Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 23)

Text: Matthew 22:8-10
The King called his servants and said to them, "My wedding feast is ready, but the people I invited did not deserve it.  Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people.
Holy Communion

God gives

Sometimes we hear stories about people who show love and generosity to the point of making a tremendous sacrifice.

A group of journalists went to Sudan to report on the genocide occurring in the western regions.  Whole villages are being wiped out - men, women and children.  The reports they hear from the village they visit are horrifying – rape, the murder of children and babies, the killing of every single person in a village.  As they are talking to the villagers the raiders come in and force the journalists to leave.  They know what is about to happen but they have no choice. 

Two of the journalists decide to head back to the village – they can’t leave without trying to help the villagers. They know they are outnumbered and don’t have any weapons. What they see as they enter the village is horrifying.  They do their best to rescue a few people but it’s hopeless.  They decide to find a safe place and one man picks up a baby but both men are shot. In his dying moments the man covers the baby with his body.  This baby is the only survivor. Some might call these men foolish but their compassion and love for those people led them to make this sacrifice.

Or what about this story?  During the Second World War Dr Ernest Gordon was a prisoner of war in Thailand. In his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai, he tells how a healthy soldier began giving his food to a sick buddy to help him get well. In time, the sick prisoner recovered, but the friend who had given him food died of malnutrition.

Many other stories are told about how people give of themselves without any concern for their own health and safety.  We marvel at this kind of sacrificial giving – giving that is generous and unreserved.  We wonder how anyone could be so committed and unselfish. 

When we think about generous giving we think of the many ways God has generously given to us.  It’s good sometimes to simply reflect for a while and ask where we would be without the generosity of our God.  Luther summarised God's generosity this way,
God has created me …He gives me everything I need from day to day – things like food, clothes, home and family, work, and money. God protects me from danger and keeps me safe when I am in trouble (Small Catechism, Openbook Publishers 1996).

Of course when we think about sacrificial giving, we can’t help but recall how God gave us his Son and how his Son gave his life to save us.  The theme of this sermon today is God gives.  God gives unselfishly, generously, lovingly, graciously, unreservedly, wholeheartedly, sacrificially, and whatever other word you can think of to describe the way Jesus gave his life to save us without any concern for himself.

He gave his life so that we can have forgiveness and eternal life. 
He gives us freedom from the power of our sin. 
He gives us the promise of life forever.  John says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).  Paul says, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57).
He gives us peace as Paul says in today’s reading, “The God who gives us peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). 
He gives us the Holy Spirit,
the giver of faith and trust in Jesus,
the giver of guidance in living the Christian life,
the giver of comfort, help and support,
the giver of membership in the family of God, the church
the giver of eternal life.

Our God is a giving God.  A God who gives even when we don’t deserve it. 
He gives because he loves us. 
He gives even when we don’t ask for it. 
God is an unselfish, generous giver.

As Jesus sat around the Passover table with his disciples the night before he died on the cross he again gives.  He takes some bread, gives it to his disciples and says, “This is my body given for you” (Luke 21.19).  Likewise he takes a cup of wine, passes it to his disciples and says, “This is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin”.  

I’m not sure whether the disciples fully understood what Jesus was saying that night, but they certainly understood later when they reflected on what Jesus had said about being betrayed, handed over to wicked men, dying and then three days later rising from the dead.  The image of the cross on Calvary with Jesus stretched across it was burnt into their memories and every time they recalled that day, they also recalled how Jesus had said at their last meal with him that he gave his body and shed his blood on the cross for them in order to give all people forgiveness and a renewed relationship with God. 

In the light of Jesus’ generosity toward us we see how stingy and miserly we have been toward others.  Too often we are miserly when it comes to forgiving others and putting differences behind us. 
Too often we are stingy when it comes to sharing our abundance with those who lack even the essentials of food, water and shelter.
Too often we are so ungenerous when it comes to seeing another person’s point of view and accepting their position – instead we insist that our way is the only way.
Too often we generously make excuses for our behaviour but are relentless when it comes to pointing the finger at others.

We come to this altar with our whole lives laid bare before God. 
Nothing can be hidden from him. 
Every miserly, stingy, unkind thought, word and deed is laid before God.  He knows it all.
We are aware that we have failed God and the people in our lives.
We are mindful that without the generous love of God we are damned forever.

And so it is with some relief that we hear the parable today about the king who invites those who deserve it the least to come to his son’s wedding feast. He says to his servants, “My wedding feast is ready, … go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people” (Matthew 22:8-10).

So the king, Jesus, invites us to this feast that we call Holy Communion.  Rich or poor, good or bad, young or old, indigenous or non-indigenous Australians or newcomers to our country, people from every nationality are invited.  We are invited because we need the generosity of God to heal the hurt in our lives.

We are relieved that nothing depends on us but that God gives us everything we need.  The body and blood of Jesus that we eat and drink wipe away every trace of sin.  We are cleansed and purified.  God regards us as holy, without sin. 

Unlike us who drag up the former mistakes of others and wave them in front of their faces when it suits us, God erases the guilt of our sin forever.  Our sin can no longer condemn us and we can be confident on the last day when we come to stand before the throne of God.

And there’s more. 
We sin every day so we need God's continued forgiveness every day. 
Just as sin is an ongoing fact in our earthly lives, so also we rely on God to be super generous and forgive us again and again.
And the amazing thing is this – his patience with us never runs out.  He forgives us as many times as we need his forgiveness.
And so we come here again and again to be reminded that Jesus body and blood cleanse us from all sin.  And it’s just at this point that our celebration of the Lord’s Supper turns to thankfulness and praise.  We have tasted the goodness of God. 
Again he has given us everything we need. 
He has given us a gift that is far more generous than we ever realise. 
He has given us the body and blood of the Son of God. 
He has given us a fresh, clean start.  We are forgiven. We have eternal life.
This is something worth celebrating.  God is worthy of our thanks and praise for being such a generous giver.

Through the body and blood of Jesus, we experience what it means to be loved unconditionally.  This is not something that we keep to ourselves but it’s meant to be shared. 
We carry Jesus with us as we leave the service. 
We are signs of God's presence in the world. 
We are sent out to make a difference in our families, in our work places and in the world, bringing the peace and love that we have received from Christ himself.

God is a gracious giver to each of us.  May we through the power of the Holy Spirit be gracious givers to one another.

 ** This sermon was preached on the occasion of children receiving their First Communion

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th October 2011

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