Sunday, July 7, 2019

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 tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to Jesus to hear Him. At the same time, the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled and complained about Jesus because of the people he permitted to draw near to Him. It’s a classic case of the inmaking themselves to be out. For, the truth is, Jesus wanted allpeople to draw near to Him. He wanted allpeople to hear Him. We wanted to eat and drink and laugh and cry with allpeople. For, He came to redeem allpeople, allthe world, from sin and death, though not all would draw near to Him.
This is the setting for three of our Lord’s great parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son). Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes so that they could see that the kingdom of God was a reign of mercy and forgiveness, of seeking and of saving the lost. And, Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes so that they might see themselves amongst the lost and, likewise, be found by their Savior who was drawing near to them.
The corruption in man’s reasoning and wisdom becomes apparent when we consider the first two of Jesus’ Parables of the Lost – the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. In both parables, the protagonist, the Christ figure, leaves behind the other sheep and the other coins in order to search the one sheep and coin that is lost. The wisdom of the world thinks this a tad over-reactive, foolish, and perhaps even irresponsible saying, “Why fret over one lost sheep when you have ninety-nine safe in the fold? How irresponsible it is to abandon the ninety-nine and put them at risk for the foolish and wayward and rebellious one. And, all this fuss over one lost coin? She still had nine. Coins get lost all the time! The world’s an imperfect place!”
Man’s fallen reason and wisdom stand in stark and unflattering contrast to our Lord’s wisdom that says, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost not one.” Likewise, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” And also, “this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” And yet again, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
The idea here is that the sheep and the coins all belong to our Lord. Each and every one of them is precious to Him. It is not acceptable that He should lose even one. Our Lord Jesus is no shrewd businessman. He does not budget for a loss. He does not believe that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. He will keep the sheep and the coins that He has, and He will seek, find, and save the sheep and the coin that have become lost.
In our fallen reason and wisdom, we want to cry out “Foolishness!” “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open county, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” Jesus asks. Our answer: “No one would do this!” “It doesn’t make sense!” “That’s utter foolishness!” Clearly, our Lord’s economics and accounting are radically different than ours – Thanks be to God! The sheep and the coins are not commodities to be bargained with, a loss of some sort being anticipated and acceptable. No! You are the Lord’s beloved sheep and His precious coins. You are His charge and His treasure. He is your God and you are His creatures. He is your Father and you are His children.
So were the Pharisees and the scribes. Our Lord Jesus did not want to lose them anymore than He wants to lose you. He searched for them, found them, and suffered and died for them to restore them to His fold just as He did for you, but they refused Him and rejected Him. They would not return with Him or follow Him because they could not see, they would not confess, that they were lost! They believed that they were the ninety-nine in the open country, not the one lost. They believed that they were the nine coins safe in the purse, not the one lost under the floorboards. They thought that they were in, and they couldn’t see that they were out. Of course, Jesus wanted them in, He made it possible for them to be inby grace through faith, but they wanted to be inon their own terms, and so they made themselves to be out. What’s worse is that they judged Jesus for taking those whom they considered to be outin.
Our Lord rejoices at finding His lost sheep, His lost coins, His lost children. All of heaven and all of heaven’s angels rejoice over every sinner who repents! But, the angels rejoice only over sinners who repent, for only sinners can repent, and all of us are sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes were sinners too, though they refused to acknowledge and confess it. They were sinners, therefore Jesus considered them to be in, but they would not confess their sin, therefore they made themselves to be out. Moreover, they judged Jesus for the company of sinners He kept – His flock, His children. They were all sinners. That’s all that they could possibly be. That’s all there was. And, Jesus was fine with that. And, Jesus is fine with that now! “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Thanks be to God! Jesus would receive and eat with the Pharisees and the scribes too, but they would not have it. Jesus came to seek the lost. Only the lost can be found. Jesus came to forgive sinners. Only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus came to raise the dead. Only the dead can be raised. Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Only sinners can repent. And we are all sinners, every one of us, from the greatest to the least, from the Pharisee to the tax collector. According to our sinful natures, we are out. But, according to Jesus’ grace, mercy, and love, we are in. Only you can make yourself to be out.
To put an exclamation point on His teaching, Jesus then told the Pharisees and the scribes the Parable of the Lost Son (the Prodigal Son). You know that story well. A younger son asked his father for his inheritance now, while his father was still alive. This was a highly disrespectful, dishonorable, and scandalous thing to do – essentially treating his father as if he were already dead to him. Even more scandalously, however, the father gave his son what he asked. The boy then proceeded to squander his inheritance and soon found himself destitute and hungry so that he sold himself into the meanest labor feeding unclean swine and even desiring to eat the food of the pigs. The boy was lost. He had dishonored his father and wasted everything his father had given him. He had nothing. He was as good as dead. But then he thought to himself, “My father is a good, gracious, and merciful man. I will return to him and apologize and offer myself as a servant that I might work for him and pay him back and earn his good will.” And then he set off for his father’s home. However, as Jesus tells His parable, he doesn’t make it back before the boy’s father finds him. You see, the father was watching for him, looking for him all the while he was gone. Seeing him coming from afar, the father did the unthinkable – he ran to his lost son and, before the boy could make the offer of labor, he restored him fully as his son and heir.
Now, that’s the part of the parable that most Christians focus upon. However, Jesus’ parable continues with the account of the father’s older son who is resentful that his father has received, forgiven, and restored his prodigal brother. Though it cost him nothing at all, the older brother begrudges his father’s generosity and mercy towards his younger brother. Unlike the angels in heaven, he refuses to rejoice of his brother, a sinner, who has repented. He is deeply offended, scandalized, at his father’s actions – killing the fatted calf and enjoying a feast with his lowly, sinful, unclean and uncouth brother: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Who do you think the older brother represents in Jesus’ parable. You can bet that the Pharisees and the scribes knew who He was talking about.
You see, there is something very personal and intimate about table fellowship – who you eat and drink with. Those souls you commune with at table are family: Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, etc. Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors, liars, thieves, adulterers, rude and disrespectful children, ungrateful neighbors, murderers, lepers, the outcast, the unclean, even you. You are His family. He invites you to His table to eat and drink with Him, indeed, to commune with Him so that His flesh is united with your flesh and His blood courses through your veins. You were out, but He has made you to be in. Therefore, do not look down at your neighbor, your brother, and consider him beneath you or unworthy of a place at the table. First, the table is not yours, but your Lord’s, and second, Jesus came to seek and to lay down His life to save that man or woman just as He came to seek and to save you.
Eat, drink, and be merry! Rejoice with the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents! Each and every Divine Service, each and every Holy Eucharist, each and every Lord’s Day is a feast day of the finest of wines and the choicest of meats. This is the Day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! And yet, as good and holy and joyous as it is, this feast is but a foretaste of the feast that is to come – the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end! This is the feast of victory for our Lord, and you are invited – all are invited! You are in! Don’t make yourself to beout. Share the good news and invite your brother, your neighbor in too. Jesus is seeking them too and He has won salvation for them too. He has died that they might have the proper wedding garment, His righteousness, and join in the feast of life and salvation too.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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