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.

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