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Monday, June 26, 2006

Trinity 2 / Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY / PRESENTATION OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION
ST. LUKE 14:15-24

In today's Gospel lesson we hear of the greatness of God's mercy to all people. He sends His Servant, the Messiah, as He promised His people in the Old Testament. The Messiah, or Christ, is the Anointed One, chosen by God to fulfill the Scriptures and bring salvation to His people. Prior to Jesus telling about the man and his invitation to a great banquet, He accepted the invitation to eat bread with a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, a religious group. The Pharisees watched Him closely for His teachings and His miracles seemed to go against the Law. On that occasion, while he was at table with this ruler, he showed mercy on a man and healed him of dropsy. This occurred on the Sabbath. Was it lawful for Jesus to do this work on the Sabbath? To the Pharisees this act of healing broke the Sabbath Law. What appeared externally to be work was indeed an act of mercy and, according to Jesus, was the purpose of the Sabbath.

We also need this reminder of the Sabbath not just for the day itself but for the sake of coming to know better God and His mercy for us. This is the day of rest for God's people just as He commanded. God's merciful healing in Christ is especially made available and given to His people on this day. This day has both God’s command and promise. Today is also the Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession is the primary document of the Reformation and was presented to the Roman Emporer Charles V on June 25, 1530. The document was written and presented as an attempt to find unity between the Reformers and the Roman Church. The central teaching on salvation is made in Article IV that people "are freely justified for Christ's sake" or "that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace for Christ's sake, through faith." The Reformers were concerned about the Scriptural teaching of the centrality of God's mercy toward people and how, on account of His mercy in Christ, He makes us righteous and gives us salvation.

Article V of the Augsburg Confession makes clear how we receive this saving faith, "In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel." In short, God's grace and mercy is ours and comes to us in the waters of Baptism, in the teaching and hearing of the Gospel and in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper just as it came to God’s people of old through means God had chosen. The apostolic teaching and ministry continues in the Church today. While in the world people can come to know that there is a God it is here that people are brought to faith and God’s salvation in Christ.

So that we do not forget God's mercy to all people and do not forget the intention of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformers write the following words which conclude the main articles of the document: "This is about the sum of our teaching. As can be seen, there is nothing [in these articles] that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers." So far the Augsburg Confession. This may seem to be paying unnecessary attention to doctrine or church history. On the other hand, and what is helpful in remembering such things as the Augsburg Confession on this day, is that the Scriptural teaching of God's mercy in Christ continues to be proclaimed to all people and is available and given to us and all people in the church and her ministry today. Also, you may find it interesting that Pope Benedict, prior to being named pope, and while working at the Vatican as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called upon the Roman Catholic Church to adopt the Augsburg Confession as a document of the Church.

While eating with the ruler of the Pharisees Jesus noticed how those gathered sat there at the table and he taught them a parable on being invited to a marriage feast. He says, do not go to the place of honor but to the lowest place that the host may come to you and invite you to go to the higher place. He also told the man who invited Him that in giving a dinner or banquet that he ought not invite family, friends or rich neighbors. They can repay him. Rather, Jesus teaches, "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (v. 14) Jesus takes the opportunity of his invitation to this meal by the ruler to teach the meaning of inviting and being invited. Here is an opportunity to learn humility and receive mercy. This is what faith is, humbly receiving the mercy that God so freely gives to those in need.

The best illustration of humbly receiving God’s mercy is that of a child receiving Holy Baptism. At Baptism God gives that child His grace and mercy and welcomes that child into the church and even puts His holy name on him or her. The child, though born sinful and not deserving of God’s love and mercy, is clothed with Christ through water and the Word. He or she is baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life freely given him or her in Christ. The parents bring their child to be baptized and the pastor puts the water on the child’s head but this is all the work of God’s love and mercy toward that child. Basically, God is saying in Baptism that He loves that child and wants that child to freely have His mercy and salvation. So it appears simple with the pouring of water but at the same time this is a wonderful and miraculous work of God’s mercy to all people. The same can be said of Holy Communion. It appears to be simple bread and wine but it is a wonderful and miraculous work of God’s mercy for His baptized people in Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ talk of invitation to the banquet takes place because He Himself was invited to the table of the ruler and because in accepting this invitation He is also giving those who are present the opportunity to receive God’s invitation to eat bread in the kingdom of God. This is the purpose for which Jesus was sent by the Father. He is on the road to the cross where He will become the sacrificial Lamb. With the shedding of His blood all sin is paid for and washed clean. God reconciles the world to Himself and sinful man, who deserves nothing but God’s wrath and punishment, has peace with God. The cross is where God works His mercy toward the world and conquers our enemies of sin, death and devil. Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross people are given the invitation to the banquet feast where everything is ready.

Jesus tells those who reject Him that they are invited to eat bread in the kingdom of heaven with Him. “But they all alike began to make excuses.” Three are mentioned here. One bought a field, one bought five yoke of oxen and the third was married. They could not come to the great banquet because they were pre-occupied with other things. The result is that they lose out on tasting the householder’s banquet. Instead, the poor and maimed and blind and lame are welcomed in and people are not only invited but compelled to come in. Salvation is extended beyond the chosen people of Israel to the Gentiles and all are invited, all are recipients of God’s mercy in Christ, that they may taste of the banquet and His house be filled. It could very well be that the householder is God the Father and His servant is Christ Himself. Indeed Christ brings the Father’s invitation in the Spirit to partake of His mercy. There is really no excuse to reject God’s mercy and yet many people do. The way is narrow. Not that the invitation is not for all but because the majority are worried about the things of this life that they have no time for the things from above. They do not recognize Jesus when He is standing in front of them. So Jesus came and brings the Father’s invitation. This is seen in the Last Supper where He speaks of His Body and His Blood to His disciples as the new testament just prior to His death. The disciples’ eyes are opened to knowing who Jesus is and that He is risen as their eyes were open in His presence in the breaking of the bread.

“The Supreme Father therefore is inviting you to the Supper of eternal joy, but while one man is given over to greed, another to curiosity, another to the delight of the flesh, all the reprobate make excuses. While one man is held back by earthly cares, this other by acute anxiety over somebody else’s business, and the mind of yet another is given over to bodily lust, each in turn contemptuous hastens not to the feast of eternal life.” (Gregory, 183) Today at this altar the invitation of mercy is once again made. Here is forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Here we poor sinners rejoice in knowing that we have received the invitation and are partakers of that promised feast of eternal life. The Servant of God brings the invitation and He has prepared the table. Come, for all is now ready. Amen.

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