Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Forgiven and Forgiving - September 15, 2013 - Seventeenth Sunday after the Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Luke 15:1-10
Finally, after a couple of weeks of “questionable” Gospel readings this morning we can truly say, “This is the Gospel of the Lord!”
I remember back in the 60's there was a campaign going on in which there were these bumper stickers which touted, “I found it.” The idea behind this statement is that the person was saying that they (he or she) had found the Lord. My first response to a statement like that, and please understand that this is coming from my Lutheran background, is that “I did not know He was missing.” I am also reminded of what we confess in the explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” So, although the idea of a bumper sticker to get out the message of salvation might be a good idea, it is not we who are out looking for the Lord, but it is He who is out looking for us and it is He who has found us and I believe that is most important any way.
We live in a fast paced society. We are constantly running here, there and everywhere. And we are constantly forgetting and losing things. I lost my wallet. Where was I last, before I lost it? Where have I been since I lost it? We trace our steps looking for our wallet. But we do not always lose things instantly, like our wallet. Some things we lose over time. If you are a musical person and neglect to practice playing your instrument, you get rusty, you forget some of the notes. If you are a person who enjoys exercise and you forget to workout for a while, it is difficult to start back up again. If you have been following my progression here and you listened to the Gospel lesson then you will not be surprised when I remind you that if you neglect being in God’s Word, if you neglect Divine Service and Bible class attendance, personal and family devotions and the like, then not only does your faith get rusty, but you can also lose your faith.
That last statement presumes that you have faith, because you cannot lose what you do not have. If you do not have faith then you cannot lose it. We never hear about sailors losing their sheep, because, typically, sailors do not have sheep. Bringing that closer to home, we are reminded that we are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. We are born without faith. It is through baptism that God instills faith in us. At our Baptism our Lord washes us. He places His name on us. He creates faith in our hearts. He claims us as His children. He makes us His. And even though God does this, we have a tendency to stray and fall away. Isaiah (53:6) says it this way, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have each gone our own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
You cannot lose what you do not have, but you can lose what you do not use. From God’s point of view that comes out like this. He loses us when we no longer follow and serve Him, when we neglect to be in His Word, in Bible Class, Divine Service, and private reading of the Word. When we absent ourselves from confession and absolution and from His Holy Supper. When we forget our Baptism. In our text for today we are compared to being sheep and to being a lost coin. When we stray, when we are lost, God loses us. And we might also rightly say that this is what we mean when we speak about gift refusal. We refuse the gifts God has to give when we fail to make use of the means through which He comes to us to give us all His good gifts and blessings. Every Sunday morning we see that over two thirds of our congregation refuses the gifts God has to give by making something other than Divine Service attendance a priority and absenting themselves. This is a spiritual problem!
From our point of view it comes out like this. We lose when we no longer follow and serve Him. We refuse and lose the gifts that He has to give to us. We refuse and lose the gift of forgiveness. We refuse and lose the gift of salvation. We can even refuse and lose the gift of faith.
From both points of view: God gave us His holiness when He recreated us at our baptism. We lost our holiness by our sin. A good way to think of sins is to think of sin as losing something. The person who lies loses honesty. The person who steals loses integrity. The person who hates loses love. The person who misuses sex loses a two-become-one relationship. The person who condemns others loses forgiveness. The person who curses loses the opportunity to give blessings.
One of the difficulties about being lost is that you cannot find yourself. A sheep that is lost, does not know it is lost and does not go looking for its shepherd. A coin that is lost does not know it is lost and it does not flip back to its owner. People that are lost do not know they are lost and do not “Find themselves.” People who are lost spiritually do not realize they have a spiritual problem and do not seek to return to the gifts of God.
Way back in Genesis. God created Adam and Eve. When they sinned they did not go looking for God. Instead, they were ashamed and hid themselves. God had to came looking for them. In our world today we are no different. When we sin we do not go looking for God, rather we go looking for excuses, or we go looking for someone to tell us that what we did was okay. We go running as far away from God as possible, even trying to hide from Him. When we put the things of this world in first place in our lives instead of God, (remember our Bible reading a few weeks ago, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”) when this happens we go looking for friends with lots of things to make us feel like we fit in, that we are okay, that we have not done anything wrong. Everyone else is doing it and we like to think that makes it okay for us to do it too. When we curse and swear using God’s name we go looking for others that will accept this behavior as normal. When we neglect to be in Divine Service and Bible class, as well as when we neglect to live out God’s Word, we look for others who will make us think we are saved because we are just as good a Christian as they are.
When we cheat the government, when we speed, when we disobey those in authority over us, we look for friends who will help us find excuses for our sinful behavior. When we say hateful and hurtful things, killing our neighbor, we look for someone to tell us we were justified in what we did. When we get pregnant or move in with another person without the benefit of marriage we use the excuse, “we’re living in the twenty-first century” as if God’s Word has changed and now it’s okay. When we think we would do almost anything to get something, we look to others who might help us in our stealing. When we speak evil about others behind their backs, we look for someone to tell us that we were justified in our gossiping.
Simply stated, we do not find ourselves by looking inside ourselves. All that we find inside ourselves is sin. For us to be found, God must come looking for us. God comes from outside us and finds us. In our text we see our loving Savior who receives us and welcomes us as Luke begins, “1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2). Listen to the parable again and notice who is doing what, “3So he told them this parable: 4‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’” (Luke 15:3-7). Jesus as the Good Shepherd who comes looking for the lost sheep. Also, listen again to the second parable and notice, again, who is doing what, “8Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10). We see Jesus as the woman sweeping the house looking for the lost coin. The exciting thing about it is that Jesus comes looking for us because of His great love for us. And it is not that Jesus loves the one sheep more than the 99, nor that He loves the one coin more than the other 9. The exciting part about it is that He loves the 99 and the 9 just as much as He loves the one that is lost. Jesus loves each one of us as we are the only person He has to love and yet He loves each one of us with that same intensity of love. He loves each one of us so much that He gave His very life for each one of us. That may not be rational and logical, but that is how much God loves us and how great His love is for us.
Which brings us to the celebration. The celebration which is a come as you are party. As sinners we might struggle with the question, does God love me even though I am a sinner? We might think, in order for God to love me I must first do something, like repent or something. The best analogy I can give you is to ask if you get cleaned up before you take a bath? Of course not, the reason you take a bath is because you are dirty. God loves you while you are in the dirtiness of your sin and it is His love and forgiveness which clean you up.
This celebration is a come as you are party, but it is not a stay as you were party, as if you would want to stay as you were. In other words, once Jesus has found you. Once you have been washed, once you have been forgiven, you will want to change. And here Jesus helps you to change as well. With the power of the Holy Spirit working in your heart you will do great things for the Lord, but it is not you, rather it is the Lord working though you so we say, Praise the Lord.
When we look at these parables together we come to realize that very often we are the ones who are lost. We are born in sin and daily we add to our sin. For His part, God’s love is such that His will is that all people are saved and as such, He has come to seek and to save those who are lost. Yes, sometimes, we are among the saved, that is we are among those who are safe and sound and when we are not lost we know that He loves us. There are also those who are lost in this world, lost because of their own sinfulness and straying and sometimes we are counted among those who are lost.
God cares about those who are safe and those who are lost. He has shown His love and care by sending His Son, Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came into our world as one of us, one with us, one like us except without sin. Jesus came and lived perfectly for us. He did everything that we are unable to do. And, He took all our sins upon Himself and He suffered and died. He paid the price, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. He gave His life for ours. He died for all people.
And so, when someone is found by Jesus, when someone is convicted and converted by the Word of God, there is much rejoicing over the finding of that lost person.
In the Old Testament lesson for today we were told that “11Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ez. 34:11). That is good news to us, because we are His people and when we are lost and in our sin, we do not know to go looking for our Lord. In the Epistle lesson for today, Paul writes to young Timothy, “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15b). Those words might well be our words, because, being born in sin and daily adding to our sin, we are the worst sinners. Finally, in our Gospel reading we hear these sweet words, from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” Luke 15:2b). What wonderful news, what great words to hear, because we are the ones He receives and with whom He eats. Thanks be to God that He has sent Jesus to seek and to save us, to welcome and eat with us, to bring us into His eternal kingdom. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.