Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Trinity (July 6, 2014)

LUKE 15:1-10

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus told a series of parables about items which were lost.  It is easy to conclude that Jesus is telling this parable about you.  You were lost, but then Jesus went and found you.  That is true.  You were lost.  Jesus has sought and found you.  He has delivered you from the curse of sin, from the clutches of death and the grave, and from the accusations of Satan.  At the resurrection of the dead, he will deliver you from every evil in the world.  Week after week, the Church gathers to give thanks to God that he loved us enough to be slain as the sacrifice for our sins, and that he loved us enough to go to the grave so that he could overcome it for us.  Every week, the Church gathers to praise God for his deliverance.  Every week, the Church gathers to receive his mercies so that we remain among the redeemed and do not revert back to being the lost.
     But these parables are about more than the lost.  Consider the first parable.  A sheep wandered away from its shepherd and from the rest of the flock.  The shepherd was not content to have 99 out of 100 sheep.  He did not consider the lost sheep a waste of his time and efforts.  You might consider an animal which wanders off to be more trouble than it is worth.  The shepherd had a deep concern for the sheep because it was his.  So he sacrificed time, effort, and his own safety to seek it.  Rather than curse a sheep that had wandered, the shepherd rejoiced when he found it.  And when he (came) home, he (called) together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Luke 15:6)   The shepherd has a party for the sheep that he had recovered.  The Lord finds joy in seeking the lost.
     In the second parable, a woman had ten denarii and lost one.  So she swept her house until she found her missing denarius.  You can understand her concern.  If you lost a day’s wage, you would probably tear the house apart looking for it, too.  But here it gets strange.  When she found her denarius, she not only rejoiced, she also invited her lady friends to rejoice with her.  The cost of the celebration was more than the coin was worth!  We would call such a celebration foolish.  Why this waste of expense?  The Lord finds joy in seeking the lost.
     There is another parable which continues after our Gospel.  It is the story of a son who packed up and left home.  He did not pack up his own things.  He had asked his father to settle up on his will even before he was dead.  Then he took his inheritance and blew it on booze and prostitutes.  He became destitute, and he wanted to come home.  When he returned, his father did not set up a repayment plan.  The son was not demoted to the position of a slave.  He was received back as a son.  The father, whose estate had been squandered, now spent even more money on his son by hosting a party for him.  You can appreciate why the older brother refused to participate in that.  Why reward someone for his shameful, rebellious behavior?  Why rejoice over one who had dishonored his father?  The father did not care.  He was overjoyed to have his son back.  The Lord finds joy in seeking the lost.
     Jesus told this parable in response to the judgment of some Pharisees who were watching him.  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.” (Luke 15:1-2)  The Pharisees and the scribes were the good, church-going types.  They did not cheat on their wives.  They did not spend time in jail.  They did not cheat people in their businesses.  They did their best to follow the Commandments.  Then they saw Jesus who was purported by some to be the Messiah.  And where did he spend his time?  Jesus was feasting with the low-lifes of society.  The sins of these people were observable and habitual.  Why would Jesus rejoice over them?  Why would he give them any attention, much less affection?  The Lord finds joy in seeking the lost, and the Lord rejoices when the lost are found.
     The parables Jesus told are aimed to show how much God is not like you.  You might think that it is nice that Jesus would take some efforts to reach out to the low-lifes of society.  After all, you might also give an afternoon to a soup kitchen or give some cash to a homeless person.  And after you put in your time, you go home.  But Jesus regularly spoke with and ate with these people.  He continued to extend words of hope and mercy to these people. 
     And this is where the Pharisee in each of us kicks in.  Why would you continue to show mercy to people who are going to continue in their sinful ways?  We know that Jesus does not condone sin.  Jesus did not give a free pass to the tax collectors for their thievery, to the prostitutes for their immoral lives, and to the liars for their twisted words.  And yet he continued to extend his friendship and to proclaim his salvation to people who would rather sin against him than repent.  Why would Jesus waste his time and efforts on people who are only going to rebel again?  Why not reward the obedient for their faithfulness?
     That is how the sinful heart thinks and feels.  You are convinced that there are people who are not worth God’s time and effort.  And if so, then you have also convinced yourself that you are worthy of God’s time and effort.  You think that have done something to deserve God’s blessing, and you should be rewarded accordingly.  Repent!  For, there is no difference among mankind.  All are sinners.
     Who is it that Jesus has come to extend mercy to?  To those who go on sinning.  Have you truly overcome your sinning?  Are you not those who leave God’s house, Sunday after Sunday, and find yourself still harboring grudges, still despising the co-worker, and still coveting your neighbor’s life?  Are you not the child who takes the heavenly Father’s forgiveness and uses it as an excuse to do what is wicked?  Are you not a sheep who wanders away from your Lord’s word and goes after sins which you find more appetizing? 
     But rejoice, for the Lord is different from you.  He does not cut his losses.  He is rather wasteful with his mercy.  Jesus continues to pour out his mercy upon you again and again.  Today, you have received his absolution.  Today, God has marked another child as his own.  Today, he prepares his feast again.  He is not a stingy miser who only has so much mercy to give and so must chart out who is worthy of how much.  No, Jesus did not give a few moments of time for the sins of the world.  Jesus gave himself up completely for you and for all people.  He was a whole sacrifice for total forgiveness. 
     The Lord rejoices in seeking the lost.  He does not ask how filthy your sins were or how often they were repeated.  He has absorbed all your guilt.  He has borne the punishment for all your offenses.  And if you sin again this week—and you will—his blood still atones for you.  He still lays out the sacred feast for you and summons you to come.  Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  He holds a feast for his prodigal sons and daughters who have returned.  He summons people for a festival when he finds his lost coin.  He rejoices with the all the company of heaven when a lost sheep is restored.  The Lord rejoices in seeking the lost.  For, he has come to forgive, to comfort, and to save.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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