Come, For Everything Is Now Ready!

            The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Luke 14:15-17: “When one of those who reclined at table with Him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.  And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’”  Here ends the text.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus accepts an invitation to dine at the house of a prominent Pharisee.  Surrounded by lawyers and Pharisees who are watching Him carefully, Jesus challenges their thinking on Sabbath traditions, humility before God, and mercy.  Picking up on Jesus’ banquet theme, hoping to demonstrate his own theological prowess, one of the men who reclined at table with Him exclaims: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.”    
The man’s statement is not false, but it’s wrong, because it’s incomplete.  It misses the main point: Jesus is the Kingdom of God.  The problem with this pious-sounding exclamation is the word “shall.”   For this exclamation is made to Him who is the Bread of Life.  He is the Kingdom of God Incarnate.  Jesus is the One who is getting all things ready for the eternal heavenly banquet. 
Remember how John the Baptist preached?  “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  Which is to say, “Repent, because Jesus is here.”  God has come to us in our flesh.  He has taken up our cause.  He makes Himself a sinner in our place and endures all of the Father’s wrath, all that Hell can dish out.  As St. Paul writes: “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 
Jesus’ Baptism at the Jordan River is not a washing, but an infection.  The water He is baptized with is filthy with our sin, and He soaks it all up in Himself like an activated charcoal filter.  And then Jesus carries that load of sin all the way with Him to the cross at Calvary.  Behold, the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world.  He is the sacrificial Passover Lamb, the One who goes in your place, the One who gives Himself into death that you might die to sin and have everlasting life.  As we just sang, He has prepared this feast for our salvation.  It is His Body and His Blood, and at His invitation as weary souls, with sin oppressed, we come to Him for needed rest, for comfort and for pardon (LSB 622).
So the first point then is not that those who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God will be blessed, but that those who heed the invitation now are blessed.  Those who eat the Bread of Heaven now are blessed.  There is no other blessing; no one will eat then who does not eat now.  Now is the hour of salvation. 
Cursed are those who reject the invitation of the King, who are too busy with their life to attend to their souls, who have little awareness of their sins or their need.  Cursed are those who think there is time… that they can fend for themselves… that God will understand.  Blessed are those who recognize the Kingdom in the weakness of Jesus’ suffering and dying and join Him now, here on earth, in the eating of His Body and the drinking of His blood.
The Kingdom of God is not some far away event in the distant future of which someday men shall partake—it is now!  In the person and work of Jesus Christ!  Blessed is he who eats bread in the Kingdom of God—now!  For of such is the Kingdom of God.  In them the Holy Trinity rules by grace and is present now.
So Jesus tells a parable.  It’s meant to show how God extended His banquet invitation to His chosen people Israel many times throughout history, but they rejected Him again and again.  So God will create His people from others—Gentiles, and “compel [them] to come in, that His House may be filled.” 
That’s how God deals with fallen sinners!  Like the Master of the House, He sends out His servants into the streets, and into the highways and hedges, to compel even outsiders to come to the banquet.  The point is clear.  It doesn’t matter who His servants get as they go out gathering people for the banquet.  He wants His House filled!  Any person will do!  Compel them!  “And how were they compelled?” you might ask.  The Master’s word compelled them: “Come, for everything is now ready.”   
But, of course, those originally invited refuse to come.  They all have one excuse after another.  So the Owner compels other people to come in their place.  And they come!  It is not that they earned some credit by coming; they are compelled to come by the grace of the Host.  But it is an enormous loss that others suffer by making excuses, by not understanding the urgency of the invitation.
Sitting here, we can clearly see the foolishness of such choices and behavior.  We are pleased that the Host invites the outsiders: the dregs of society, the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind, and that there is still room for more.  We are glad, for that means there is still room for us.
But for how long?  For this parable is about urgency, about the desperate, current need we have.  We scoff at the men in the parable who think themselves too busy to attend.  Perhaps we even feel sorry for them.  After all, it isn’t necessarily that they don’t want to come at all; it’s just that they aren’t ready to come when they’re invited.  Thus do proud and arrogant men think that they can prey upon the generosity and patience of God!  
This is especially true in our day.  Who hasn’t wanted the best of both worlds—the pleasures of the flesh, honor among men, luxuries, freedom, constant amusement and the joys and peace of heaven?  Who is ready to lose his job, his family, his reputation, and his wealth for the Kingdom of God?  We promised all of that our confirmation.  Did we really mean it?
We live in a culture that seeks immediate gratification at the expense of long-term gain.  And while that strategy is dubious here in earthly things, it is sheer folly in heavenly things.  Do not think that you can enjoy the forbidden fruit now and grasp heaven for cheap when it is more convenient! 
With this parable, Jesus is compelling us to come to His banquet now!  There is nothing more important!  This understanding has somehow withered away in our lazy, convenient, American Christianity.  It’s the same compelling word of command.  Come now!  Not some time in the future.  Not when it fits into your schedule.  Not when you feel like it.  Come, everything is ready now!  Come to church!  Come to My heavenly banquet and forget those excuses and misplaced priorities, or you may never taste of My eternal, heavenly banquet!”
Pastor, you’re not saying that I have to come to church to be a Christian, are you?  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  For that’s exactly what Jesus is saying.  You have to come to God’s House to hear His Word.  You have to come to the Table He has set for you.  That’s how the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith.  To do otherwise is to do as the Pharisees.  It’s marching to your own drum, trying to conform God to your idea of who He should be.
When did we lose this truth?  When did we lose the idea that gathering around the preached Word and Sacrament isn’t optional?  When did we stop saying what God clearly says: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy”?  What does this mean?  “We are to fear and love God so that we do not dishonor His Word, and the preaching of it, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  It is so clear!
Now, this does not mean that everyone who simply goes to church is a Christian.  That would be the same as saying that someone, simply by stepping foot in a hospital, is automatically healed of disease.  That being said, church is not optional.  Worship is not simply one of several possibilities for a given day and hour.  It is the place where God has set His banquet table here on earth. 
God’s Word says, “Come!  Draw near!”  That’s a command.  Listen to what follows this command in Hebrews 10:22-27: “Draw near to God in full assurance of faith, with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
So, do you need to go to church to be a Christian?  Absolutely!  For how else do you stay a Christian?  It is not by your own reason or strength.  It is by the Holy Spirit’s working through the preached Word and the banquet of the Lord’s Supper.  These are the means by which God keeps you in faith and brings you the forgiveness of sins.  This is the way by which you remain in God’s Kingdom. 
But I’m probably “preaching to the choir,” as the saying goes, for you are here today, and I suspect that most of you worship regularly.  But that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty of despising God’s Word or always gladly hear and learn it.  Who among us has not sat in the Lord’s house and wished the service was done already?  Who has not been bored in church and daydreamed not just of lunch and appointments for the week, not just of fame and fortune and dreams comes true, but sat in these very pews and dreamed of evil?  Even plotted to sin?  We’ve lusted and coveted, lied and blasphemed within sight of the Table of the Lord while the Word of God was read and His great love proclaimed, thinking that we can somehow have it all.  Who among us has not misplaced our priorities when it comes to our relationship to Christ and an eager acceptance of His gracious invitation to join Him now and in eternity?
 Are we ready for the final summons?  Are we eager and expectant?  Not quite.  I’ve talked to more than one mother who’s said she is not quite ready for Christ’s return because she first wants to see her children grow up.  I know plenty of people who say they want to go to heaven, but they’re in no hurry to get there.  I’ve even heard some that have the idea that eventually they want to take their faith more seriously in the future, but for now they want to have fun, as though life in heaven were some strict monastic order void of color and life and joy.
Repent!  That is pure nonsense.  No believer will be disappointed in the Day of Glory.  No believer will look back longingly on this vale of tears or desire anything in it.  What far better joy to have your children let out of this wearisome world early and to be joined to them in perfect communion in the presence of the Lord in heaven?  What earthly experience could possibly be a wonderful as any pursuit in which you might participate in paradise?        
I’ve also talked with people who are obviously near the end of life, of great age or poor health, and with great sorrow.  They tell me how frustrated they are that God keeps them here, that they are ready to go, and don’t know what purpose more they can serve here.  I tell them that I don’t know, either, but with those who love God and have been called according to His purposes, all things work out for good, and surely He will bring them home soon, just as soon as the time is perfect. 
But that desire for the end, that eager expectation should be in us all, regardless of age, health, or station in life.  For what have any of us to add to this world?  God does not need us here.  This is not our home.  “Come, Lord Jesus,” should be more than a mindless table prayer.  It should be our fondest desire and our most fervent petition.  And, yet, the sad fact is that sometimes we have behaved and thought on eternity as though we might be bored in heaven, that we might miss our beer, our lust, and our pride. 
Well, it is true that heaven is not a utopia of golf courses, stocked ponds, perfect pinochle hands, or packed shopping malls.  It is much better than that!  Heaven is the most interesting, delightful, and wonderful thing we can’t even begin to imagine.  There we will be free of sin and its consequences.  We will stop hurting ourselves and those we love with shameful, selfish behavior.  We will bask in the presence of our loving Father as His adopted family perfected in grace. 
But that joy to come, that glory to be revealed, is already now for those with eyes to see.  We are already God’s children, forgiven by grace, in whom He abides.  And already now—here—He gathers us around Himself, feeds us with food that money cannot buy, with Bread that will not waste, with crucified Flesh and spilt Blood that is not dead, which satisfies righteousness. 
So, come!  Stop playing games with your fate, planning to sin now and repent later.  Stop thinking that your sins are reasonable and bring no guilt or that you have some special relationship to God where He indulges your sins.  Repent!  Repent now.  There is but one case of death-bed repentance in all of the Scriptures, so that while no man should despair and think it is too late, neither should anyone presume he will always have more time.  Come, for everything is now ready!
Christ has done all things for you.  He has taken up your flesh, lived and suffered, died and rose for you.  He has endured the Father’s wrath and hell’s fire for you.  He has crushed the serpent’s head and dissolved the chains of guilt and shame that held you.  He has flung open wide heaven and removed the guards.  The flaming sword of Eden has been quenched in the Blood of the Lamb.  The angel of death passes over.  You are safe.  There is no one to accuse you, no one to keep you out.  God Himself loves you and beckons you to come to the feast. 
Come, for everything is now ready!  Leave behind these temporary things.  Get lost in the love of Christ that has loved you beyond all telling, that has forgiven every single flaw and sin and makes you new in Him.  Lose yourself and find your life.  Eat and drink without money or cost.  Be satisfied to the very depths of your soul and never thirst again.  You belong to God.  His Name is upon you.  You are baptized and He abides in you.  These highways and hedges are not your home.  He brought you here this day to His House and to His Feast.  Come.  Be wrapped in perfect, selfless love.  Eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.
Come, for everything is now ready!  Nothing is lacking.  He desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him.  He wants you here.  Whatever you’ve done, whatever excuses you’ve made in the past, whatever evil things you’ve dreamed and thought, whatever lies you’ve told and slander in which you’ve engaged—no matter what—God has paid for it all in His Son. 
And thus does the Spirit of Christ call: “Come, for everything is now ready!”  “Come, eat of My Bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live” (Proverbs 9:5-6).  “You who were once far off have been brought near by the Blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).  “You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.          


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