Sunday, June 28, 2020

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.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” Or, so goes the oft-quoted poem from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” which today is frequently pasted to the bumpers of motorhomes and a multitude of recreational vehicles traveling our nation’s highways and byways. Unfortunately, while this may be true of Tolkien’s mythological Ranger/Messiah/King figure Aragorn, it is unequivocally untrue of every human being who has ever lived, save one – the one that Tolkien’s Ranger Aragorn served as metaphor of, the only Son of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.

Truly Jesus is the only man who has ever wandered far from His home so that He had no place on earth to lay His head, and yet, Jesus was everything but lost. Indeed, Jesus came to seek and to find, to save and to restore, and to bring home those who were lost – you and I. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks, finds, and saves His lost sheep. Jesus is the woman who diligently searched her house until she found her lost coin. Still, the key thing to recognize and to confess today is that you were lost, but now you have been found. Jesus has found you. His Holy Spirit has called you by His Gospel, enlightened, sanctified, and kept you in faith. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were a straying, wandering, and lost sheep – and often still you stray and wander. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were as completely helpless as an inanimate coin dropped between the floorboards, lost to all – and often still you become spiritually listless and lifeless. But, you are precious to Jesus and His Father, and He has forsaken everything to find you, to purchase you, and to restore you. Jesus wandered far from heaven, far from His Father’s home, to seek and to find His Father’s lost children, His own lost sheep. He found you, and He did what was necessary to save you and to restore you. He gave all that He had, even His very life because He loves you, and He loves His Father who loves you, and you are precious to Him, you are precious to the Holy Triune God. You are His sheep and His children, and He will never let you go.

But, there are many layers to the onion of Jesus’ parables of the lost. And, I will but scratch the surface of them with you today. Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes who grumbled that tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus and were eagerly listening to and receiving His teaching. However, what really offended them was the fact that Jesus welcomed these people and joyfully ate and drank with them. Jesus treated them as equals, as brothers and sisters, as fellow children of Abraham and children of His heavenly Father. Those lost and broken people were precisely the people Jesus came to seek, to find, to save, and to restore. Ironically, that was the work the Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be doing! The Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be the shepherds, pastors, and teachers of Israel proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News, that God was seeking, saving, and restoring His people just as He had promised after man’s fall in the Garden. But, somewhere along the way, the shepherds of Israel became hardened in their hearts and self-righteous. What they failed to see, to remember, and to confess was that they themselves were also lost and needed to be found, saved, and restored. They believed that they kept God’s Law pretty well – and, truth be told, they did, except that they bent and lowered the bar of the Law repeatedly in order to make it more do-able in their eyes and in the eyes of men. And, so, the reality is that they did not keep the Law of God – for, no one keeps the Law of God – but they deceived themselves into believing that they did keep it. They were lost, but they could not see that they were lost; therefore, they could not be found. They were sinners, but they did not believe or confess that they were sinners; therefore, they could not be forgiven. And, because of their self-righteousness – which is no righteousness at all – they judged others guilty of sin and of failing to keep God’s Law, and they condemned the very children of Israel that they were called and sent to seek, to save, and to restore.

Jesus compared them to shepherds, which offended them, for they did not see themselves as shepherds and they considered shepherds to be lowly and beneath them and unclean. Moreover, Jesus accused them of losing a sheep. You see, He didn’t say that the sheep wandered off and got themselves lost, but that the shepherd lost a sheep. The lost sheep Jesus was referring to were the sinners and tax collectors that were lost and needed to be found, whom the shepherd-Pharisees refused to acknowledge, let alone look for or take any risk to find, save, and restore. And yet, Jesus’ parabolic shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in his flock in order to find the one that he had lost. Now, I don’t think that most anyone would consider this a wise move – to abandon ninety-nine sheep in order to find one; it just doesn’t make good economical sense. And, yes, there are many biblical commentators who suggest that there were other shepherds to watch the ninety-nine. Well, maybe, but Jesus does not say that. Therefore, I think that we can take from this a deeper theological meaning – the ninety-nine sheep are just as lost as the one. Yet, the shepherd in Jesus’ parable picks and chooses which sheep to care for and which to simply ignore and abandon. The Pharisees and the scribes did just that in practice, because they considered themselves among the ninety-nine sheep that were safe and secure in their own self-righteousness. They could care less about those they judged and condemned as sinners and unclean. They were not the Lord’s sheep in their eyes, let alone the children of Israel, of Abraham, and of God.

And, then, Jesus hits them a second time by comparing the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to a woman, to a woman who has also, once again, lost something – she has lost one of her coins. Again, the parable seems a bit exaggerated from the judgment of human reason: She has ten coins. Why the panic and fuss over one lost coin? Again, commentators speculate on the great value of the lost coin, or that the coin represented her husband’s pay for one week of work and that she was given the great responsibility of managing his money. Well, maybe, but, again, Jesus does not include any such details. The important point here is that the lost coin was important and precious to the woman so that she stopped everything and searched the whole house until she found it and it was restored to her treasury. The Pharisees and the scribes had no such zeal for the lost sheep of the Lord’s flock and the lost children of Israel. Consequently, Jesus ends both parables with the summary explanation of what they mean saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

“Not all those who wander are lost?” The point of Jesus’ parables of the lost is that we are all lost and need to be found. Indeed, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To be found is to repent. To repent is to recognize and to confess that you are lost, that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. Notice, there’s no talk about good works, great faith, sincerity of repentance, etc. Jesus simply states that there is rejoicing in heaven over sinners who repent. To repent is to be found. Only the lost can be found. Only sinners can repent. And, repentance is not a work that you do, but it is something that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Lord. Think of it as the Good Shepherd’s call to His lost sheep. The sheep remain lost until the Shepherd calls. Then, they hear – and, hearing is a passive activity – and they respond; but responding is dependent upon the call: no call, no response – period.

Thanks be to God that He has sent His Son, the Good Shepherd, to call His lost sheep, to call you and me, to repentance. Thanks be to God that He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us, creating faith and trust in our hearts and turning us from our wayward path of sin and destruction back to Jesus who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. His Gospel call has gone, and goes, out to all through His undershepherds, His pastors and priests and ministers, and through you, the Priesthood of all Believers. Jesus continues to eat and to drink with sinners, and the angels of heaven continue to rejoice over each and every sinner who repents.

“Not all those who wander are lost?” You were lost, but you have been found. Now you get to participate in the searching and the seeking and in the calling and the restoring. Do not despise those wayward sheep who are sinfully pursuing their sinful paths – they are lost. But, go and find them. Call to them with your Master’s voice, His Holy Word which is the vehicle and means of the Holy Spirit. Call them to repentance by showing them mercy and compassion while sharing with them the hope that is in you. And, return here, to the flock, where your Good Shepherd is present with His Words and with His Wounds to forgive you anew, to heal and to restore you, to nourish you and to protect you, and to build you up for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Holy Name. Let us rejoice with the angels of heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To the glory of God the Father, through His Blessed Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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