Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homily for the Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 3)


Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The scribes and the Pharisees, the religious scholars and theologians of Jesus’ day, holy in the eyes of other men, stand in judgment of the Only Holy Man Jesus saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And, what they accuse Him of is true! Jesus does indeed enjoy table fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts – and this is good news for sinners! This is good news for you and for me! Thus, ironically, but providentially, the scribes and the Pharisees serve as unwitting preachers of the Gospel, which is the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus! For, this is the reason that Jesus came into the world: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts. And, these came to Him in throngs, for, in Jesus, they found, not judgment and condemnation, but the grace and the forgiveness of God, Who cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. But, this was a great offense to the scribes and the Pharisees who had judged and condemned such people. They were offended that Jesus would show grace and love to such sinners. They were offended that God’s grace and mercy could extend to such sinners as these. They wanted to reign in and to limit God’s grace, thus they are offended that “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”

For, such table fellowship follows reconciliation. It is a sign that all is forgiven, all is restored and made right once again. It is a celebration that someone lost has been found and returned to the family of faith. Thus, Jesus presents three parables about the restoration of the lost in response to the grumbling accusation of the scribes and the Pharisees: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son. And, in each parable, something that was lost has been found and restored. And, the restoration of the lost results in rejoicing and feasting, both on earth and in heaven!

The third parable, the Parable of the Lost Son (or, The Prodigal Son), which we did not hear today, involves the restoration, not of an animal (a sheep) or of an object (a coin), but of a beloved son who treated his father with contempt, squandered his love, his grace, and his wealth, and found himself, penniless and powerless to help himself, once again in his father’s love and grace, fully restored to sonship despite his prior wickedness. When we hear this parable with the ears of faith, we see that it is not about the prodigal son at all, but it is about the selfless and sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of the father, who is God the Father. Likewise, the Good Shepherd is God the Son, and the Woman is the Church of Christ, seeking the lost that they might be saved and restored. And there is rejoicing on earth and in heaven.

In the first parable Jesus poses this question to the scribes and the Pharisees, “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?” I’ve thought about this question for a long time now and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only human answer to this question, whether you are a scribe or a Pharisee, a shepherd, a butcher, a baker, or a candle-stick maker, is that no one would do such a thing!” No one would leave the ninety-nine sheep to go and seek for the one that wandered off. One out of a hundred, of a possession as valuable as sheep, would not merit possibly exposing the other ninety-nine to risk. But, I think that is exactly the response Jesus intends to evoke, for, ultimately, the parable isn’t about human shepherds, or scribes, or Pharisees, or any others, but it is about the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, who, out of boundless mercy and compassion, did leave the heavenly places, inhabited by flocks of angels, archangels, dominions, and powers, to seek and to save one lost man, Adam, in whom we all are one. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

In the second parable, a woman has lost one of her precious silver coins, so she lights a lamp and diligently sets about searching for it until she finds it. And, when she has found it, there is a festival celebration that what was lost has been found and restored. This woman is the Church and the flock of the Good Shepherd. And, you each are a precious coin, marked, in Holy Baptism, with the image of the Prince, Jesus Christ. You are each a found sheep, redeemed by the selfless sacrifice of your Good Shepherd. And there is rejoicing that you have been found, and there is table fellowship with Jesus in which He receives sinners and eats with them, even as there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

For, the Church is not a memorial for saints, but She is a hospital for sinners. Indeed, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Those who will not confess that they are sinners will not and cannot, receive the forgiveness Jesus came to give. It is like a person, sick unto death, who refuses to admit that they are sick and, therefore, will not seek the aid of a physician. There is treatment and there is healing for the sick who will receive it, but it will not and cannot benefit those who refuse it. This is the situation with the scribes and the Pharisees; they judged Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners just as they judged the sinners who flocked to Him. But they would not confess that they too were such lost sinners in need of finding, restoration, and forgiveness. They too were sick unto death with sin, and there was healing for them in Jesus Christ, just as for the tax collectors and prostitutes, but they would not and they could not receive it. They refused to acknowledge their need of the Great Physician, therefore they would not and could not receive the healing He came to give to them. Only the lost can be found, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

We all share in the same common disease of sin, and the diagnosis, left untreated, is terminal, death. But Jesus teaches in the Parables of the Lost that He came to seek and to save such lost and dying sinners as you and me, and that you are so precious and immeasurably valuable to Him that He risks everything to find you, save you, and restore you. For, you are more valuable to him than one in one hundred sheep. You are more precious to Him than one in ten silver coins. And you are more beloved of Him than one in two sons.

So, on this Father’s Day, what a wonderful picture of Fatherly love we are presented with. God, your Father, is not satisfied with ninety-nine out of a hundred sheep, or that He still has nine out of ten silver coins, or that one son remained home by His side. But, He is jealous for all His creatures, His priceless children whom He loves with selfless, sacrificial grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He will not stop seeking His lost children no matter how far they stray, but He has sent His Son Jesus to seek and to save the lost, laying down His life to bring them back into the fold of the Church to bind up their wounds in Holy Absolution and to restore them to sonship in Holy Baptism. And there is feasting and rejoicing in the Holy Supper, on earth as it is in heaven, that what was lost has been found and restored.

In the love and sacrifice of our earthly fathers we catch a glimpse, a reflection, of our Heavenly Father’s love and sacrifice for us. The image is sometimes dim and tarnished by sin to be sure, but if we have known the love and sacrifice of such imperfect men in this fallen and broken world, how much more then does our Heavenly Father, Who is holy and unchanging, love us with an eternal and perfect love?

Come to the feast of joy, found children of our Heavenly Father! The Man who receives sinners and eats with them is here to feast with you; He is both host and meal. Do not be offended that He receives and eats with such as these. We are brothers and sisters, one and all, of one holy and divine Heavenly Father. He will have all His children, in His time, found, forgiven, and restored. And there will be rejoicing and feasting, on earth as in heaven, both now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: