A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity, June 10, 2018
The Epistle, 1 John 3:13-24 – The Gospel, St. Luke 14:16-24
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
A. The Parable of the Great Supper: Coming when Jesus calls.
The Parable of the Great Supper teaches us that we must come when Jesus calls us to follow him, and that there are consequences when we do not come. It is easy to misunderstand the parable as a general statement about evangelism. This parable is addressed specifically to God’s own people. In the Old Testament God promised that he was preparing a future feast, a messianic banquet. As Isaiah 25:6 says, “The LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow.” Jesus came to announce that the feast was ready. He began his ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15). But most of the people did not repent and come. Consequently, their invitations were revoked, and others were invited in their place.
All the invited guests were Jews. They were all, supposedly, waiting for the Messiah to come. However, because they did not respond to the call when the Messiah came. This is an obvious parallel application is us. We have been baptized into Christ. We observe the various traditions of faith that have been handed down to us. We are waiting for Christ to come and fulfill his promises to us. Right? The question is, when Jesus comes, or when we come to Jesus in death, will he find us prepared for the kingdom. As Jesus said in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
B. The tension between habit and heart
There is a problem with sermons that talk about the coming of Jesus. It is easy to get excited for a moment and do some things differently for a few days or weeks based on this newfound emotional energy. But our enthusiasm will eventually wane. We cannot live faithfully based on emotional energy. Movements that focus on the imminent coming of Jesus inevitably fade away over time because the emotional energy cannot be sustained.
This is true of every aspect of life. The things you do effectively and well you do because you have a commitment to do them whether you feel like doing them or not. For example, you will be able to sustain an exercise program over time only if you learn to exercise when you don’t feel like it. This transfers to more other areas of life also. Woe to the child whose parents decide to love and care for her only when they feel like it!
There is tension between the habitual and the relational aspect of our faith. One the one hand, our practice of the faith needs a pattern or Rule. We can’t just pray when we feel like it. On the other hand, our practice of the faith cannot become merely a series of religious activities from which our hearts are absent. We live in union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit. God often criticized Israel for a merely perfunctory performance of religious duties. However, the answer was not to abandon their religious duties. The answer was to carry out their duties from the heart.
This tension exists in all relationships. Marriage and friendship both require certain forms of liturgy. The relationship partners must seek the good of the other in habitual and faithful ways at time when they do not feel like doing it. If the relationship liturgies become a form grudging service, the relationship will struggle. But if the relational habits are abandoned altogether, the results will not be much better.
C. Making our habits transformative
The key to our practice of the faith is allowing our habits of faith to change us. One problem is our overall orientation. We tend to look at our faith as means of help for our life. Thus, we are always praying for God to give us this or that thing, or to heal us in this or that way. In other words, we tend to ask God to do things for us rather than asking God what he wants us to do. Prayer should involve as least as much listening as talking.
Each week we come to the Great Supper in our celebration of the Eucharist. Each week the requirements for participation are stated: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and are in love and charity with your neighbors and intend to lead a new life draw near with faith.” We must take these words seriously. How has our behavior has been unfaithful in the past week? Are we truly in love and charity with our neighbors? If we are not, then we need to forgive those against whom we are harboring grudges and ask forgiveness of those we have wronged. How will our behavior be new and different this coming week? Can we discern the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? (Galatians 5:22).
We pray that we may do all such good works as God has prepared for us to walk in. We need to learn to for the image of Christ in those we see every day. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Recognizing Christ in other people doesn’t make it easy to respond to the invitation. Some people are hard to love, and the implications of love are not always clear. For example, how are we to respond to the homeless we see every day asking for money? Simply emptying our pockets for them is not the answer. But what is? How are we to respond to the difficult person we face each day at work? What about the tension that exists in our relationships with family and friends? The demands of love are hard. That is why we avoid them. When we wrestle each day with the difficulties inherent in the command to love, we begin to be disciples; we begin to respond to the invitation to come to the feast.
In summary, we respond to the invitation by taking our religion seriously, by responding to Jesus as though he really is the Son of God, and our Creator and Judge, and as though he really wants and expects us to do what he tells us to do. This means we must be willing to change. How is Jesus calling you to change your life right now? “Come, for all things are now ready!”