Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sermon: Trinity 3

2 July 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Mic 7:18-20; 1 Pet 5:6-11) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Being lost is frightening and disorienting. Maybe you can recall a time in childhood when you somehow wandered away from your parents, and then realized in horror that you were “lost.” To a child, the word “lost” is apocalyptic. Being lost is as if the world were ending. Perhaps this is why our Lord says we must become as children to enter the Kingdom of heaven. They understand the power of the word “lost.”

Not only children, but also animals understand the terror of being lost. A flocking animal, like a sheep, certainly understands, at least instinctively, the danger of being lost. A wandering sheep is a ready-to-eat meal for a predator. A lost sheep is as good as gone – unless somebody intervenes.

What started Jesus talking about lost things – which ultimately ends up in the famous parable of the lost, or prodigal, son – is the fact that Jesus keeps company with sinners – people who have lost their way from the path of righteousness. The scribes and Pharisees don’t approve of our Lord being in the presence of such people. They are implying that our Lord is one of them. It is a classic case of guilt by association.

The scribes and Pharisees are so loveless that they would rather allow these people to remain lost than to risk dirtying their hands by offering them help. But our Lord is not loveless, in fact, he is the incarnation of Love himself, and the Good Shepherd cares about the lost sheep. And so he explains to the loveless and self-righteous (which means you and me) why it is that he eats and drinks with sinners (which means you and me).

And notice that the ministry of Jesus is the same as that of God in the Old Testament. A lot of folks believe the myth, the lie, that the Old Testament God was a God of wrath and law, while the New Testament God is the God of mercy and gospel. But look at our Old Testament lesson: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage. He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in mercy.” The prophet tells us God is compassionate, that he will drown our sins into the sea, that he is the giver of truth and mercy.

And this compassion, truth, mercy, and forgiveness find their legs in the fleshly Jesus, the very living God who is not too good to eat with tax collectors and drink with sinners. In fact, the Pharisees complain that he not only eats with sinners, but “receives” them. Jesus accepts us as his personally redeemed sinners. Jesus invites us into his heart. Jesus has made his decision for us sinners.

And notice that there are two reactions to the Lord: anger and joy. The scribes and Pharisees are scandalized and outraged, they are angry, and they do not approve. But the angels, our Lord tells us, rejoice in heaven over each and every sinner who repents. Even a little coin that was lost causes the owner to leap with joy and call her friends when she recovers it. Even a single little lamb out of a flock of a hundred sheep is the cause of jubilation and triumph when it is found, rescued, and restored to the flock. And the sour, scowling, sneering hypocrites are overwhelmed by the trumpets of Paradise, the lauding and magnifying of the Lord’s holy name by angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.

And the most joyful of all is the one who was lost but who has been found and restored. What other response can there be but gratitude when one has been saved from the wolf, when one has been reunited to ones mates, when one has been snatched from the jaws of death and given a new lease on life? Ironically, the ever-so-perfect Pharisee and the oh-so-religious scribe wallow in anger and indignation, while the tax collector, prostitute, thief, leper, gentile, member of Salem Lutheran Church, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, and so on, are able to rejoice, to praise God, to know the elation of a child reunited to his parents after being lost, of a wandering lamb who is thrown over the shoulder of his protective Shepherd, of a little lost coin that has rolled between the cracks of the floor and is powerless to save itself, but is found by its owner and master.

For not only are we redeemed from being eternally lost from being eaten, from being cast out into the outer darkness forever, we are re-created into something new and glorious. St. Peter tells us in our epistle text that he will “exalt you in due time.” And so we should cast our cares upon him, why? Because “he cares for you.” God does indeed love you, even when you were yet a sinner, even before you were baptized, even when you were God’s enemy, even when you were claimed by Satan – God loved you, cared for you, had plans to exalt you, and had rescued you like a penny that had rolled away, or like a lamb that had wandered from the herd.

And Peter warns us of someone who cares nothing for us, who seeks to exalt himself and grind us into the dust, whom he describes as our “adversary, the devil” who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” This is why we must not get lost. For there is a very real enemy who wants to destroy us, and feed on our carcass. This is why we need a Benefactor to sweep the floor looking for us, a Shepherd who will go out into the wilderness to find us. We don’t realize the danger we are in when we are lost. Perhaps we adults have a false sense of security about being lost – given that we now have GPS, maps, cellphones, and all kinds of well-lit road signs to help us navigate. Maybe our lack of fear of being lost translates into spiritual overconfidence in ourselves, our technology, our willpower. Dear friends, the only thing standing between Satan and you, the only barrier between your body and the fires of hell, the only defense you have keeping you from certain destruction is our Lord Jesus Christ, the very one who will eat and drink with you over the objections of the self-righteous.

For Jesus still receives sinners and eats with them. In fact, he goes one step better. He not only eats with us, but provides his sacrificial body as bread for the life of the world. He provides the wine of his blood for the forgiveness of sins. He not only bears the scorn of the Pharisee and scribe for loving us, but also bears their stripes, their spear, and he bears a cross. He eats with you, he dies for you, and he rises to “exalt you in due time.” He protects you from the lion, and seeks you when you stray. He drowns your sins, and pulls you up out of the water as a found and redeemed person who now has the right to thank and praise him for eternity.

And dear brothers and sisters, we are in eternity. We celebrate the victory of the promised Seed of the woman whose heel crushes the lying head of the evil one. This is why we come to this place week after week, joining the angels in celebration, gathering with other formerly lost coins and sheep, congregating with the rest of the prodigal sons, joining Jesus at the table to eat and drink with him for the forgiveness of sins and to the mockery of the self-righteous. It is in this spirit of joy and gratitude that we can raise our voices to chant:

Sing praise to God the highest good,
The author of creation,
The God of love who understood
Our need for his salvation.
With healing balm our souls he fills
And every faithless murmur stills.
To God all praise and glory!

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

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