In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We Lutherans often had a misconception about the history of the Church. We have spoken and acted as though the Gospel was lost sometime early in the Church, probably after Augustine, and then Luther discovered it in 1517, and all was well. Then, either everything has been perfect ever since, and the LCMS has been the chosen ones upon the earth, perfectly in conformity at all times and places with Jesus and Luther, or the Gospel was lost again immediately after Luther and was discovered again by Walther, when the Church again became pure. Or the Gospel was lost after Luther and is just now being discovered, and our former pastors and teachers failed us.
All of this is false. The Gospel has never been lost. Luther’s discovery was not of the Gospel but about the Gospel. The Gospel had been at work in him. He was baptized. He received the Absolution. He partook of the Lord’s Body and Blood. He heard the Word of God. It was working. He was saved. He belonged to God not to the devil.
His discovery wasn’t a conversion. It was an awakening. It is not as though Luther was a pagan who converted to Christianity. He was a Christian whose understanding of the Gospel was confused and weak. What he discovered was the comfort and joy that God intends and desires for His people in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It is this way to our very day. The danger of false doctrine is that it will destroy faith, but even when it doesn’t, false doctrine denies comfort, joy, and certainty on earth.
This is how it has always been in the Church: not everyone gets it. The Gospel has never gone missing, but our minds are often clouded by our sin and selfishness. That is why the disciples are so often confused. They are looking at the wrong things. They are looking at themselves. And that doesn’t end upon the Resurrection and Ascension. Don’t forget the fight between Sts. Peter and Paul over doctrine or the quick judgment of St. Paul against St. Barnabas and St. Mark.
The Gospel has always been held in the Church and taught purely in places. There have always been those, like Zacchariah and Anna, who got it. But those who rejoice in the fullness of the Gospel are always in a minority position. And to some degree, each Christian must go through his own Luther-like Tower experience where he awakes to the full joy of forgiveness. It is different in all our lives. Some of you may always embraced and loved the words of Salvation Unto Us Has Come but you didn’t fullyu appreciate the grace of Christ’s bodily presences in the Holy Communion, or you loved Walther’s Law and Gospel but you didn’t realize the power of Christ’s promise in the Holy Absolution or the depths of the liturgy. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that there is always more. We are ever be awakened by the Gospel, by the Good News that for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection God actually loves us and isn’t angry at us.
So don’t be shocked that you are still learning things, that your understanding has not been constant or perfect. It has always been this way and it is not necessarily the fault of your pastors, though it may be at least partially their fault. But where we fail, God is gracious and steadfast. He does not save us because we understand the Gospel or even because we believe it. He saves us because He is gracious, because He has made Himself our substitute on the holy cross and risen again for our justification, not because we are good but because He is good.
Now, the Kingdom of God is like a King, not a Wedding Feast, but a King, a Man, who throws a feast for His Son. The Kingdom of God is not like a party. It is like a King who is generous, but whose patience knows limits. He grows angry at those who disrespect Him. He enacts vengeance and destroys cities. So also He throws out those who would come to the feast but not actually participate, those who will not wear the appropriate garment. They are cast into the dark place of eternal torture.
The point is that not everyone goes to heaven. Jesus is no universalist Some, such as the majority of the Jews of Jesus’ time, simply reject the invitation out of hand. They can’t be bothered. They have to go off to their fields or their business, or they are angry and malicious and kill the servants for even asking them to come. They, in turn, are killed and their cities are destroyed. Certainly, this is fulfilled, partially, in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Do we dare say that it is fulfilled again in the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima also? What of the World Trade Center? And Pearl Harbor? And the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Yes. God used Pharaoh. God used Alexander. God used Herod, Pilate, and Caesar. God uses evil men to fulfill His purpose, to carry out His wrath.
Repent. This is a warning. This parable is not some mission appeal, that you would work harder to win the lost, as though the Kingdom of God were part of the AmWay franchise and you were trying to figure out how to climb up the pyramid. God doesn’t need you. It is His Kingdom. He’ll take care of it. He doesn’t need you but He wants you. It is not your fault most people reject God and it should not surprise you that they do. Everyone has been reconciled to the Father in the death of the Son but not everyone will accept it, most refuse. They do not want it. This parable is not for them. It is for you. Because it is worse than simply not everyone goes to heaven. Not everyone who comes to Church goes to heaven.
Some seem to come in, but they don’t. They are like Simon Magus. They want the power of Christianity not the cross. Or they are like Herod, wishing to see some miracle, curious but distant. Or they are like Nicodemus before his conversion, coming by night, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, calling Jesus teacher on the one hand while insisting on their own way and understanding on the other. Whatever they are: they aren’t Christians. They come to the hall but they will not be clothed by Christ. They insist on their own garments.
This is the warning. You can come to church as a self-righteous, self-satisfied hypocrite. You can fool all the world but you can’t fool God. The only way you come into the Kingdom is if you shirk your own righteousness and are clothed with His righteousness. Is this Law or Gospel? I don’t know. It probably depends which side you’re standing on. Take your clothes off and get sprayed down for lice, you can’t bring your crap in here, sure sounds like Law. But the surprise is that the initial humiliation is fleeting, the delousing painless, and we find ourselves in the hands not of a prison guard but a gentle and respectful lover, who clothes us with His own garments, who calls us and makes us lovely.
Still, this is not a very nice parable, not politically correct. There are some things here worth thinking on, both a call to repentance and also a promise of God’s steadfast mercy. The servants gathered everyone they found. They made no distinction. This is good news for sinners. It doesn’t matter how lousy you are, how infected, how contagious. They are all gathered in. And everyone is clothed with the same gentle hands and eats of the same feast.
Here is the comfort that Luther discovered, which changed the world: God does all the work, provides all the grace. You haven’t been good enough. You don’t deserve to be in His presence, to eat His Body and Blood, but He wants you to have it. He provides from His own generosity. He holds nothing against you.
We seized and killed His Son. But He welcomes us in as replacement Sons. We neglected or confused His doctrine, but He remains steadfast in His mercy, in His kind and saving words to us. He speaks us cleans, declares us righteous. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord, “I am the burner of cities, the destroyer of Sodom and Jerusalem. But I choose to be merciful, to pardon, to reconcile. I declared war, now in My Son, at the proclamation of angels, I declare peace. I choose, from my sovereignty, to be generous and merciful, to raise the dead.”
So the Kingdom of God is like a King, and we are all like little girls waking up from a terrible nightmare to discover that we really are princesses.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.