Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 3

23 June 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Mic 7:18-20, 1 Pet 5:6-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

As often happens, our Blessed Lord is being run down because of the company He keeps.

To be sure, Jesus is at home in the Temple and in the Synagogue, with the theologians and between the seraphim in the highest heavens, at the right hand of the Father and in conversation with Moses and Elijah. And yet our Lord Jesus Christ is equally at ease in the company of thieves and prostitutes, rogues and tax collectors, and what’s more, He is happy to keep company even with all of us “poor miserable sinners” who fully understand that even the finest of our good works and the noblest of our virtuous intentions are powerless to drag us up to the heavenly places.

And so our Lord has come down from the heavenly places. Our Lord descends even to the level of the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the con-man, the drug dealer, the terrorist, the traitor, the race-baiter, the crooked judge and the pornographer.

There is no-one beyond hope of repentance except for the unrepentant.

For the Lord has come to call sinners to repentance. Sinners. Not merely those with parking tickets or people who have eaten their desserts with their salad forks. Jesus has not come to call us to have better manners or to pay better attention to our cuticles. Jesus has come to act beyond all rationality and reasonableness, to reclaim us: his lost sheep, his prodigals, his redeemed sinners. And He has come to wrench us from the mouth of the ravenous, diabolical lion, to pull our helpless and lifeless bodies out of the fiery pit, to liberate us from the delusion that our works can save us, and to transform us into creatures that love and give – instead of demand and take.

This is His divine nature: “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.” He “does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” The word “steadfast love” might better be translated as “mercy.”

For that is what the Lord is trying to teach the Pharisees. It’s good to be good, but it’s better to be merciful. The Lord is gracious and merciful without limit to sinners who repent. In fact, repentance is itself a miracle. And when even one person repents, the vault of heaven resounds.

It is in this light that St. Peter exhorts us “humble yourselves.” For there is no room for pride in us Christians, that is to say in us redeemed “poor miserable sinners.” Pride is the realm of Satan – whether it is pride in having the right facts, the right friends, the right job, the right house, the right country, or even the right doctrine. For none of these things come from ourselves, but are gifts: pure unadulterated free gifts. Therefore, we are more to be pitied than to be proud. Therefore, we can rejoice in God’s mercy (like the lost coin and the lost sheep) rather than rejoice in our pride and rightness (like the lost Pharisees and grumbling scribes).

St. Peter doesn’t just tell us to “be humble” and leave it at that. He encourages us that we are under the “mighty hand of God” and that we will be exalted by God Himself “at the proper time.” As He is our Father in heaven, we can indeed cast all our “anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”

That is how it is that we can be “sober-minded” and “watchful” – ever vigilant against the wiles and snares of the old Satanic foe. The devil is nothing to take for granted. We need to be awake and indeed “resist him, firm in your faith.” And at the same time, we know that the devil is ultimately powerless to “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Any power Satan has over us is given to him by our own sinful nature and giving in to temptation.

This is why we must repent, dear brothers and sisters. Every day, every hour, every second. Repentance is not a thing we do here and there, but is rather the very way of the cross, the way of Christ, the way of life. We are constantly being called to repent, and we are always being empowered to repent.

For repentance is not a chore, but a joy. To repent is to be found and fawned over, like a lost sheep, being carried home by the Good Shepherd Himself. To repent is to be recovered and rescued, redeemed, and rejoiced over, just as the woman of the house rediscovers her lost treasure amid the dust and dirt and darkness of this fallen world.

Dear brothers and sisters, repentance is hard because pride gets in the way. Repentance is delayed because of the Old Adam who seeks to be confirmed instead of confronted, coddled instead of curbed. Repentance can even be delayed to where it never comes, because of the hardness of heart and the refusal to hear the Word of the Lord. May it never be so among us.

But thanks be to God that we Christians – in spite of our Old Adam – have been not only taught what repentance is, but have been given the gift of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit – so that we might not just talk about it, but act on it.

Thanks be to God that our Lord relentlessly pursues us “poor miserable sinners”, in the “open country” where we stray errantly as well as on the road to Golgotha, where He treads faithfully, throwing us over His bleeding shoulders, Himself scarred by His own battles with our adversary the devil. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t just allow us to linger and waste away in darkness and clutter, but rather lights the lamp of His Word and sweeps the house with the cleansing broom of His Sacraments, seeking us out, finding us, and ultimately restoring us to our original created splendor.

And in so doing, the Lord is not afraid to get on His hands and knees, humbly wearing a towel and washing us clean. He is not above getting dusty and dirty and sweaty and bloody. He is not so proud as to spurn either the virgin’s womb or the virginal tomb, bursting forth miraculously from both in an explosion of light and life. He is not beyond receiving “sinners and eat[ing] with them.” In fact, He comes again and again to our table, to the consternation of grumbling Pharisees and scribes of every time and place. He receives us to receive Him in His very body and blood.

For here, dear brothers and sisters, right here is where the Lord finds us. He finds us on our knees humbly resisting the devil by receiving His steadfast love, His mercy, His grace. He finds and rescues us in repentance, the kind of which creates unmitigated “joy before the angels of God” unto all eternity. That, dear friends, is the company the Lord keeps. And thanks be to God.

“The God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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

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