Third Sunday after Trinity (Luke 15:1-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Third Sunday after Trinity + June 14, 2018

Text: Luke 15:1-10

 

When someone says, let’s celebrate Father’s Day, the first thing that usually comes to our mind is our own fathers—for better or for worse as the case may be.  Many fathers are great men, who reflect the attributes of God and give a fair comparison between God our heavenly Father, and the human title they bear.  Other times this isn’t the case.  Yet, God is the gold standard for fatherhood, the one St. Paul says, “from whom all fatherhood is named in heaven and on earth.” (Eph. 3:15)

 

Psalm 103 teaches us more about the character of our heavenly Father:

 

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11-13)

 

Our heavenly Father is one who delights in forgiving sin, putting it away, removing it as far as east is from west.  Nonetheless, we can get hung up on our human ideas about the Father, as we see Him through our human lens.  That’s what happened during Jesus’ ministry:

 

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2)

 

What did the Pharisees and scribes think God the Father was like?  They saw Him as One who demands holiness and obedience.  They conceived of his hatred for sin and destruction of those who transgress. Their concept of God the Father was One who disowned children who brought shame to the family name.

 

To set the record straight, Jesus tells the first of two parables:

 

4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:3–7)

 

This is how the Father views those who have made a mess of their lives: As lost sheep.  They’ve forsaken sound leadership, gone their own way because they thought they were wiser and more powerful.  Then reality hit them like a ton of bricks.  They can’t find their own way, and are in awful peril.  God is both able and willing to rescue them.  So, the Lord bears them on His own shoulders to bring them back to the fold with rejoicing.

 

What God the Father delights in even more than a life of obedience is one where a person hears His call to repent and live.  This is what the angels of God celebrate.   Perhaps it should teach us that the Church on earth is not on a quest to make the world act righteous, but on a quest for greater repentance and forgiveness of sins.  That would truly reflect our heavenly Father’s heart here on earth.

 

The Pharisees and scribes missed the purpose for which God gave the Law.  Certainly if a Law had been given that men could keep and earn their way back into God’s favor, then they would be right to insist on strict obedience.[1]  But sin has weakened all of us too much to be able to obey even the first Commandment to the extent it requires.[2]  God’s Law ought to drive any fallen person to despair of his own ability with all that it demands.  All that’s left to say is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)  Enter Jesus, the Son of God who “receives sinners and eats with them.”

 

The second parable tells us even more about our heavenly Father’s heart:

 

8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Luke 15:8–10)

 

The difference here is that the subject is a coin, but no matter what we may believe about the couch cushions, money doesn’t wander off on its own.  Nevertheless, money that is lost cannot fulfill its purpose.  The $20 you forgot in your pocket isn’t worth $20 till you find it.  So the woman in the parable makes a careful search for the coin until she finds it.

 

We learn from this parable both the attentiveness to and the value God places on every one of His children.  To God, there is no one whose departure goes unnoticed.  Nobody in God’s house “slips through the cracks.”  That’s because of the value He places on each of His children—not merely a monetary value—but an imputed value which says: this person’s life is worth the shedding of Jesus’ blood.

 

The key thing we learn about God from both of these parables is that He seeks and saves the lost.  On the one hand, that’s a backhanded insult to all who flaunt their religious credentials—how pure their life is, how much they read their Bible, etc.  But on the other hand, it’s an invitation to God’s grace for all who admit how much shame they have brought to God’s Name.  It’s much-needed reassurance for the person who’s afraid the church would fall down or lightning would strike the moment they passed the front door.

 

God loves the lost and it is His delight to see those who were lost to Him return.  While men grumble, God rejoices.  God chooses what is despised by us, like Paul, a former “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim. 1:13) and turns him into a bold evangelist and author of 28% of the New Testament.  He chooses the irreligious to shame the religious.

 

This is something Christians always need to keep in mind—the danger of Pharisaic thought, of believing God chose you because of your good choices.  The Church is not our country club, and God may gather in whomever He will.  Our sinful flesh might want it to be a bunch of people who look like us and come from similar backgrounds, but what about when God gathers “the poor, crippled, blind and lame”? (Luke 14:21)  May we rejoice with God and His angels over every sinner who repents, regardless of background or traits.

 

God calls on His children to reflect who He is.  He loves, seeks, and saves sinners.  To accomplish this, He is merciful.  He is compassionate.  He is patient.  To this end, we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  So may God give us His Father’s heart to be merciful, compassionate, and patient with our fellow tax collectors and sinners—even our brothers and sisters.  Amen.

[1] Galatians 3:21

[2] Romans 7:14

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