Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 6 - 2019

28 July 2019

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We Lutherans are people of Law and Gospel.  We recite the Law, that is, the Ten Commandments when we learn the catechism as children.  We learn the commandments by heart, as well as the explanation of each one.  And so, we give the Law its rightful due.

The name of our Churches in German is “Evangelical” – since we are the people of the Evangel, the Gospel, the good news.  Our Lutheran tradition  was born because we needed to remind the church and the world of what the cross means: free and full forgiveness of sins, salvation from death and hell, and eternal life to all who are baptized and who believe this good news.

Of course, we like the Gospel much better than the Law.  And in fact, there were, and are, some Lutherans who diminished the Law so much that they taught (and teach) a heresy called “Antinomianism”).  This was such a problem that part of our Book of Concord had to address the problem.  

But, dear friends, it shouldn’t be a problem among us.  For what good is a Gospel without a Law?  What is forgiveness unless there is sin.  The woman who anointed the feet of Jesus loved much because she was forgiven much.

And so as tempting as it is to ignore the Law and just focus on the Gospel, we don’t dare do this.  We need the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, because we are “poor miserable sinners.”  And before there could be an Easter, there had to be a Good Friday.  Our Lord, the crucified one, our Lord and Master, is also our Rabbi, our teacher.  And He teaches us about the Law and its place in the lives of Christians in His Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which our Lord preached to us again today:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  And don’t think for a moment that because Jesus fulfills them that we can remove, ignore, or relax even an iota or a dot from the Law.  In fact, what does our Lord say?  He says, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”  He goes on to warn us preachers against relaxing the law and teaching others to do the same.

Of course, pastors and celebrity preachers who diminish the Law become very popular.  They tell people what their itching ears want to hear.  They acquire for themselves followers who want the Gospel without the Law, and sometimes they amass great fortunes and teach others that they can do the same.

Meanwhile, dear friends, our society is collapsing.  Our civilization that once put Christ at the center now no longer believes in sin.  We Christians dare not follow their lead, because we know where it leads.

We live in an era of neo-Pharisaism.  The Pharisees were convinced of their righteousness, and made sure to virtue-signal to everyone around them.  Our secular Pharisees do the same today, virtue-signaling their political correctness and denying that anything is sinful.  In their religion, the only sin is calling sin a sin.  To them, it is a sin to confess and preach the Law.  But what are they left with, dear friends?  For if there is no Law, then there is no Gospel.  And all that is left is pretending to be righteous – no different than the Pharisees our Lord preaches against in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For I tell you,” says our blessed Lord, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Our Lord tells us that it isn’t good enough not to murder anyone.  The Fifth Commandment goes much further: “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.”

The righteousness required of us by God is more than we can possibly imagine keeping.  We cannot obey the Law on technicalities.  We are expected to be perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  

And so, dear friends, this is why we need the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins.  We receive that forgiveness in Holy Baptism, and it is ongoing in Holy Absolution, in Holy Communion, and the preaching of the Word.  This is what the Divine Service is all about.  If you’re not a sinner, then you don’t need to come to church.  Stay home and write a book about how perfect you are, so much better than all of us “poor, miserable sinners.”

Meanwhile, those of us who need forgiveness will continue to meditate on the Ten Commandments, and we will continue to be brought to sorrow because we fail to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  We misuse His name, we despise preaching and His Word, we despise and anger our parents and other authorities, we fail to help our neighbor in his body, we are lustful, dishonest, and covetous.  We are guilty, and we know that apart from reconciliation, we will be judged, placed under guard, and thrown into the prison of hell, and that we will remain there eternally because we cannot “pay the last penny.”

We need Christ to pay the last penny, to reconcile us with the Father, to forgive us our sins by His blood shed upon the cross delivered to us in Word and Sacrament.  Dear friends, that is why we are here.  That is why we continue to come back here.

As St. Paul reminds us again, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

The apostle reminds us that being buried with Christ, we will rise with Him “in a resurrection like His.”  For “we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

That is the Good News, dear friends!  That is why we are the true Evangelicals, the people of the Gospel!  We have forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace through faith – and we have this forgiveness won for us by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ precisely because we have transgressed the Law.  We know the commandments, and we know that we have failed to keep them.  We know that we have aggressively and deliberately broken each one.  We are guilty and have no excuse.

We do not relax the law or pretend that we can ignore iotas and dots.  Rather we know the Law condemns us.  We have no place to flee – except to the cross and to the arms of our Savior, our Mighty Fortress within whose walls we are protected from the accusations and threats of the evil one.

And so we are indeed people of the Law – sinners who admit our guilt and who know that we are without excuse.  And we are also people of the Gospel, pleading the blood of Christ as our salvation.  For “we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die gain; death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.  So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In Christ Jesus, dear friends.  Not in yourself, and not in a mangled Law with missing iotas and dots that are swept under the rug.  We are alive to God in Christ Jesus, in Him alone, in the One who visits us here and now to set us free from sin.  For He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets!  Thanks and praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 5 - 2019

21 July 2019

Text: Luke 5:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a difference between Christianity and superstition.  

Our Book of Concord tells about a church that had a statue of the Virgin Mary that would move.  People flocked to this church and gave a lot of money.  They also spent a lot of money on inns and food.  It was a good gig for the monks who operated the statue with pulleys and ropes under the floor.

Christians can become superstitious when it comes to the deaths of their loved ones.  I have had Christian people swear to me that their dead relatives left pennies on the ground or appeared in the form of animals.  There is temptation to take comfort in feelings and imagination – when all the while, we are not to seek to communicate with the dead.  Some people have run into demonic issues by messing around with this kind of thing.

We poor miserable sinners want more than the Word of God (that we accept on faith) and the sacraments (that we also must trust that God uses) to bless us.  Deep down inside, we would all like God to perform a miracle.  Jesus was often frustrated by people who wanted a “sign” to the point of demanding Him to perform tricks like a trained seal.

Dear friends, our Lord spoke the world into being and rose from the dead after dying on the cross to take away our sins.  Our Lord continues to speak to us in the Holy Scriptures that we all-too-often ignore because we’re spending hours in front of a TV or smart phone.  Our Lord continues to speak to us in the Divine Service that we are quick to skip if we have a better offer on Sunday.  But meanwhile, God continues to speak, to strengthen, to comfort, to forgive, to renew, and to love us – if we care to listen.

But in spite of all of this, wouldn’t we rather Jesus appear to us by making his statue blink at us, or making a shadow appear on the wall, or hearing some mysterious voice.

St. Peter – when he was still just known as Simon the Fisherman, had an authentic supernatural encounter with Jesus.  And his reaction is genuine.  For if we really did see some kind of miraculous manifestation of the Lord’s presence, we would react the same way – in awe and in fear, in a sense of being overwhelmed by our sins.

And this incident happened in the process of preaching.  Jesus manifested His power and His glory and demonstrated His divinity as He was preaching.  It was morning, and the crowds had come to hear Jesus preach and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God.  The fishermen had been working all night, and now were cleaning their nets.  Simon let Jesus use his boat as a kind of pulpit.

But Jesus had something else in mind for the future St. Peter, the preacher, the apostle, the bishop, and the martyr of the faith.  For Jesus asked him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  St. Luke seems to capture the reluctance of the tired fisherman: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at Your word I will let down the nets.”

You can practically hear him sigh.  And yet, he does it.  He obeys.  He listens to Jesus and has respect for His word: “But at Your word…” he says.  

And then the unthinkable happens.  Jesus works a miracle.  There is no other explanation for this.  For Simon and his partners “enclosed a large number of fish.”  The haul was so plentiful that their nets were breaking!  They needed help to drag the nets into the boats, and there were so many fish that the boats were about to sink!

Clearly, this preacher could command nature by means of His Word.  For all He did was speak, and upon Simon’s obedience, the unthinkable and unexplainable happened.  And why?  Because Jesus came to this place to preach.  This was no parlor trick.  There were no guys hiding under the boat to commit a fraud.  There was simply Jesus and His Word – and even nature itself obeyed.  Simon Peter witnessed a miracle.

And what was his response?  Did he laugh and tell Jesus how cool that was?  Did he feel holy and special that God used his boat and his nets to perform a miracle?  Did he think about how much money he was going to make when this haul was brought to the market?  

And this, dear friends, is how we know that St. Luke’s account is completely true: Simon’s reaction isn’t what we would fantasize about.  Simon, instead, realizes that he is in the presence of God – and it shakes him up.


Because Simon, like each one of us, is a “poor, miserable sinner.”  Simon, like each one of us, needs a Savior.  Simon, like each one of us, is unworthy to stand in the presence of God.

But there he was, dear friends.  Standing in the presence of God. And here we are as well!  We too are in the presence of Jesus!  We too hear His Word, partake in His preaching, receive His forgiveness, and enjoy His miraculous presence!  

Peter responds: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Can you imagine?  His response to this wonderful miracle is to pray: “Go away, Jesus.”  And here is an example of an unanswered prayer.  For Jesus does not depart from him. 

Instead, Jesus comforts him: “Do not be afraid.”  There are many times when Jesus says this to His disciples.  “Do not be afraid.”  For fear is the natural response for a sinner in the presence of the holy and almighty God.  All throughout Scripture, when God manifests Himself to people in space and time, they react in fear.  

And so, when Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” He is doing what He has come to do: forgive sins.  Simon has no reason to fear, because His sins are forgiven.  He is worthy because Jesus is worthy.  And what’s more, Jesus has work for him to do in the kingdom: “From now on you will be catching men.”  Instead of luring fish into a net to eat them, Simon Peter will be luring people into the net of the Gospel, in order to feed them.  

This miracle was life-changing for Simon Peter and for the brothers James and John.  For these three men were to become our Lord’s inner circle among the apostles.  They would live to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.  And of course, they would also live to see Jesus raised from the dead.  They too would preach and work miracles in their call to “catch men.”  For they all “left everything and followed Him.”

Dear friends, we don’t seek after visions and dreams and supernatural manifestations.  We don’t have to invent superstitions to psych ourselves out.  We have something better that the Lord provides us week in and week out: His Word.  The Word of Jesus creates the universe, and restores each one of us, His creatures, to perfection.  We have the Word as the Scriptures, as preaching, as Absolution, and we have the Word delivered to us in earthly elements: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

We have the ironclad Word of Jesus inviting us to follow Him, and comforting us, “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid, dear brothers and sisters, for Jesus has forgiven you, and He has work for each one of you to do in the kingdom.  We don’t need a sign, for we have the Word!  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Supreme Court Justice Lauds Confederate Cabinet Officer

Judah P. Benjamin
On February 4, 2002, a current member of the United States Supreme Court gave the following remarks at Loyola University, in New Orleans: a tribute to Judah P. Benjamin, a former U.S. Senator who resigned and took part in the secession of Louisiana.  He was quickly appointed to a cabinet post by President Jefferson Davis: first as Attorney General, and subsequently as Secretary of War and finally as Secretary of State of the Confederate States of America.

Benjamin has been described as "the brains of the Confederacy."

After the fall of the Confederate government, Benjamin evaded capture by the Federal government, fled to the Bahamas, and from there moved to England where he had a long and prosperous career as a barrister. There was no attempt to extradite Benjamin to the United States.

The Justice who praised this prominent member of the Confederate government (who was not only a slave-owner, but also a defender of slavery) still sits on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is this problematic?  If progressives knew about this, would they seek this Justice's resignation?

Here is the Justice's remarks:

Judah Benjamin ranks first in time, and has captured my imagination. Alone among the four brave spirits I will describe, Benjamin never served as a judge. Recall that Judge Ainsworth, in 1961, gave up the seat he occupied for some eleven years in the state senate for an appointment to the federal bench. In contrast, Judah Benjamin, in 1853, declined the nomination of President Millard Fillmore to become an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Just elected U. S. Senator from Louisiana, Benjamin preferred to retain his First Branch post. His choice suggest that the U. S. Supreme Court had not yet become the co-equal Branch it is today.

Had he accepted the Third Branch nomination, Judah Benjamin, not Louis D. Brandeis, would have been the first Jewish Justice to serve on the High Court. It was just as well, for Benjamin's service would not have endured. In early 1861, in the wake of Louisiana's secession from the Union, Benjamin resigned the Senate seat for which he had forsaken the justiceship. No doubt he would have resigned a seat on the Court had he held one, as did his friend Associate Justice John Archibald Campbell of Alabama. (Campbell, incidentally, opposed secession and freed all his slaves on his appointment to the Supreme Court. But when hostilities broke out, he remained loyal to the South. He eventually settled in New Orleans where he built up a thriving law practice.)

Benjamin is perhaps best known for his stirring orations in the United States Senate on behalf of Southern interests and for his service as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and finally Secretary of State in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis. After the Confederate surrender, Benjamin fled to England; en route, he narrowly survived several close encounters with the forces of storm, sea, and the victorious Union. Benjamin's political ventures in the Senate and in the Confederacy were bracketed by two discrete but equally remarkable legal careers, the first here in New Orleans and the second in Britain.

Having left Yale College without taking a degree, Benjamin came to New Orleans in 1832 and was called to the bar that same year. Although he struggled initially, his fame and fortune quickly grew large after the publication, in 1834, of A Digest of Reported Decisions of the Supreme Court of the Late Territory of Orleans, and of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Benjamin's book treated comprehensively for the first time Louisiana's uniquely cosmopolitan and complex legal system, derived from Roman, Spanish, French, and English sources. The work digested "every point or principle" decided in each Louisiana High Court case. Benjamin's flourishing practice and the public attention he garnered helped to propel his election by the Louisiana legislature to the United States Senate. (In pre-Seventeenth Amendment days, until 1913, Senators were chosen not directly by the People, but by the Legislatures of the several States.)

Benjamin's fortune plummeted with the defeat of the Confederacy. He arrived in England with little money and most of his property lost or confiscated. His wife and daughter settled in Paris, where they anticipated support from Benjamin in the comfortable style to which they were accustomed. He nevertheless turned down a promising business opportunity in the French capital, preferring to devote himself again to the practice of law, this time as a British barrister. He opted for a second career at the bar notwithstanding the requirement that he start over by enrolling as a student at an Inn of Court and completing a mandatory three-year apprenticeship before qualifying as a barrister. This, Benjamin's contemporaries reported, he did cheerfully, although he was doubtless relieved when Lincoln's Inn determined to waive some of its requirements and admit him early.

Benjamin became a British barrister at age 55. His situation at that mature stage of life closely paralleled conditions of his youth. He was a newly-minted lawyer, with a struggling practice, but, he wrote to a friend, "as much interested in my profession as when I first commenced as a boy." Repeating his Louisiana progress, Benjamin made his reputation among his new peers by publication. Drawing on the knowledge of civilian systems gained during his practice in Louisiana, Benjamin produced a volume in England that came to be known as Benjamin on Sales. The book was a near-instant classic. Its author was much praised, and Benjamin passed the remainder of his days as a top earning, highly esteemed, mainly appellate advocate. His voice was often heard in appeals to the House of Lords and the Privy Council.

Benjamin's biographer tells us that "[h]owever desperate his case, Benjamin habitually addressed the court as if it were impossible for him to lose." This indomitable cast of mind characterized both Benjamin's courtroom advocacy and his response to fortune's vicissitudes. He rose to the top of the legal profession twice in one lifetime, on two continents, beginning his first ascent as a raw youth and his second as a fugitive minister of a vanquished power. The London Times, in an obituary, described Judah Benjamin as a man with "that elastic resistance to evil fortune which preserved [his] ancestors through a succession of exiles and plunderings."

So who is this Neo-Confederate Justice?  Click here.

Sermon: Trinity 4 - 2019

14 July 2019

Text: Luke 6:36-42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Judge not,” says Jesus. 

And yes, He did say this.  But He didn’t stop with those two words.  This verse, Luke 6:37, may have replaced John 3:16 as the most popular verse in the Bible.  “Judge not” is a saying of Jesus that conveniently serves the purposes of the unrepentance.

“Don’t judge me!” they say.  “Jesus accepts everybody and doesn’t judge,” they say.  And so, if “they” are right, than we can say nothing about racism, sexism, and other forms of exclusion and bias, right?  If “they” are right, then we must not judge the Nazis; we must defend slavery and segregation and bullying – not to mention billionaires arrested for trafficking children.  Jesus said, “Don’t judge,” or did he?

In John’s Gospel, 7:24, our Lord says: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

So what are we to make of our Lord saying, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”?

Dear friends, it is the church’s job to preach and teach and proclaim the Word of God – both Law and Gospel.  It is the Church’s job to stand for what is right and just, and to condemn that which is wrong – and that means judging “with right judgment.”

And in fact, there is a godly vocation called “judge,” one whose job it is to hear testimony and to judge the facts of a case for the purpose of justice.  And what’s more, there is a book in the Bible called “Judges” – for these were the wise rulers of Israel before they had kings – judges who had to figure out who was innocent and who was guilty.  The job of the king was also to be a judge – and King Solomon was known for his wisdom in the famous case where he threatened to cut a baby in half (which was really a trick to smoke out the child’s true mother).

And which parents among us would urge our children not to exercise judgment – both in matters of right and wrong, as well as in deciding which people to trust, to count as friends, to listen to for advice, and to marry.  Don’t we want our children to, in the words of Jesus, “Judge with right judgment”?

So what is our Lord talking about?  It’s really pretty obvious, isn’t it?  This is not complicated unless we want it to be because we’re trying to keep from being judged.  Our Lord challenges us: “Why do you not see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”  Jesus is using a little bit of irony here, if not outright humor.  He says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Notice that Jesus does not tell us, “Do not judge.”  He doesn’t tell us, “Just look after your own eye.”  He wants us to love our brother by calling his attention to the speck in his eye.  But our Lord understands that in order to love our brother in this way, we dare not be hypocrites.  We cannot love our brother and help him regain his sight if we have a log in our own eye.  So our Lord tells us to repent.  Take out your own log, and then you can help your brother.

The world has a very different interpretation.  The world says, “Anything goes.”  The world says that it is nobody’s business to say what is right and wrong, and the world says that Jesus agrees with them.  The world says, “Bake the cake,” and “Arrange the flowers,” and “Take the pictures.”  The world says, “Kill the baby.”  The world says not to judge the propriety of dressing children in suggestive clothing and have them wiggle around for dollar bills.  The world says not to judge the doctors in France who refused food and water to a handicapped man until he died.  

The world doesn’t believe in the Bible but tells us how to interpret it.  The world does not believe in Jesus, but tells us what He means.  The world judges the church harshly – even in courts of law – while telling us that we are not to judge.

Dear friends, the easy way out is to take the world up on its advice.  The easy thing is to bake the cake, arrange the flowers, kill the baby.  The easy thing would be for the church to approve of parents allowing their children to be sexually exploited.  The easy thing would be for the church to look the other way as the handicapped are euthanized.  

It would sure make our lives easier if we did.

But can we do that, dear friends?  Would we not be the very hypocrites that our Lord warns us not to be if we bear the name “Christian” but betrayed the very Word of God for the sake of making our lives easier?

We are not called to coexist, but to bear the cross.  We are not called to shut up, but to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Does this sound like our world, dear brothers and sisters?  

We are called to judge wisely – not in such a way as to puff ourselves up, but rather in such a way as to win over our brother.  This calls for humility.  This calls for introspection.  This calls for repentance.  We are called to judge “with right judgment” not in the service of self-righteousness, but rather in the interest of truth, and in love for our brothers.

And when we are sinned against, dear friends, we are to forgive, “and,” says our Lord, “you will be forgiven.”  And when a sinner repents, when a sinner calls upon the name of the Lord for forgiveness, it is the church’s job to judge “with right judgment” and declare the repentant sinner to be forgiven.  For our Lord, upon ordaining the apostles into the Office of the Holy Ministry, said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  This requires judging “with right judgment.”  This requires truly forgiving one who repents, but it also means withholding forgiveness from one who refuses to repent.

And this is where our Lord teaches us about mercy: “Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful.”

It is the church’s wish that no-one be condemned, that all repent, that each and every person acknowledge his sin, and hear the glorious words of the Gospel that by the blood of Christ, by our Lord’s death upon the cross, by the Lord’s pronouncement of forgiveness and mercy – even as the Father is merciful – that all who confess and believe the Gospel have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Each and every one of us should wish fervently that nobody – not even our worst enemies – should perish.  We should have the courage to speak the truth in love and call sinners to repentance (according to whatever our vocation is).  And in order to love our neighbors in this way, dear friends, we need to remove the logs from our own eyes.

We need to repent.  We need to judge ourselves first and foremost.  We need to be our own harshest critics and judges.  And when we have judged rightly that we too are poor, miserable sinners, we must also judge rightly that the Lord’s death upon the cross atones for us as well.  

For we are not righteous of our own works, but we have been rescued by our Savior, who is merciful even as our Father is merciful.

Let us judge rightly, dear friends, and let is judge lovingly, so that our Lord will use us to help remove the speck from our brother’s eye, so that he too may enjoy everlasting life.  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 3 - 2019

7 July 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord tells three parables in Luke 15, all of which have the theme of lost and found.  The first is the Lost Sheep, the second is the Lost Coin.  The third parable isn’t part of today’s reading, but it is part of this chapter.  It is called the Lost Son (though we know it by its traditional name, the Prodigal Son).

And our Lord tells these three powerful stories about being lost and being found in response to a bit of gossip told by the usual suspects: the Pharisees and the scribes.  For these are the people who think too highly of themselves and look down on the kinds of people who follow Jesus.  The scribes and Pharisees “grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

What they’re really complaining about is, instead of fawning all over them in their virtue-signaling self-righteousness, Jesus is inviting sinners to the table with Him.

Of course, their complaint extends through space and time to this very day, as our Lord Jesus Christ continues to invite us to table, and is present with us poor, miserable sinners, continuing to rescue us in our lost condition to find us and redeem us.  

And so our Lord Jesus Christ tells three stories, explaining what His mission is, and telling the scribes and Pharisees that they too are lost and in need of rescue, of repentance, of being found.

The word “lost” that Jesus repeats again and again in these stories, isn’t the kind of “lost” like the misplaced keys or missing one’s exit.  The word that he uses here actually means “destroyed.”  It is a word used for death, for being brought to nothing, to be made void.  It’s actually the root of the name of the demon in the book of Revelation that rules over the bottomless pit: “Apollyon.”

The situation of the lost sheep is dire and extreme.  The wandering sheep is already dead.  He is a goner.  Things are so urgent that the shepherd in our Lord’s story (as would any keeper of sheep), realizing the danger, leaves the “ninety-nine in the open country” to go after the one that is lost, until he finds it.”  This situation cannot wait.  The sheep will not just find his way back home.  He is exposed to the danger of the demon of the bottomless pit.

The lost sheep isn’t just making a mistake; he is in distress even if he doesn’t know it.  But the shepherd knows.  The shepherd loves the sheep.  And the shepherd risks everything to save the lamb that is as good as dead. 

Dear friends, this is the Christian faith: being lost in sin and found in Christ.  And woe be to us if we think this applies to other people, if we think for a moment that we are not in danger of the bottomless pit.

St. Peter warns us that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Our adversary the serpent came to the innocent lambs of God, to Adam and Eve, in an attempt to remove them from their secure place where the Lord placed them – as lords over creation and as servants of their Creator.  For the serpent is a destroyer, one who seeks to kill and make void – wishing to undo the beautiful creation of God and to bring us back to the chaos of the world before Eden, the world that was without form and void.  All of human history is this tug-of-war between harmony and chaos, between being where we are meant to be versus where we are tempted to be.  Life on our planet is the conflict and tension between being lost (in sin, in death, in being tempted away from where God has placed us), and being found – being laid upon the shoulders of Jesus and brought home, even as heaven rejoices.

The Pharisees and scribes do not even realize the danger that they are in, just how lost they are, how close they are to the bottomless pit of destruction.  Jesus has come for them too.  Jesus wants to shepherd them as well, so that heaven will rejoice over their repentance.  

We are also in danger, dear friends.  These parables are told for our benefit as well.  For we are sinners who wander like lost sheep.  We think we are safe, but it is an illusion.  St. Peter is speaking to us when he warns us to “be sober-minded; be watchful.”  We think that because we live in a wealthy country, we have nice things, we may enjoy youth and health, we have family and friends, we enjoy vacations and social events and have cars and credit cards and health insurance – that all is well.  But we are surrounded by temptations to self-service, to deny ourselves prayer, to let the Bible gather dust, to do something other than the Divine Service for frivolous reasons, to spend money on ourselves instead of our church or missionary work of the kingdom of God, to immerse ourselves in godless entertainments, to virtue-signal to others that we are “woke” to the ways of the world instead of awakened to the holiness to which God calls us.

We are the lost sheep, dear friends.  And thanks be to God that Jesus searches for us.  We find our true happiness is being where we have been created to be: in service to God and neighbor, and in doing what He calls us to do.  

Jesus also tells of a woman who lost a coin.  Her savings consists of ten drachmas, that is, ten day’s wages.  This is two weeks of savings – which is not a small amount for someone who is poor.  One of those coins is lost.  And again, it’s not that she just put it in the wrong drawer; something has happened, and the coin is a goner.  This is a tenth of her savings.  In desperation, she ceases all other activities until she finds the coin.  She lights a lamp (burning expensive oil) and sweeps the house, going through every bit of dust, searching every crack in the floor.  

And imagine her joy when the doomed, lost coin is found! 

This joy, dear friends, is the Christian life.  This hour that we spend in the Divine Service each week is the joy of being found!  If we truly believe what our Lord teaches, we should be rejoicing to be here, rescued and found, literally pulled up out of the bottomless pit of death and hell and carried to safety on our Lord’s shoulders.  With joy, we ponder with the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance?”  For though we have sinned, though we regularly wander from the flock and roll away into the nooks and crannies of the fallen world, the Lord does not retain His anger, but rather “delights in steadfast love,” He has compassion on us, treads our iniquities under foot, and casts “all our sins into the depths of the sea,” even drowning them in baptismal water, seeking and saving the lost by water and the Word, even the pronouncement of His holy, triune name.

And so back to the grumbling of the Pharisee and the scribe – and to our grumbling and whining – the Lord says, “Knock it off.”  The Lord says, “Repent.”  But what’s more, the Lord hoists us on His shoulders – the same shoulders that bore the cross, that suffered the blows of the rod for us – and by His stripes we are healed.  The Lord who suffered for our sakes, dying in the very process of rescuing us, rises to the rejoicing of the heavens, finding us and giving us the life that He won for us that first Easter.

Enough of the grumbling and the gossip and the self-pity.  Enough of looking down on others, and of self-righteousness.  Enough of putting faith in ourselves though we are wandering and partaking of the rotten fruits of this world.  You are invited to the joys of repentance, of once more living in the security of where God has placed you, of being found, and of being spared the destruction of the lost.

And what’s more, all of heaven rejoices, for “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  You are loved.  You are forgiven.  You are found.  Amen.

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