8-14-16 THE INVITATION
August 14, 2016
The children passed out invitations to each of you. These are a reminder not only that you have been personally invited by Jesus Christ himself to attend the wedding banquet of the Lamb of God, but that you have also been requested by him to invite as many guests as possible. How will you respond? Will you excitedly invite all of your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Or will you throw the invitation away? Or maybe you will put it aside, planning to RSVP when you have more time to think about it?
When Jesus told the parable in our Gospel reading (Luke 14:15-23), He was directing it at the Jewish community, those originally called by God to be his people. Here was their Messiah standing in front of them and yet they turned aside and went back to their busy lives of following the Law of Moses, instead of rejoicing that their Savior had invited them to put down their burdens to come and feast with him at the Lord's heavenly banquet. So God became angry at his chosen people and extended the invitation to the Gentiles and everyone else that the Jews thought of as second-class citizens.
In Mark chapter 2 we read, "Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector's booth. 'Follow me and be my disciple', Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus' followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, 'Why does he eat with such scum?' When Jesus heard this, he told them, 'Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do'. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners."
While the Pharisees refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, they did realize he was accumulating followers, and drawing people away from them. This didn't sit well, especially since his followers weren't being told they had to follow every last detail of the extensive Old Testament law that the Pharisees were preaching and using as a means to set themselves up on a pedestal. This new system of being saved by grace left no way of making them looking better than everyone else, and they were not about to sacrifice their prestige and honor to follow someone who was a friend of lowly sinners. And so we will never see the Pharisees at the heavenly banquet. But we will see people like Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute who loved Jesus with all her heart and soul. And people like Peter, a gruff fisherman who could probably cuss up storm, but became one of Christ's most prominent disciples. And the blind beggar that Jesus gave sight to. And the Samaritan woman at the well that had 5 husbands and became a preacher (I wonder if she reminds you of anyone!). All people that society avoided for the most part.
So how does this apply to us today? Which category do you fall into? Are you the type that is self-righteous and wants to get into heaven on your own merit, instead of through Jesus Christ? Like the Pharisees, you will never get there. No one, no matter how good they think they are, is good enough to get into heaven without accepting Christ's invitation to set aside their pride and enter in with the tax collectors and sinners.
Or are you like the tax collector in Luke 18:13 who "stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.'" Would you pray as his did? Have you asked God for forgiveness and mercy, admitting that you are undeserving of his grace, and put your faith in Him alone for your salvation? If so, then you have a seat reserved at the heavenly banquet!
And what about inviting guests? As a church, what have we done to fill God's house? Didn't we hear in our Gospel reading that the master told his servant, "Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full"? Even if some who were originally invited refuse to attend, it is our obligation to reach out to as many as we can - including the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame - and bring them in to hear the good news of the Gospel.
John 6:37 tells us that Jesus will never reject anyone who comes to Him. That means we also should never reject anyone who Jesus is reaching out to. We have been commissioned to bring hope to a lost world, love to those who are unloved, and joy to those who have known nothing but heartache. I'm sure each and every one of you can think of someone you know that would love a sincere and heartfelt invitation to come and be one of God's people, to worship and fellowship with those who love the Lord, and to find meaning and purpose in serving him through his church. It doesn't matter what they look like, or what they have done in the past, or if your circle of friends doesn't like them. Tell them about Jesus, and how Jesus loves them, and what He did for them. Invite them to come to His house and make them feel welcome. I promise you will be blessed for doing so, for this is our primary responsibility as a Christian, and as a church. So today, like the old AT&T commercial, says "Reach out and touch someone". Amen.