Third Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Micah 7:18–20 | 1 Peter 5:6–11 | Luke 15:1-10

Text: Luke 15:1-10

There are times in Scripture where we can see the truth of God’s work on the lips of His enemies.  Consider how Caiaphas spoke of the Sanhedrin’s plot to kill Jesus in John 11:

Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:49-52)

God used this significant statement for His praise in spite of the desires of speakers.  And a great example of this is here in Luke 15:

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

The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling against Jesus because, of all things, He was receiving sinners and eating with them.  What was offensive to them came to be that very thing which Christians have rejoiced in!  It is such glory for us, that we joyfully sing, “Jesus sinners doth receive!  Oh, may all this saying ponder!” (LSB 609:1)

The Pharisees had the wrong idea about Jesus’ person and work—and in that they also despised the very work of the Lord God among the sons of the promise made to Abraham. They refused to believe that Jesus was the Promised Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, sent from the heavenly Father. They refused to believe that one Man is able to make atonement for the sins of many.  Even more troubling, they failed to understand the depravity of human nature. A pious Pharisee would never dream of calling himself a “sinner.” Such religious people behave like the chief of sinners—that is, those who consider themselves the exception to God’s rules and choose their own way—but they would never dream of calling himself chief of sinners.

But it’s not just a problem for the Pharisees, as much as we might like to distance ourselves from their practices.  Pastor Scott Murray recently wrote,

“Some years ago while doing door-to-door evangelism, I met a woman who claimed that she hadn’t sinned in the previous two years. To my Lutheran years such a claim itself seemed to be a sin: the sin of pride. However, I had the wisdom (or the cowardice) to keep my opinion to myself. This woman’s self-view contradicted Scripture. St. John puts this claim to moral purity to flight in 1 John 1:8: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ Note we remain sinners. John includes himself with his readers. Christians remain sinners. This is why the church constantly prays, ‘Forgive us our trespasses.’” (Memorial Moment, June 27, 2022)

Thinking reasonably, who would want to be a sinner, much less spend extended time in their company?  Aren’t they the cause of all the trouble in the world?  When we dream of a utopia in the world, we imagine how much better society would be without creeps, cheats, unfaithful, and the disobedient.  Wouldn’t the world be better off without such people?  Oh wait, where do you stop?

The other scandalous thing about Jesus is that He actually seeks out sinners in order to eat with them.  A Holy God and Savior who seeks sinners is ridiculous! Sinners should seek salvation, shouldn’t they?  They should recognize the wrong they’ve done, the hurt they’ve caused!  Isn’t that what we wish about the people who have hurt us?

But that is not God’s way.  Instead, our Lord teaches us about God’s heart with these parables:

“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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And 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.’…
“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? And 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.’

If we follow the logic of the parable, it would be easy to fault the sheep for wandering off, or in the parable that follows, fault the son for his foolishness.  But what about the lost coin?  These parables are all together because the point isn’t the will of the sinner.  The heart and will of every sinner is hopelessly lost until God our Savior comes and seeks us out.  Rather than find fault in the thing lost, it’s to show just how powerful sin is over a person.  It can distort everything like a funhouse mirror—a twisted version of God and a twisted version of ourselves.

Sin makes people wise in their own sight, which is precisely why they don’t see their need for a Savior.  In fact, those without faith look at repentant sinners found by Jesus Christ and taunt them. Secular therapists just can’t understand why Christians would be so obsessed with things like sexual purity, duty, or forgiveness toward those who mistreat us.  Just as the Pharisees looked down on Jesus and the company He kept, they see God’s mercy in Jesus Christ as foolishness.  

Jesus indeed receives sinners. God works in the lowly to shame the wise. God uses the folly of the cross in place of the ways the world expects Him to work. The world expects God to break into our world to work some sort of showy, flashy event. Even in our estimate, those repentant sinners ought to get it together and stop sinning by sheer willpower.  But Jesus is not the sort of Savior who just gives us the “buy-in” to salvation.  He is with us to take us the whole way through this life, there with His grace and goodness, His power to save us even in the continued struggle against the weakness of our sinful flesh.

From our perspective, it’s a mess.  Jesus seems to pick lousy company, this lot of people with messed up pasts, failures day to day, hurting each other and being hurt.  But yet, He receives them.  He receives us.  Foolishness, the world says.  Foolishness, the pious Pharisee says.

By these parables, Jesus invites all of us to a view from above.  It’s a view that’s so far above none of us could ever dream it if He hadn’t told us about it:

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…10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy in heaven? Angels rejoicing?  Can it be that the halls of heaven ring out in celebration over sinners?  Yes!  For every sinner whom Jesus finds—washing  them in His precious blood, covering them with His spotless robe of righteousness, rescuing them from a thousand perils (including pride) that would send them to destruction—there is joy before the Father’s throne.

What brings joy to angels, like we see in the cover picture from ceiling of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome?  It’s not the room being filled with thousands of skilled singers, the most beautiful adornments, or even the number of people who were in attendance.  It’s the person on his or her knees saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

That is not at all what we on earth expect to be the theme in heaven.  As it is in heaven, so is God’s desire on earth.  What do we expect to find in the Church?  Who are these people who are sitting next to us, behind and in front of us?  They are sinners, just like you.  They have hurts and shames, faults and flaws, just like you.  It is Jesus, the friend of sinners who has brought us together in this congregation.  We have come to the right place—the only place—for relief from our burdens and to be healed from our sin.  So, as the angels rejoice at sinners who have come to Jesus, God teaches us to rejoice in every brother and sister we see here.  This is not a congregation of perfect saints (save that hope for the Last Day), but a bunch of misfits who have been called by the Gospel to know God’s mercy found in Jesus.  And with that vision of the Church, our merciful Father is teaching us to have mercy for one another.

Not only does Jesus receive sinners; He eats with them too.  And that is what the Lord’s Supper is which we receive this day.  Our Lord is inviting us once again to His table, where it’s no potluck.  He is the host, and He will serve the meal, for all we bring are empty hands, fainting hearts, and the faith which God the Holy Spirit has put in us.  What does He say to us?  No matter how many times we have failed, He says to our repentant heart:

“Take; eat.  This is My Body given for you.  Take; drink. This is My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of our sins.  This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.” 

Jesus receives you, and dismisses you with heavenly joy.

This is also why it’s so important that the Lord eat with us at least every week.  Each time, we come with our burdens and griefs, our longings and hopes.  All of these things are very real: the pit in our stomach, the ache in our heart, the strife we are in the midst.  They are all we see and feel and touch through the week.  But then we come here, and the Lord gives us a perfect cure which we can see, feel, and touch: a tangible proof that Jesus receives sinners and eats with us.

Even though the unbelieving world may scoff at it, and our sinful flesh fight against it, it the truth by which we live: Jesus sinners doth receive.  Do not disbelieve, but believe [John 20:27].  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

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