SERMON FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-30-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Introit: Psalm 18
Old Testament: Proverbs 9:1-10
Epistle: 1 John 3:13-18
Holy Gospel: Luke 14:15-24
One of my favorite movies is called Babette’s Feast. It’s literally a delicious movie. And if you’re a Lutheran it’s just one of those movies you’ve just got to see.
It’s about a woman named Babette. She flees from an unstable Paris, France, leaving behind a dead husband and son, to live as a maid in a small little pietistic Lutheran community in Denmark. Babette is welcomed in her new surroundings by two aging single sisters, named Martina and Philippa, after Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.
Unbeknownst to the two sisters and the pietistic community, Babette, though living now as a poor maid, was actually the foremost chef in all of Paris, artfully crafting culinary delights to the point of ecstasy.
But now, the community in which she lives is Puritanical, meaning they eat, dress and live very plain and simple lives. Stale bread and water for lunch. They eschew many pleasures as sinful and tempting. But they are not quite as pious as they make themselves out to be, for old disputes continually resurface, and there is frequent arguing by the aging members in the congregation who can’t forget their neighbors’ wrongdoings and past sins.
Well, things get interesting when Babette learns that she’s won 10,000 francs in the French lottery, a completely ridiculous amount of money at the time. She has the means to go back to Paris or go anywhere in the world, do anything, really. No need to be a poor maid in exile anymore.
But instead she does something pretty absurd. She makes it a priority to host a special feast, a banquet, for that little congregation. The folks agree to come out of kindness but are horribly afraid of actually enjoying the strange and lavish food, and are completely shocked to hear rumors that there might even be alcohol served at this dinner.
So the folks in the village get together ahead of time. They have a secret meeting. And agree with one another that they will not enjoy the food and drink, nor praise it, but only acknowledge the bare necessity of the meal. They repeat a mantra, several times, saying, “Remember we’ve lost our sense of taste…we have lost our sense of taste.”
On the night of the feast, nothing, absolutely nothing, could prepare these folks for what they saw when they entered what was a stark and gloomy dining room but now transformed – flooded with radiant light with flickering white flames from ornate candelabras, illuminating pressed white tablecloths, elaborate settings, and polished, shining silverware.
When they nervously take their seats, a young servant boy brings out meticulously prepared courses, puff pastry nests filled with quail covered in truffle sauce, champagne and wine, turtle soup, fresh fruit and cheeses, finished off with rum cake, figs, and coffee with cognac.
Those villagers had made a strict agreement not to enjoy themselves. But how could that agreement hold up when the wine ran into their blood? And the fragrance of the lavish food hit their nose? Their nibbles became eager bites. Their nervous sips on the strange wine turned to cheerful gulps. Pretty soon theirs scowls broke, they found themselves suddenly smiling, even giddy and laughing.
Then you see them lay aside petty disputes, they bless God, and express appreciation for one another’s friendship. They retire to the next room, sip coffee and sing, “If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee” (LSB 750).
Before returning to their homes, they all hold hands around the village well with an almost childlike love for one another, and they sing a final hymn and go home singing.
The extravagant feast has theological significance. It’s a parable of sorts. Because Babette, spoiler alert, she spent everything, all 10,000 francs, everything she had on this feast. And she gives all away, gladly, freely, for a people who misunderstand it, don’t appreciate it, and yet at the same time, are completely transformed by it.
It’s a good movie, and artfully mimics the Parable of the Great Banquet and the extravagant feast of our Lord. For eating and drinking in the kingdom of God is no utilitarian sort of act. And God is no abstract concept, but a flesh-and-blood reality we eat and drink in the Divine Service – dare I say, actually enjoy! The Lord says, “Come, for everything is now ready.” It’s an extravagant and lavish meal we can scarcely comprehend and barely begin to appreciate. For in this meal we come to know the nature and character of God. Who gives of Himself, gives his greatest treasure, his Son, his perfect life, his innocent suffering and death, everything, all that he is and has – that we may be his own – that we have life and enjoyment – refreshment and peace through the forgiveness of our sins. All so that we might participate in the most intimate and holy of all friendships – the love of the Holy Trinity. A perfect communion of love, expressed and enjoyed in a sacrificial meal.
Just listen to the wisdom of Christ revealed in the book of Proverbs, read this morning: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live.”
Come and eat of my bread, drink of the wine, and live. This is none other than the call of the Spirit of Christ to believe the Gospel and to receive his saving treasures in the Lord’s Supper, in the communion of His holy church. This has always been the express will of God to enjoy fellowship with man. Just ponder and consider those first words ever spoken to man in the spring of paradise, “You may surely eat.”
Those villagers make an agreement. They say, we will not taste. We will not smell. But God won’t have it! Recall the Small Catechism: He, my God, has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, and food and drink. Yes, God gives us our senses, our food and drink, and celebrates it all. He is the author of all delight and all pleasure. In this banquet we taste and see that the Lord is good, and that our spiritual wellbeing is nourished also in the celebration of the senses. We eat his body and drink his blood. We receive forgiveness, and extend that same pardon cheerfully to one another. After Communion you receive this blessing “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul.”
There is no question where the Christian will be on the Lord’s Day. We go to the banquet. Because we are invited, because we are commanded to be present, and also because it is a privilege unlike any other to be a participant in this lavish feast of God’s self-giving love.
But you heard also how that invitation was received in Genesis, chapter 3, and also in our parable this morning. The folks say thanks but no thanks. God, your offer isn’t as appetizing to us as the enticements of this world. But how foolish! Did you hear how they reacted to the master’s generosity this morning? Jesus tells us that they all alike began to make flimsy excuses, ironically with the very gifts that God Himself had given them. How foolish! One with his property. One with his oxen. One with his wife and a honeymoon.
But what about you? When you opted for your kids to chase around a ball on the Lord’s Day instead of coming to the Feast of Our Lord, how was that any different? What about when you had company over for the weekend? You had a perfect opportunity to bear witness to the Word of the Lord, this gracious invitation to meeting with the Risen Christ.
But you said in your own way, I will not taste. I just needed a day to sleep in and do my thing. The fact is, our excuses are flimsy too. We stubbornly refuse to let God’s love have its way with us. And doing our own thing, well, ultimately that leads to destruction.
Yet we fool ourselves and others with our excuses for despising the feast, but God is not as easily fooled. In the parable this morning the master becomes angry. The point is, he takes it personally. Because it’s ultimately a rejection of him.
So don’t shrug your shoulders or despise the invitation. We’re more like those pietistic villagers than we think. We’re secretly suspicious of this feast. We don’t appreciate it, understand it, or delight in it as we should, but even in our sinful indifference, the Lord of the Feast is still zealous to have you at the table.
He lays down his life even for excuse-makers, and those who have their priorities all mixed up. He wants his house filled, meaning he wants you here, at this table with Him and all these people. He daily and richly forgives you and even enjoys your company. He gives to you generously and abundantly. He sacrifices everything, for poor sinners who are often incapable of understanding and appreciating the lavishness of His feast, and yet who are nonetheless still transformed by it, living in faith toward God and learning to love as God loves.
So come one and all. You’re invited, and what a feast God has prepared for you! The living Christ says, “Come, for everything is now ready!” His blood mingles with yours. His body joined to yours. You can taste and see that the Lord is good. That your sins are put away. Your guilt atoned for. So don’t be afraid to even smile, laugh, and even enjoy yourself. In the name of Jesus. Amen.