a very real sense, is us.
This is who we are spiritually, without our Lord’s grace and mercy.
When we see those of low acclaim and status in this world, we should not only feel God’s mercy arise in us but think of our own desperate spiritual state…
…and the love of our God in Christ that begins to heal us, even as He goes on to make all things new – and would through us as well!
Behold, your God, crucified for your sins because He loved this poor, crippled, blind and lame world…even you… and was also resurrected in power!
As the Apostle John simply said, “we love because He first loved us”.
So, forgiven in Christ’s grace – and eager to do the good works He has prepared for you to do beforehand – go and serve your King!