Pentecost 17, 2016

Pentecost 1716 –“Sheep, Coins, Sinners and a Heavenly Connection.” – Luke 15:1-10

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

The text for our sermon meditation is from the Gospel Account of St Luke, the 15th Chapter.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

While I have read only the introductory words of this passage from Luke’s Gospel account, we will consider the two parables spoken by Jesus.  Luke uses these words to set up the reason for Jesus speaking the parables concerning the lost sheep and the lost coin.  Jesus is masterful at this manner of teaching.  He brings to bear in an extraordinary way the very heart of the Gospel and the righteousness that comes by faith in the Son of Man.  The two parables bear these truths out and give their detractors something think about in order that they too may be received by Jesus.

We see customary action placed before the enemies of Jesus.  This customary action irritates them to no end.  Their sensibilities are rubbed with the sand of resentment and unbelief.  While Jesus welcomes those who hear with understanding everything he teaches about true righteousness and the mercy of God.

Sinful pride and humility of faith are placed in stark contrast to each other.  The unworthy are received by Jesus and the worthy are rejecting Jesus.  Tax collectors and sinners are walking by faith.  Pharisees and scribes are walking by sight.   Tax collectors and sinners rejoice with Jesus.  Pharisees and scribes grumble at Jesus.  Heaven watches and rejoices with those who walk by faith.

Salvation is such a simple thing for such a complex God.  God says only one thing is needed to receive what He offers through His Son Jesus Christ.  What is that one thing?  Yes, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.  Even this believing has been made simple for us, for God does all the work on the part of faith in us.  This should appeal to us for we are naturally lazy.  We tend to be like a river which follows the path of least resistance.  Jesus holds before the people that path of least resistance, but there are some who do not follow that path.  They seek a path of their own choosing, because they think God has got it wrong.

What do you think God has gotten wrong?  You may not say it or even think it like this but the hidden thoughts are expressed in your words and actions, just like the Pharisees and scribes.  They had the righteousness of God’s Law by which they lived.  St Paul describes this manner of righteousness as being apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He writes:

“We know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient … in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God …”

There is a connection presented by Paul between the Law and the Gospel.  When he writes “in accordance with the glorious gospel,” Paul is expressing the divine purpose of these two great teachings of Scripture.  That purpose is to drive the sinner down from the heights of sinful pride to very depths of sorrow and penitence and then point them to the very heights of God’s grace which embraces and comforts the sinner with the sure and certain hope of forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ.

What our Lord desires us to understand, that is hear and believe, is that the Law is our guardian leading us to and teaching us about a righteousness and goodness that transcends trying to keep God’s Law perfectly.  The Pharisees and scribes failed to understand this truth.  The Pharisees and scribes looked down upon the tax collectors and sinners because these people failed miserably when came to keeping the Law of God.

What the Pharisees failed to understand was that they were in the same boat.  This same boat was out on the lake in the storms of life.  It had holes in it, was filling with water and their hands were failing to empty the water from their sinking vessel.  They looked at all the water they were scooping up in their hands but failed to see more water was pouring in than they could ever hope remove.  It would take a miracle to save that sinking boat.

Jesus teaches this same thing with the two parables he speaks.  The Pharisees and scribes fail to recognize they are lost sheep in the field of life.  They are content with their failure to understand the purpose of the Law of God.  They keep their heads down munching away on the food that will leave them hungry and starved.  They do not hear the voice of the shepherd calling them to repentance and faith and deny their need to lift their heads up and look at their Good Shepherd with the eyes of faith and follow him.  They do not receive his Word and in turn are not received by their Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd then searches for the sheep that believe they are lost.  They struggle with the guilt of their sin.  They feel the weight of God’s law jabbing their consciences every day.  Perhaps they even lie awake at night troubled in their hearts to the point of sleeplessness.  Perhaps there is even the fear that what was done is unforgivable in God’s sight.  The list of sinfulness written down by St Paul would lead one to draw that conclusion.  For certainly God’s judgment is upon such sinfulness.

Which of us is not portrayed by these words, “Those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine …”?  While we may not be guilty of these specific sins we must plead guilty to all sins because God declares us guilty of all sins.  We are sheep that have gone astray and like the lost coin covered in the dust and dirt which collects in the corners and under the furniture.

Thanks be to God who does not want us to be lost, separated from His care and keeping.  Jesus speaks of the shepherd who searches to bring the lost sheep into his kingdom.  He searches until he finds that lost sheep. He walks purposefully looking here and there, in valleys, rivers, caves, streams and gullies searching for the lost sheep.  Calling out to these sheep he draws them to himself or moves them to cry out that he would rescue them from their peril.

Like the woman searching for the lost coin, our Lord desires to lift us out of the dust of death and dirt of sin.  When He finds us he washes us with the cleansing water of Holy Baptism.  Holy Baptism, the precious and powerful washing with water and recreating power of God’s Holy word.  Through that means of grace God exerts His saving power in the life of the sinner and brings them to repentance and faith as Jesus did for the tax collectors and sinners who continually gathered to hear his instruction.

This Shepherd Jesus sought you today as he did his lost sheep in the past.  He established His Church in the wilderness of this sinful world to continue to proclaim mercy and grace from God for the penitent and faith-filled hearer who was lost in sins deadly maze and led by the under-shepherds to the straight path which leads to eternal life.

We recently sang the blessed hymn which reflects this truth.  The recurring words which give hope and comfort to the penitent and believing heart tell the penitent sinner exactly the words they need to hear.  Jesus sinners doth receive!  I would like to make an editorial change to the hymn, because I think we need to express the surety of this truth.  Instead of a “period” at the end of each verse, there needs to be an “exclamation point.”  We should sing this hymn with the conviction that our salvation is true and certain.  We should sing this hymn with a voice that is unwavering and forceful.  You confessed earlier your standing before God apart from His grace.  You confessed you are sinful and unclean, justly deserving God’s present and eternal punishment.

Then the words of faith follow the confession. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ have mercy on us, forgive us renew us and lead us.  Gentle Shepherd, lead us to the throne of your grace and to the place of sanctuary where your forgiveness abounds to sinners.  In answer the Shepherd calls you to the feast of salvation.  In this feast you commune with your Lord and Savior who gave His life and shed His blood to cover your sin and remove your doubt about God’s mercy.

You have heard your Shepherd’s voice in this His house for over 50 years.  The Shepherd’s ministry continues, beloved sheep of Jesus Christ. Our Lord and His angels rejoiced the day you were brought to repentance and faith and they continue to rejoice as you gather for worship here in this place.    God’s grace does not end this side of Jesus Second Coming.  God’s forgiveness is not restricted to this building, pulpit, or altar.  In the wilderness of this world God places His oases of mercy in various places for various people that His work may continue. He plants His Word in hearts and minds through faithful preaching and teaching of His Word.  He puts it on our lips that we may speak of His salvation, grace and mercy to penitent sinners that they may have place at His Table.  In this we rejoice, that Jesus pours His grace upon us, receives sinners and welcomes them into His eternal kingdom.

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