“Thy Kingdom Come?”
“[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just'” (Luke 14:12-14, ESV).
In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Thy Kingdom come.” We pray those words once a week, at the very least, and usually many times more than that. Does God need us to ask Him before His Kingdom comes? Of course not! And thank God, because it was when we were still enemies of His Kingdom that He made His Kingdom among us. God became Man and dwelt among us, and His name in Hebrew means exactly that: Immanu-el, “God-with-us.” Luther wrote that we do not need to pray for God’s Kingdom to come in general; that happens without our prayers. But when we pray “Thy Kingdom come” we are especially praying for the Kingdom of God to come to us. Jesus did not come to reign over some vague “world” or nameless “humanity.” He came to make individual men, women, and children citizens of His Kingdom, individuals like you and me. When you were not a member of His Kingdom, the Holy Spirit, by the Word of God, called you to turn from your sin. When you were a member of Satan’s Kingdom, God killed your old self by drowning you in Baptismal water, and then, in the power of Christ’s resurrection, He raised you to new life and you became a citizen of His Kingdom. Your prayer has been answered: the Kingdom has come to you and you are in. The banquet has been prepared and the door has been flung wide open. Come on in. That’s the good news I have for you today. But wait, there’s more! Maybe you’ve heard the joke where St. Peter is showing some newcomers around heaven and they look in various doors: here are the Catholics, here are the Baptists, here are the Presbyterians. And then Peter says to walk softly by a certain door. One of the newcomers asks, “Why? Who’s in there?” St. Peter answers, “Shhh. It’s the Missouri Synod, and they think they’re the only ones here.” No, we are not the only ones God has invited into His Kingdom. Your friends and family are not the only ones God has invited. His Kingdom has so much more room and He wants it full! Remember what Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4) about whom His Kingdom was for. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, He said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV). And in the same chapter as our Gospel lesson, in Luke 14:21 and 23: “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame… Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” After hearing that, there might be just the faintest shadow of doubt in your minds about whether you really want the whole Kingdom of God to come to you, including all the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. You may well think twice about praying, “Thy Kingdom come” because you might just get what you ask for! Hey, it sounds fine if someone else has to do it. It was to His Pharisee host that Jesus gave these instructions anyway. Doesn’t it make us feel good when Jesus puts the Pharisees in their places!
But this instruction is not only for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time; it’s for all of us Pharisees here as well. When you have a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Yes, but Jesus, I’m trying to be respectable and to build my reputation as a solid member of society. And if I invite the poor, I might find the good china gone. And, you know, my home is really not wheelchair accessible. And, it’s unfortunate, but my allergies to seeing-eye dogs might start acting up. It just really wouldn’t work in my house, Jesus. Besides, what’s wrong with inviting my friends and relatives? I’m comfortable with them. And it makes me feel good when respectable and nicely-dressed people come to my house.
There it is, the real reason behind our civilized reluctance: feeling good and being comfortable. Well, feeling good and being comfortable are nice for a while, but they will turn rotten and sickening in the long run. They become like bitter vomit of the soul-or maybe something worse. Jesus says, “Don’t invite your friends and relatives and rich neighbors, lest they invite you back and you are repaid”-which means repayment only for this world. If that’s the reward you want, if you are working for comfort and good feelings in this world, go ahead. But understand: that’s all the reward you’ll get. You who sit in the good, highly visible places because you think you deserve it: you have your reward in the acclaim of false, fair-weather friends. You who would befriend only those who have the means to give back to you: you have your reward in the good food and fine wines of comfortable familiarity.
But, just so we don’t miss the main point here: Jesus is not so much concerned about whom you invite to your house for dinner. It would be a strange contradiction indeed if Jesus were suddenly to reverse course in the Gospel of Luke and make temporal things primary. Remember, it was He who said life is more than food and the body more than clothing. It is not a sin, at least not in itself, to enjoy the fellowship of friends and family and other Christians. As St. Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, ESV). The fact that we do not want to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind to our houses to share our meals, the fact that we may not even know any people like that, is a warning, a symptom of a deeper reluctance. Jesus takes the opportunity of the banquet at the Pharisee’s house to speak of a much more significant banquet. He gives us not only a time-bound description of proper table etiquette; more importantly, He gives us a timeless description of Kingdom etiquette.
What Jesus teaches us here is the behavior of the banquet to which He invites every person: the poor-both in money and spirit; the lame-both physically and mentally; the crippled-both in limb and in heart; and the blind-both in eye and in soul. The banquet was prepared for you at your Baptism and it is shared by you when you eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus. It is the banquet of the Kingdom come, as well as of the Kingdom yet to come. Should we not rejoice to celebrate it every Lord’s Day in this, His House?
And so the Kingdom has come and the Kingdom will come. You to whom the Kingdom has already come, do you dare to hide in the hallowed halls and hoard the food by yourself? And you who have had the foretaste of that great banquet still to come, do you harbor hidden desires to eat it only with those who look like you, talk like you, smell like you? Would you take your nice, comfortable seats either where you can be seen by all or where you can observe everyone who enters to see if they rise to your standards of good, Christian decency? We can all answer yes. We are offended at Jesus’ words; they strike too close to home, and home is clearly where our hearts are-our familiar, pleasant homes, that is. Oh so often we act like the children of the kingdom of this world where placement is made, bought and sold, rather than like the children of the supernatural Kingdom where placement is granted at the free will of Him who paid for the banquet with His very life’s blood. Repent! Jesus can do nothing for those who deny that they are the poor, lame, crippled and blind. He came for the sick, not the healthy. He wishes to reward those who know they do not deserve it. To those who have been brought shamefully low in repentance the Lord of the banquet says, “Friend, move up higher” (Luke 14:10). To those who are sickly swollen with sin the Lord says on this Sabbath day, “Be healed and depart in peace.” The reward of the Kingdom is a reward for those who will be resurrected righteous. But those who think they deserve the reward have already received theirs.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I have badly neglected the work of the Kingdom. But we too are the work of the Kingdom. We hold the feasts of Pharisees and still Jesus comes among us and eats with us sinners. And He not only eats with us, He gives Himself to be eaten by us for the forgiveness of our sins. We have invited to our friendly parties those with whom we feel comfortable, and even so, Jesus comes, bloody and sweat-soaked, to invite us to His Table where we can eat with those much more like us than we would care to recognize: the sick in soul, the blind-hearted, the lame-minded. And He heals us all. You who are blinded by the lusts of your flesh, come and see purely! You who are crippled by the stresses of job and family, come and walk anew! You who are deaf to the cries of the spiritually dead with whom God has placed you in daily contact, come and hear clearly! You who are poor and feel you have nothing to offer to your neighbor in need, come and be filled to overflowing with God’s great love for every person in Jesus Christ!
Invite, then, those who are blind, deaf, poor, and crippled. Give them the good news of the Kingdom, that they can be healed of their doubt, pain and hopelessness. Give them the good news of the resurrection of the body, that when they enter this Kingdom, God promises them both spiritual and physical healing. Love the unlovely, help the helpless, feed the hungry, sit with those who cannot stand, speak to those who cannot see, and hold the hands of those who cannot hear. For that is what you were. All of those blind eyes and blind souls, all the crippled limbs and crippled hearts, all the poor and the poor in spirit are because of sin, and sin has been dealt with. Though you know this truth now only by faith, you will one day know it by sight. On that definitive Day and at that beautiful banquet, Jesus will reward you with resurrection, not because you deserve it, but because He said to you in your lowly state, “Friend, move up higher. Move up from your sin and your shame and sit next to me in the presence of my Father. I took your place of shame; share my place of honor forever.” The banquet is ready. Come on in.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/28/07