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

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday after Trinity + July 7, 2019

Text: Luke 15:1-10

Sometimes, Jesus is offensive.  No, not like Howard Stern or Alex Jones.  Jesus is offensive because He sheds His holy light on what is ungodly in us.  When Jesus brings that light to men, one of two things happens:

  1. We cover up our evil with pride and make excuses for it (and hate the messenger). God says you should speak the truth in love, love covers a multitude of sins, and (as the Catechism says) put the best construction on everything.  But we just had to get it off our chest, and we just had to share those extra details which put the other guy in a bad light, and make us look either like a hero or a victim.
  • Or, we acknowledge our sins and do not cover our iniquities, as the Psalmist says.  When God calls us out on our sins of thought, word, and deed, we are ashamed of them.  We realize that we aren’t just in theory sinners, like it’s a blanket statement we can use to excuse ourselves from consequences.  None of the good things we’ve done can be used as justification. We grieve the ways our actions have offended God and hurt other people.  And as Psalm 32 continues, “I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Ps. 32:5)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and Scribes, and the tax collectors and sinners represent these two different reactions to the Word of God.  Now, it’s not hard and fast who’s in one “camp” or the other.  The two parables Jesus tells explain how God deals with sinners when they lose sight of their sin.

The parable of the lost sheep begins with a member of the fold, and through whatever circumstances—whether they were drawn away or thought they were strong enough to strike out on their own—gets in danger.  And God knows best of all that when someone gets in that place, they need to be sought out. They’ve separated themselves from the oversight and safety which the Shepherd provides.  The goal is on them being “found,” which means they’re restored to the company of the flock, of fellow sinners.

The next parable, of the lost coin, again shows the earnestness of God in searching for the lost with the picture of a woman who has lost 10% of her drachmas.  The focus isn’t so much on how the coin got lost (As people, we know we lose things all the time, usually by being distracted or absent-minded.  But, God is not this way.).  The focus is on the thorough search because of the imputed value of what was lost.  This is how the Lord feels about every human soul, as Ezekiel and St. Paul teach: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” and “God desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (Ezek. 18:32, 1 Tim. 2:4).  He seeks their life because they are precious to Him—as precious as the holy blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

So not only do sinners gather around the preaching of God’s gracious Kingdom, but He actually seeks exactly these people.

In our Epistle lesson, Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Paul is a prime example of both of these groups in the Gospel—the offended Pharisee and the humble sinner.  He details His former life, and how God’s good purpose was fulfilled in it.  This saying is trustworthy, and should be received by all: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Yes, the proud who say they have not sinned, so that He might humble them and show His grace.  Yes, those bowed down and already crushed, that He might raise them up and bid their broken bones to rejoice [Ps. 51:8]. 

This is a trustworthy saying not only because it’s true about everyone in the world whom God loves, but it also tells us what to expect in Jesus’ church.  I wish we would remember this more often, and not just give it lip service.  The Church of Jesus is comprised of broken people who are longing for God’s grace.  Last week, we heard Jesus picture them as the “poor and crippled and blind and lame.” (Luke 14:21)  They’re not your friends, the people you would choose to associate with (although you might find kindred spirits among them).

This is what separates the Church from every other club or association you belong to.  In those, you choose to be a member of the group.  And yes, humanly speaking, people choose to belong to this congregation or that, or whether or not to attend the Divine Service.  But I think explaining the word “church” is helpful.  In Greek it is ekklesia, from the words ek (out of) and kaleo (call).  The Church is those who are called out of the world by the Lord to belong to Him.  The Church has this one thing in common: we believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners including me!  That’s why we are all here.  Well, for the most part. 

The Church on earth, like those gathered around Jesus that day, is comprised of both humble sinners and hypocrites.  These sinners are less of sinners than others (so they think).  But remember the parables Jesus tells: He will seek out those who are lost that they might not perish eternally, and He highly values each person’s soul.  So if you are a hypocrite today, may God break your hard heart and give your faith, so that you would be ready to be sinners with the rest of us.

The experiences we have sometimes make us wonder if we’re on the right path as humble sinners, or if we’re hypocrites.  One part of life in particular is the pain and griefs we have.  How could a good and loving God let these things happen to those who are supposed to be His children?  With Job, we wonder if there is something we did to deserve a worse or harder life than people we’re pretty sure don’t know the Lord.  This is God’s answer to us is in Hebrews 12:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

                  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

                For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

First consider the One whom we know for certain was God’s Son, because He it was declared loud and clear at His Baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son.”  How did it go for Jesus?  Worst of all, because His life’s work was that of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He knew no sin, He was like an innocent lamb led to the slaughter, and yet He was a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief.  But obviously, it’s not our course to bear the sins of the world, yet this is how God the Father raises His children through faith:

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

His love isn’t to be sought in the discipline itself, but in His eternal purpose for His children: to train us in righteousness, to put our sins to death on Jesus’ cross, and galvanize our faith through the discipline we endure for a time.

This is how God seeks and saves the lost, gathers and guides those who our found, and brings eternal life to all who believe these words and promises of God.  Glory be to the God who saves sinners such as us! Amen.

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

Only God Can Judge and Save (Luke 15:1-10)

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 11, 2016
Text: Luke 15:1-10
 
Most people think that Christians condemn sins like abortion, fornication, homosexuality, and divorce.  After all, it’s people who identify as Christians who hold the picket signs outside Planned Parenthood, and it’s people who call themselves Christians who shun a woman after a divorce or avoid teenage mothers.  It must be that Christians condemn sin.
This actually isn’t true.  Christians do not condemn sin.  That right belongs entirely to God.
God is the One who condemns sin by His holy Law.  He condemns abortion when He says, “You shall not murder.”  He condemns sex outside marriage by saying, “You shall not commit adultery.”  And He condemns homosexual relations and divorce by saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”[1]
God is the Judge, just like we confessed in the Creed.  But His Law goes further than we would.  He also condemns those things we think are minor.  He condemns gossipers, busybodies, and those who show favoritism when He says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  He condemns the miserly and those greedy for gain by saying, “You shall not steal and you shall not covet.”[2]
Really, Christians have no grounds for condemning others.  “Judge not,” Jesus says, “that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”  Who are we to accuse others of sin, when we are chalk full of sins ourselves?  The Apostle writes, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”  Before the angry mob that had gathered to accuse an adulteress, Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”[3]
Christians do not condemn; each Christian must repent of his or her own sins.  Now let’s understand that from the Gospel for today:
1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].  2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
The truth is that everybody wants to go to heaven.  Heaven is for Real and Love Wins.[4]  Nobody would knowingly choose to suffer in hell for eternity.  Everyone wants to be chosen by God to be with Him in heaven.  Trouble comes when we look for God’s choice in the wrong place.   It’s all too common for us to look for God’s choice in the mirror.  But we don’t hold that mirror right up to our face (especially when we don’t like what we see).  Instead, we tilt it slightly so we can compare ourselves to others.  Ah!  Now we can see how much better we are than those other people.
Last week, Pope Francis made Mother Teresa a full-fledged saint.  She was chosen for this posthumous honor because of her life of good deeds.  Her good deeds are so widely known that she’s become the gold standard for someone who’s got what it takes to go to heaven.  In Roman Catholic teaching, by her being made a saint, she is so good that people are encouraged to pray and look to her for blessings.  Basically, she worked her way to the same plane as Jesus—according to Roman teaching.
But if this is true, I’m certainly no Mother Teresa, and I’m guessing you’d say the same thing about yourself.   Praise the Lord that we are not where God looks for His choice of who goes to heaven.  The decision on who’s good enough to go to heaven was made long before any of us was born, even “before the foundation of the world.”[5]   It’s God’s Son, Jesus, who alone makes the cut.   He is the righteous Man who is free from sin.  The only one who “shall ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His Holy Place”[6] is Jesus—not the pope, not even the Apostles, not Mother Teresa, and certainly not you or me!
 
Left to ourselves, there is no distinction between so-called good and bad people.  Every one of us is a lost sheep or a lost coin apart from Jesus.  But just as everyone is lost and condemned, the Lord Jesus Christ took the condemnation for everyone and seeks to find those who are lost.[7]  So, every single person who repents and believes in Jesus is found and there is joy in heaven over this!  “Just 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” and again, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”    What a reason to rejoice!  It isn’t about some people’s fervent search for God, or burning desire to please Him.  The reason to rejoice is in God’s diligent search for us.
And just what does that rejoicing look like?  St. John was given a glimpse in Revelation 5:
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”[8]
In heaven, the courts are filled with choirs of angels and people belting out the praise of Jesus, who took us from being very nearly lost in hell.  He snatched us from the grasp of death and sets us in heaven.
With this in mind, there’s no way we can climb into God’s throne and judge another sinner.  We ourselves were lost, but Jesus sought us out.   Now we see that it’s His desire for every lost person to be found because their life is precious in His sight too!  So, when we another lost person, our hope for them is that they will be found by the Lord and come to repentance and faith.  But just as little as we can sit and condemn, we also have no power to turn their hearts.  That too belongs to God.  Knowing this, I would question the effectiveness of picket lines in front of Planned Parenthood, and churchly people shunning someone who’s living in sin.  Wouldn’t it be better to pray to the God who seeks sinners to intercede?  Wouldn’t it be better for us to show mercy to a fellow sinner, knowing that it could just as easily be us who were wandering from the Lord?  Let God with His Word be the power to turn their hearts, because that’s how He saved us.
May God make us so heavenly minded that our focus and our joy is like that of the angels: Praising the Lord for His mercy and rejoicing every time it’s received by one such as us.  Amen.
[1] Exodus 20:13, 14; Genesis 2:24
[2] Exodus 20:15-17
[3] Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:1-2, John 8:7
[4] The titles of two popular, but unbiblical views of salvation.
[5] Ephesians 1:4-5
[6] Psalm 24:3
[7] Romans 5:12-21
[8] Revelation 5:9-10