Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Sunday, 15 September, Pentecost 17

Sermon for Sunday, 15 September, Pentecost 17

JesusThe_Good_Shepherd_bydelparsonNote:  As usual, you can click the triangle in the embedded player. 





Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops and teaches along the way.  By this point there are great crowds following him.  Even the tax collectors and sinners were coming out to listen to what he had to say.  This caught the attention of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and so they muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus tells these two parables in response to the Pharisees’ charge against Him.  In them we see the immeasurable and overflowing love of God.

But before we get to the parables, let’s sort this issue of what a sinner is here.  There are two kinds of people in first century Jewish society, Jews and everybody else, the Gentiles.  You’re probably familiar with that division.  But within Jewish society there were also two groups, the sinners and the righteous.  The Pharisees and those who supported them were the righteous.  They were people who consistently strived to love by the Law of God.  And then there were the sinners.  Sinners lived lives in willful and knowing opposition to the expressed will of God.  And then there were men like Levi, who didn’t just work for the IRS, he collected for either Herod or the Romans or both, both of whom were despised by the people, and tax collectors were also notorious for making their money by extortion and violence.  This phrase, “tax collectors and sinners” gives you the idea that both these groups were thought of in the same way—despised by the righteous.  No respectable rabbi would associate with that kind of people.  And Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.

When we say that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, we need to be clear that He is not condoning sin.  There is a general feeling among some Christians that because Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors and sinners and did not take part in the stoning of the adulterous woman, that Jesus had a permissive attitude to what we have traditionally known as sin.  Not so.  In these very parables Jesus says that the cause for rejoicing among the angels in heaven is that these sinners repent of their sins.

Times haven’t changed much from Jesus’ day.  The righteous are always trying to get the sinners to repent of their sins.  It’s always easier to focus on the other person’s sins instead of focusing on one’s own.  The meaning of these parables are not shrouded in mystery.  Jesus is trying to prick the consciences of these Pharisees who see no sins in their lives to repent of.  People who do not need to repent are no cause for rejoicing in heaven.  It gives God far greater joy for us to repent of our sin than it does for us to try to impress him with what we think are our righteous deeds.  The Pharisees thought it was God-pleasing when they treated sinners and tax collectors with contempt.  They thought they were pleasing God by holding up their strict understanding of the law.  No longer content with criticizing Jesus’ disciples and their less than “holy” way of life, the Pharisees finally are bold enough to begin their attack on Jesus Himself.  They see no need for forgiveness for themselves and that is the worst sin of all.

Look again at how this passage starts.  “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”  That little phrase “drawing near” is significant.  When Jesus came into the world, He came to bring near the kingdom of God.  It’s the same phrase.  Now as a result of His preaching, sinners are drawing near.  How about that!?!  The preaching of the coming of Jesus into the world to save sinners actually draws them near.  But look who doesn’t draw near to Jesus.  John the Baptist had come preaching a message of repentance, to be a part of the kingdom of God, the sinners heard and drew near, “the righteous” didn’t and stayed away from Jesus.  The purpose of preaching is to preach repentance to sinners and draw them near.  In this way the kingdom of God comes among us even as it is in heaven.

In telling these parables Jesus contrasts the hardness of the Pharisees hearts with the softness of the Father in heaven’s heart.  Do you want to know what God’s love looks like?  It looks like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep.  The sheep wanders off and gets lost.  With no way to get back on his own, the lamb is sought because of the compassionate care of the Shepherd.  When the Shepherd finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t just call and have the once lost creature walk back to town.  He lifts the sheep up on his shoulders and carries it back to his village where he calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him over the finding of his lost sheep.

When we read this passage honestly, we must finally come to the realization that we are probably more like the Pharisees, the righteous ones, than other sinners we know.  For me I know, the only difference is that I am just better at hiding my sins from other people and appearing to be polite and sincere and sometimes, even holy.  No.  My only saving grace is the same as everyone’s.  Jesus my Savior doggedly pursued my stupid “righteous” self.  He found me, dead in my sins, dirty and starving and He rescued me and lifted me up on His shoulders and carried me back to the Father’s flock because the Father had claimed me as one of His own long ago.  If I can’t say that about myself, I’m a Pharisee for whom in heaven there is no rejoicing.

This has happened to you too.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd sought you out.  He found you wounded and dead in your trespasses and sins; dirty and starving, He lifted you up onto his own shoulders and carried you in safety back to the flock where he washed you and he fed you and he bound up your wounds.  If you cannot see where that happened for you I encourage you to look all the more deeply at Luther’s meaning of the second article of creed, where we confess that “Jesus redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.”  It happened there at the font; that is the nature of Holy Baptism.  It is happening even now for you by the Spirit in the pure proclamation of the Word.  That is the goal of the practice of the Christian faith to see Jesus accomplishing those things for you right now.

The Christian life is not a life of self-generated holiness but rather a life of repentance, a life of humble recognition that we needed to be saved from our life of slavery to sin, death and the devil.  It is perhaps not just merely humility to say we need such a rescue, but even humiliating.  We are saved by a Rescuer who humiliated himself into order to rescue us.  This is what Jesus did when he carried our sins to the cross.  Our rescue comes when Jesus finds us and takes us on His shoulders and carries us home to the Father.

Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.  And the Pharisees despised Him for it.  Today Jesus welcomes sinners and feeds them.  Today Jesus extends His welcome once again to you to be one more sinner at His table today.  If this is not how you see your life, dear Christian, hear Jesus’ parable as the warning it is.  Repent.  Repent and then be glad we have such a Savior who delights to eat with sinners.  Amen.

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