Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 4, 2008

Sermon on Isaiah 25:6-9

THE FEAST IS READY!
1. The table is set
2. The celebration is prepared

Text: Isaiah 25:6-9

Introduction

If you’re going to have an event, there’s one thing I can virtually guarantee that you’ll need: Food! A few weeks ago, there was a Monday Night football gathering at a member’s house, and of course, we ate pizza.  Last Sunday, we had a small gathering at the parsonage to celebrate Julia’s first birthday, complete with lunch and a birthday cake.  A couple of weeks ago I attended the symposium at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and after the first day’s agenda was complete, there were appetizers galore provided for us in the cafeteria.  Fifty-one Sundays each year, we have coffee hour after the service; today’s the only Sunday we’re not having coffee hour, because we’re having the picnic instead!  It’s nearly a universal phenomenon that if you’re going to have an event or a celebration or a gathering of any sort, you need food.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that God uses the image of a banquet, an elaborate meal, to give us an idea of the mother of all gatherings, the greatest celebration that will ever take place, the gathering of God’s people for all eternity in heaven.  That’s a picture to which we can relate.  That’s a picture that will make us hungry for heaven!  That’s the picture that God presents to us through the prophet Isaiah in the First Lesson for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost.  Isaiah shows us the magnificent feast that God prepares for his people, and he proudly announces that the feast is ready!  The table is set.  The celebration is prepared.

I.

If you are the host for a Monday night football party, what kind of food will you serve?  There is no strict menu for watching a football game, but I suspect you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark of brats, burgers, or pizza, and I also suspect that paper plates and plastic forks wouldn’t be out of the question.  But what about Christmas dinner?  What about a meal celebrating your twenty-fifth or fiftieth wedding anniversary?  Are brats and burgers going to cut it?  I don’t think so.  For a momentous occasion, we expect something a little more.  For a landmark occasion, we usually go for the best, the finest wine, the best cut of steak, all served on the finest china.

Isaiah paints a picture of heaven for his readers in the opening verse of the First Lesson for today.  That picture includes a menu that sounds a lot more like Christmas dinner than a football party.  “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines.” This is a celebratory meal.  This is a high-class event: black ties for the gentlemen and evening gowns for the ladies.  This is special.  This is a celebration.  But why?  Read on, and you will find out.

“On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” People don’t host a big meal for no reason.  If you’re going to invite people to a classy banquet, you probably have an important and exciting reason.  That’s why Isaiah pictures the Lord setting the table for this banquet in the way he describes.  God has set the table in the banquet hall so that his people could celebrate a stunning victory.

So what is this victory celebration?  Something had trapped the entire human race.  Something weighed us down and covered us up from God’s loving presence.  The something was sin, and all those sins and failures to follow God’s will brought about one result: death.  Death is no reason to celebrate.  But our Lord’s defeat over death is!  That’s why Isaiah says that the “LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” There’s no reason to be sad at this banquet, because the Lord “will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” That disgrace was our sin, but that disgrace is gone, covered and cleansed in the blood that Jesus, the Son of God, shed for us on Calvary’s cross two thousand years ago.  The banquet hall of heaven will not be stained by sin or made glum with guilt, because sin and guilt will be a thing of the past for God’s people.  The table is set with the perfect happiness and holiness that Jesus won.

Maybe thoughts of a future heavenly feast are the last thing on your mind.  After all, there are plenty of other matters trying to get your attention.  Who am I going to vote for in the upcoming elections, and what are the propositions all about?  How am going to pay off all these bills in a lagging economy?  Where do I turn to straighten out my family troubles?  Life can be so hectic, and so many other matters are taking up our time, that we can be entirely caught up in the here-and-now and not at all concerned about the hereafter.  We can’t even imagine eternity because we’re just trying to get through this week!

That’s why we need a good daily dose of the Word of God to put things back in perspective.  When the rat race of life is over, what does it get you?  What do your investment plans and your daily planner get you after this life?  They get you nothing.  You end up in the grave, dead because despite your best efforts, your accomplishments will never heal you of the disease of sin that ultimately brings life to an end.  But what’s far worse is that sin’s disease will not only kill you in this life, but it can wind you up in hell for the next life.

But it doesn’t have to end that way.  It doesn’t have to end that way because God has something better in store for those who want to find a better future with Jesus.  God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has set the tables in heaven for a divine feast, because his life and death set the stage for our redemption from our sin.  The sinless Son of God set that stage by becoming the sacrifice for our sin on the cross.  The sinless Son of God set the table for this heavenly banquet and opened the doors of paradise when he burst through the iron gates of death at his resurrection.  The heavenly feast is ready.  The table is set.  An invitation has been sent to you in the Word of God.  There’s a table with a chair that has your name, and when your faith and hope are in Jesus, the Savior of the world, you know that one glorious day in the future, you will take that spot.

II.

As a pastor, I’ve conducted about a dozen weddings in my seven years of ministry.  But before I became a pastor, I was involved in several dozen weddings as an organist for a number of Lutheran churches in the Milwaukee area.  As both a pastor and an organist, I’ve learned one lesson about weddings: They never-and I mean never-start on time.  I make it a rule of thumb and arrange it with the organist and wedding party that we plan to start five minutes late.  Maybe I shouldn’t announce that, but it’s true!  And usually someone in the wedding party needs a few extra minutes for some last-minute emergency detail.  Once the bride’s last minute matters were attended to, once the mother of the groom was calmed down, and once notoriously late Uncle Leo finally showed up, then the wedding could begin.

The feast God has made is ready.  The table is set.  The celebration is prepared, but the celebration hasn’t started yet.  The celebration hasn’t started yet because not all the guests have arrived.  Some, like you and me, are living our lives knowing that God will eventually call us home to heaven.  Many people still need to be reached with the gospel so that they can also be part of this celebration.  Everything is prepared.  We’re just waiting for that day to arrive when the celebration begins.  But that day is coming, and Isaiah tells us how we will celebrate on that day.  “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'”

Isaiah talks about “that day” in the future as if it’s fact.  Let’s face it-if God says something is going to happen, then it is as good as done.  God’s children know that he will come through for us.  God isn’t going to leave us out on our own like a dead-beat dad who runs out on his kids.  He’s made a promise, and he’s going to deliver on that promise.  He’s going to give us a celebration, and it’s not going to be dull and drab.  The celebration God has prepared is festive and fantastic.  Once it starts, there is no end!

A story is told about a prominent citizen in a town who was dying.  As he lay in his lovely home, the best doctors surrounding him, he whispered in despair, “I’m leaving my home, I’m leaving my home.”  Across town there lay a solitary figure in bare surroundings.  Her modest home contained only the most basic of life’s essentials.  But there was a gleam in her eye.  Before she died she was heard to say, “I’m going home, I’m going home.”  What a difference faith in Jesus Christ makes!

Maybe that’s a difficult illustration for you to relate to.  I see a good number of younger faces here this morning.  Thoughts about the end of life don’t cross our minds too much at that stage of life.  But then I think about the fact that two long-time Gloria Dei members have passed away during the course of this year.  Maybe we aren’t thinking about the end of our lives now, but sooner or later it’s going to become an imminent issue.  One day it’s going to be you in the hospital bed, you in the ambulance, or you under hospice care.  When your time comes, whether it’s in seven months or seven years or seven decades, you can rest assured that God gives you a firm confidence that nothing can overcome.  You have confidence and joy, because you’re heading to a banquet.  You’re heading to a celebration made possible through the resurrection of Jesus.  There is a place for you at this celebration through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  You hear that invitation repeated each time you open his Word or think about your baptism or receive his holy Supper.  You are heading to a celebratory feast that knows no end.

Conclusion

I suppose it’s a happy coincidence that today’s Scripture lessons talk about a feast on the same day that we’re having our church picnic.  The smell of the grill probably has you hungry for lunch!  But I hope that these words from Isaiah have made you hungry for heaven!  And just as you are all invited to the picnic after this service, so also God has invited you and the world to this greater feast.  If you can’t make it to our picnic, it’s not the end of the world.  But when the real end of this world comes, there is a heavenly banquet in store for you.  Through his Word, God is sending you an invitation to a feast that will be even better than Gloria Dei’s annual picnic. The feast is ready!  Come to the feast!  Amen.

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