Sunday, October 02, 2022

Forgiven, Set Free to Forgive

[Below you'll find videos of the live stream videos of both the 8:45 AM and 11:00 AM worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text of today's message.]

Luke 17:1-10
A prominent nineteenth-century Lutheran theologian once gave this important advice: “When [God’s] Law condemns you, then immediately lay hold of the Gospel.”

We need to remember this as we consider today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 17:1-10. Jesus has just finished telling His story of Lazarus, the poor man, who had faith in God and entered heaven, and the rich man, who trusted in his wealth and possessions, and been condemned to an eternity without God. Jesus told this story for the benefit first, of the notorious sinners who were starting to believe in Him and trust in His grace. He wanted to assure them that, despite the judgments of an unforgiving world, by God’s grace, they had faith in Him that saved them and gave them a place in the Kingdom of God eternally. Jesus also told the story for the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, certain of their own righteousness, that they might repent–turn from their sin–and trust in Jesus for life with God, rather than trusting in themselves, their ethnicity, or their wealth. Without faith in Jesus, they would spend eternity, not with God, but like the rich man, eternally condemned, separated from God.

Now, as He heads for Jerusalem where He knows that He will be crucified, then raised from the dead by God the Father, Jesus turns to His disciples. After hearing Jesus’ story, they may be feeling vindicated in following Him or superior to others, Jesus speaks a Word of Law.

“Things that cause people to stumble [things that cause people to trip into temptation] are bound to come, but woe to anyone [that’s God’s condemnation to anyone] through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones [that is, the sinners and tax collectors coming to Jesus in repentance and faith] to stumble. So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:1-4)

Do you hear what Jesus is saying here? “Christian, don’t cause others to sin! Don’t cause them to doubt Jesus or the forgiveness He brings to those who repent and believe in Him! Don’t cause them to question God’s grace given in Christ!” Christians who do that, Jesus says, are worse off than people fitted with concrete shoes and thrown into the ocean. Quite simply, Christians who trip others into sin, despair, and unbelief by their rigidity or refusal to forgive are damned. Jesus goes on to say that when others sin against us, we are to confront them and if they repent, we must forgive them, no matter how many times they sin against us and repent.

Jesus’ words must have hit the disciples hard. They hit me that way too. It’s so easy for me to hold a grudge. Jesus’ Word of Law here is an expression of the command of the first table of the Ten Commandments, that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, condemns me. Failing to forgive is a sin. And this isn’t the only time that Jesus and His Word tell us this. Jesus teaches us, remember, to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You know what? I love to be forgiven; I’m not as keen about forgiving. Maybe you feel the same way. But Jesus tells us that that attitude is a sin. It merits everlasting condemnation.

Is it any wonder then that the apostles say to Jesus: “Increase our faith!”? (Luke 17:5) The apostles’ reasoning is understandable, isn’t it? “Add some faith to us so that we can strengthen our wills to do this impossible thing the Law demands,” they’re telling Jesus. But they’ve got it wrong. They don’t need more faith. They need–and what we need–faith enough to turn in helplessness and trust to Jesus. It’s Jesus and Jesus alone Who can  destroy the condemnation for sin that we deserve and make us worthy of life with God. You don’t need big faith. You just need faith, however big or small it is, in the big, loving, forgiving God we meet in Jesus Christ! Jesus is big enough, whatever the size of our faith!

God’s Law is good. It reflects God’s will for us. But if we cannot obey this Law, which we cannot, then we surely cannot be saved by it. Even if I decided today to forgive those who have hurt me, I could not make that decision stick by my willpower. And I could not erase the pain I’ve caused others by my past unforgiveness. And that doesn’t even address all the other ways I have failed to love God and love others. Blessedly though, God’s Word tells us [I’m reading here from the Good News translation of Romans 8:3-4] “What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature.” Friends, Jesus has done the Gospel, the Good News, for us. He went to Jerusalem and offered up His sinless life to take the condemnation and punishment you and I deserve, even went to hell itself, then rose from the dead so that all who daily repent and trust in Him have forgiveness and everlasting life with God! Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law of love for us, because on our own, you and I can’t!

After the apostles ask for more faith, Jesus tells them that freedom from the condemnation of the Law doesn’t come from having a bigger faith, but by the greatness of your God. How great is the God you can trust in Jesus Christ? Not only is He the God Who made the heavens and the earth, He’s the God Who comes to us in Jesus Christ. As we take shelter in the grace of God given to us through Jesus, Who suffered, bled, died, and rose for us, we know that we are not condemned, that we belong to God forever. God has justified us, counted us innocent of our sin, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Like the apostle Paul, we can say, “​​since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1) As we trust in Christ, we have this peace with God not just in eternity after God has called us from our graves, but right now! This very moment!

At the end of our gospel lesson, through an illustration, Jesus describes what our peace with God looks like. We are freed from the sure condemnation that goes to the self-righteous. And we are freed from terror at the truth that none of us, by our own merit or effort, is good enough for a place in God’s kingdom. Jesus has bought us out of our slavery to sin and death, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…” (1 Peter 1:18-19) Forgiven by Christ, we can forgive others and, like the servants in Jesus’ illustration, not keep score. When God commends us for forgiving and loving as we’ve been forgiven and loved, we can say, “​​…we have only done our duty…” (Luke 17:10) The idea here isn’t that I have done some laudable work that other people should notice. The force of this statement by the servants is to say they don’t need a participation trophy, they are simply doing what people do when Jesus has set them free from sin and set them free to love and forgive. For those who trust in Jesus, who receive His Word, who have been claimed by Him a Baptism, and who receive His body and blood with repentance and faith, Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches. (John 15:5) As His life courses through us, we do what God’s servants do, knowing that, however the world may regard us, we live each moment in God’s grace and approval. A disciple saved by God's grace in Christ is called to a life in which they no longer are susceptible to the terrors of damnation and who no longer need strokes for doing what God‘s grace in Christ impels us to do. 

To applaud a Christian for being a Christian is a bit like applauding a carrot for being a carrot. A carrot has no say over whether it's a carrot. Nor do we have any say over the Spirit wooing us to faith in Jesus. It's by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can repent and trust in Jesus Christ, not ours. So, when we forgive, we are just doing what Christians do and that is solely a miracle of God’s grace, of Christ living in us!

When [God’s] Law condemns you, then immediately lay hold of the Gospel.” The Law of God commands us to forgive as we are forgiven. The Gospel assures us that as we trust in Christ, we are forgiven and that, freed of self-regard or self-loathing, we are conduits of His grace  and love for others. Friends, you can trust in Jesus Christ for this! Amen

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Old Testament Book of Daniel, Part 4

We're doing an online study of the book of Daniel right now. The studies take place twice a week over on Facebook. Here's the video of tonight's session, part four of our study.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

You Can Trust in Christ

[Below you'll find the live stream video of today's traditional and modern worship services from Living Water Lutheran Church, as well as the text of today's message. Have a good week!]

Luke 16:19-31
The story or parable that Jesus tells in today’s gospel lesson is well known to you. As Jesus tells it, there was a rich man, “who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” (Luke 16:19)

From what Jesus says here, we know that the rich man wasn’t just rich, he was fabulously wealthy. Only the wealthy or kings could afford clothing made of linen or dyed purple. The rich man also lived in luxury, meaning that he didn’t just feast at weddings or holidays, but all the time. He wasn’t satisfied with what Jesus calls, “our daily bread.” This guy’s motto in life was, “More!”

Jesus then tells us about another character in the story: “At [the rich man’s] gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (Luke 16:20-21)

Lazarus, not to be confused with Jesus’ friend of the same name, is helpless. When dogs lick his open sores, he’s too weak to fend them off. And he can’t even place himself at the rich man’s gate. Someone else has to do that for him.

Maybe someone set Lazarus there, hoping the rich man would take pity on Lazarus. If that had been the hope, it was an unwarranted one. Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate until he dies. The rich man dies at the same time. But, when Lazarus dies, Jesus says, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side,” or, more literally, Abraham’s bosom. Lazarus is in a place of peace and contentment to which those who trust in the God of Abraham, the God the whole world can now know in the crucified and risen Jesus, go.

Of the rich man, Jesus says he “died and was buried.” (Luke 16:22) But Jesus tells us that, unlike Lazarus, the rich man went to “Hades, where he was in torment…” (Luke 16:23)

Let’s be clear. The rich man isn’t damned to an eternity of burning in unquenchable fire because he was rich in this world. Rather, he had condemned himself by putting his trust in the things of this world rather than in God. The Old Testament patriarch Abraham was, you’ll remember, wealthy. But Genesis 15:6 tells us that despite his sins and faults, about which the Bible was quite open, Abraham “believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to [Abraham] as righteousness.” Abraham was saved from sin and death by God’s grace through faith in the God you and I now meet in Jesus. The rich man in Jesus’ story didn’t trust in God.

As Jesus tells it, the rich man can see Lazarus, the poor man he once ignored, at the eternal Messianic banquet to which Jesus invites all who believe in Him. “Father Abraham,” he cries, “have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24)

The rich man calls Abraham “father” because he, a Jew, is genetically descended from Abraham. But as Jesus once told Jewish believers who were turning their backs on Him: “If you were Abraham’s children,...then you would do what Abraham did…” (John 8:39) In other words, if they were like Abraham, they would, like Abraham, trust in God and in the Messiah that God had long promised.

Abraham is tender, yet firm, in his reply to the rich man. “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26)

Friends, once we are dead, it will be too late to turn to God for life.

It will also be too late to share the good news, the Gospel of new and everlasting life with God for all who trust in Jesus.

The rich man was a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, an heir of God’s salvation promises. But he had forgotten God.

Today, Brady Cole has been claimed by God in the waters of Holy Baptism. At the font, Brady was crucified and raised again as God’s own child. God never reneges on the covenant He makes with us in Baptism. In the water, in the Bible, and in Holy Communion, He sends His saving Word to call us to daily repentance and faith in Jesus.

The rich man tragically walked away from God’s covenant with Him. He refused to receive God’s saving Word which works faith in us. And so, Abraham says, the rich man must live with the consequences of his faithlessness, even as Lazarus enjoys the consequences of his faith: eternal life with God!

Now the rich man, resigned to an eternity separated from God, finally thinks about someone beside himself.

He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers–Luke actually says, to thoroughly witness to them–so that they can repent for their sins and trust in God for life.

Abraham tells him no and that the rich man’s brothers already have Moses and the Prophets to be warned and have good news preached to them.

The phrase, “Moses and the Prophets,” refers to the witness of the Old Testament that God would send a Messiah, God in the flesh, to die for our sins, destroying their power to condemn us, and to rise for us, opening up life with God to all who trust in Jesus.

Today, the Word of God, both Old and New Testaments, and the Word given to us in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, give witness for Jesus: His saving love, His power over death, His call to repentance and faith. God’s Word shows us that God loves us and that He has done everything needed to save us from sin, death, futility, and eternal condemnation.

The rich man says that if Lazarus went back to the world from the dead with the message that this heaven and hell thing is true and that they needed to put their trust in God and not in the world, his brothers would repent and believe. But Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

You and I are blessed. Not only do we have the Word of Moses and the Prophets pointing forward to Jesus’ cross and empty tomb, we have the witness of the New Testament testifying that hundreds of people, however imperfectly, followed, witnessed, and risked their lives to tell the world that Jesus Christ died to destroy the power of sin and death and rose to give us eternity with God!

We have the witness of the once-tongue-tied and fearful Peter who told the crowds on the first Christian Pentecost: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24)

When the crowds, recognizing that it was their sin–as it is our sin–that put the sinless Jesus on the cross, asked Peter how they could avoid the condemnation they deserved–the same condemnation we deserve for our sin–Peter told them: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

That promise, friends, is for you and me too! Jesus has prepared a place at His everlasting banquet for all who trust in Him. By God’s grace, He’s died on the cross to give us His righteousness and gain us a place in the Kingdom of God. Even when the world despises, dismisses, misunderstands, or slanders us for our faith in Jesus, we can trust in Him. All who trust in Christ know, like Lazarus in today’s lesson, that we will have an eternity of joy with our Savior.

For those who trust in the God we meet in Jesus, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning…” (Psalm 30:5) Trust in Jesus, friends, until that bright morning when we see our Lord face to face in eternity. Amen

Friday, September 23, 2022

Separation of Church and State: Good for Both

A new poll apparently shows that some Christians want America to be officially declared “a Christian nation.”

If this means wanting others to know the grace and new life of God given in Jesus alone, gifts that come to us by faith in Jesus, I’m on board.
If it means making Christianity the country’s official religion, I absolutely oppose the idea. And no Christian should want that either.
People can’t and shouldn’t be coerced into faith in Jesus or into complying with some people's notions of what Christians should look like or do. 

Just because you force people to abide by rules you claim to be Christian doesn’t mean that people are Christian. 

Christians are people who can honestly confess that they are sinners saved, not by being “good people,” which none of us is, but by God’s grace through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
This talk of making America “a Christian nation” sounds less like Christianity than it does like religious legalism, which can never set sinners free from our inborn bondage to sin, death, and darkness.
Not once did Jesus seek to coerce people into “acting right.” The Pharisees of His day did that and Jesus condemned them for it, frequently. (Check out these scorching words from Jesus in Matthew 23:3-5.)

Instead, Jesus calls us all to repent and believe in the good news of new and everlasting life through Him. (Cf., John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15)
Jesus commissions His disciples to make disciples, not to make rules.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Living Shrewdly

[Below, you'll find the live stream video from both of the morning worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text of the message shared at each service. I hope you find it helpful. Have a good week!]

Luke 16:1-15
The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson has caused Christians untold confusion through the centuries. So, let’s dispel the confusion right off the top!

Through this piece of fiction created by our Lord, Jesus is NOT approving stealing or dishonesty. God never contradicts Himself. So, Jesus, God the Son, isn’t using this parable to abolish the seventh commandment–”You shall not steal”--or the eighth commandment–”You shall not bear false witness.”

The rich man in Jesus’ parable does NOT compliment the dishonest manager for lying and stealing. The text itself tells us exactly what impressed the rich man in Jesus’ story. Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly…” (Luke 16:8) The word “shrewdly” translates the Greek word Luke uses here, φρονίμως, which can also be translated as wisely or prudently. The rich man praised his manager’s wisdom.

All of this raises a question. What made the dishonest manager in Jesus’ story wise? And, since Jesus told this particular parable to His disciples–believers in Him, like you and me–what does it mean for disciples to be wise?

First, being wise means hearing and understanding the implication of God’s Law. After the rich man fires the manager, he tells the manager that he must give an account of all he had wasted of the manager’s possessions. God’s Law tells us that we, like the dishonest manager, must give God an account of how we have managed or stewarded the gift of life He has given to us.

Folks, every minute we breathe is a gift from God Who formed us in our mothers’ wombs. The average American will live 40,498,088 God-given minutes on this earth. God’s Law demands, as Lutheran theologian Bo Giertz once noted, that we are accountable to God for our “thoughts, words, and deeds…[our] invisible desires and hidden prideful thoughts.” Every adulterous thought, every piece of gossip, every time we have spoken God’s name in vain, any time we’ve craved the possessions, successes, or blessings enjoyed by others, whenever we have been disrespectful of our parents or others in authority, are all instances of you and I squandering and mismanaging the minutes of life God gives to us.

In another of His parables, Jesus tells the story of a rich fool who wastes the minutes of his life by building bigger barns to hold all his wealth so that he can, in complete selfishness, tell himself to eat, drink, and be merry. But, Jesus says, before the fool can finish building his new barns, God steps in and tells him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Luke 12:20)

Only a fool would think that they can live a life of unrepentant sin, misusing the gift of life God has given to each of us, and not have death, the rightful punishment for sin, catch up with us. And for those tempted to think they can manage their lives in a way pleasing to God in their own power and goodness, God’s Law disabuses us of such notions. Jesus says in Matthew 5:20, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And, in Matthew 5:48, he tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How many perfect people do we have here this morning? I know I’m not one.

Being wise means hearing and understanding the implication of God’s Law.

But being wise also means understanding that there’s a deeper truth God has set loose in the universe. Being wise means receiving this truth with faith acting on the basis of that truth while we still have time.

What do I mean?

In Jesus’ parable, the manager was fired one day and told by the master that he needed to bring the books to the rich man the next. What he did was not in itself commendable: He called in his master’s debtors and forgave them massively. Of the two debtors Jesus mentions in the parable, the manager took it upon himself to forgive each of these men who probably farmed on the rich man’s land, an amount equal to more than 500-days wages a piece! The manager was using his boss’ wealth to win welcoming friends for himself.

Now, this would seem to be a risky ploy by the manager! If the rich man gets wind of this scheme, he could end up not just fired, but in prison!

Of course, it turns out that the rich man does find out. And this brings the unexpected plot twist of Jesus’ story. The rich man overlooks the dishonest manager’s crimes. That’s because, even if the manager is being unscrupulous, he’s finally, maybe for the first time since the rich man hired him, actually managing the rich man’s possessions

There appears to be a good reason the manager knew he could take such a chance. It’s this: The manager knew the heart, the character, and the kindness of his master.

Just like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in the parable Jesus tells just before this one in Luke’s gospel, the manager knew that his master, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, wanted to forgive him.

And, friends, the crucified and risen Jesus, God the Son, Who died and rose for our sins, demonstrates how much God wants to forgive us our sins and give us life with God as free and gracious gifts for all who believe in Jesus! God wants to do that for us even though none of us has ever consistently managed the gift of life God has granted to us with faithfulness or wisdom.

Jesus isn’t telling us that if we lie and steal, we’ll be acting wisely. He IS telling us to wise up and understand that, even more than was true of the manager in today’s parable, we can trust in the kindness and grace of the God we meet in Jesus Himself to cover our sins! The God revealed to us in Jesus is effectively telling us again today: “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

The good news, or the gospel, tells us that while we have all failed to be good or sinless managers of our lives, God sent Jesus into the world and, according 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus bears the weight of our sin so that we can receive His righteousness!

In light of such love and grace and in light of our failure to measure up to the righteousness of God, the only action that makes any sense for us is to turn in repentance and faith to Jesus each day, to trust in Jesus for God’s charitable forgiveness of our sin, that is, for grace, and for life with God that begins now in this crumbling universe and continues into eternal perfection that death cannot destroy!

Those made wise by God’s Word know that when we daily–even moment by moment–throw ourselves on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, all our misuse of this life is forgiven and we are made eternally clean and new!

God’s Word tells us: “..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [but] all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

The one who daily turns to Jesus in trust is leading a life of God-given wisdom. Amen!

Monday, September 12, 2022

The God Who Finds Us

[Below, you'll find live stream videos of both worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, yesterday. Also, you'll find the text of the message. It was a blessed day for our congregation, as we welcomed a total of 11 new members to our congregational family: 1 at the first service and 10 at the second. If you live in the Dayton area and don't have a church home, please consider worshiping with us on some Sunday in the future!]

Luke 15:1-10

In the chapters of Luke’s gospel leading up to today’s lesson, Luke 15:1-10, Jesus repeatedly makes the point that in the Kingdom of God He has come to usher into the world, everything gets turned upside down. “Indeed,” Jesus says, “there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30)

Here, Jesus is sounding one of the great themes of His Gospel on which Luke repeatedly focuses. Bible scholars call it the great reversal.

This theme can be heard in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke 1, when she says of what God is going to do in Jesus, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)

This, in fact, was a theme in the Old Testament as well. While pride may be applauded in our world, there is no place for it in God’s Kingdom! Proverbs 16:5 says: “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”

Jesus underscores heaven’s condemnation of pride when He says in Luke 14:11, our Bible verse from last month: “...all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Pride, exalting ourselves, is a violation of the first table of the ten commandments, because the proud, no matter how pious and godly they may think themselves to be, have another god besides the one true God of the cosmos: themselves.

Pride too, is a violation of the second table of the ten commandments, because the proud do not love others as they love themselves.

Pride then is a violation of God’s command that we love.

And, as James tells us, “...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)

This is uncomfortable, to say the least! Like the apostle Paul, honesty may cause us to confess, “...I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:17) Speaking personally, I want to avoid the sin of pride, but I seem to fall into it all the time!

If that personal confession goes for you too, we’re not alone. We’ll see that in our gospel lesson for this morning. It begins: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

Luke’s description of those straining to hear Jesus isn’t complimentary. They’re “tax collectors and sinners.”

Tax collectors in those days were extortionists. They held franchises to collect Roman taxes in a given area and were allowed to take some of the revenue for themselves as they did so. But the Romans didn’t mind how much money beyond the tax rates the tax collectors took. The tax collectors were then, by and large, unscrupulous fat cats.

As is true today, these particular unscrupulous fat cats tended to keep company with others as unscrupulous as themselves: prostitutes, pimps, and other thieves.

When Luke describes this crowd as “sinners,” he doesn’t mean ordinary sinners like you and me, people who, according to the Bible, are sinful from conception. These were unrepentant, brazen sinners who flouted any notion of right and wrong. Even Jesus, in other places in Luke’s gospel, described people like these as “tax collectors and sinners.”

Yet, as our Gospel lesson begins, these are the very people who want to hear Jesus. They want to hear His Word. In doing so, they keep God’s Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther reminds us that this commandment isn’t about a day of the week; it’s about our desire and willingness to hear God’s Word. “We should fear and love God,” Luther writes, “so that we do not despise His Word and the preaching of it, but acknowledge it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.”

Standing on the periphery as Jesus taught and interacted with these notorious sinners were Pharisees and scribes, teachers of God’s Law. They believed, as you know, that they could perfectly obey God’s Law and were sure that their obedience was the means by which they would be welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom. They didn’t need God’s forgiveness or grace; they were good people and God would have to let them into heaven. They were proud of their righteousness, even though you can’t be both proud and righteous.

Righteousness, acceptability to God, has always been God’s gift to sinful human beings! Righteousness isn’t a state that we can attain through our efforts or goodness!

Not even Abram, later to be called Abraham, the patriarch of Biblical faith was capable of a perfect obedience to God’s law that could make him righteous. Genesis says of him: “Abram believed the LORD, and [God] credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Today, God has come to us in Jesus Christ, God the Son, crucified and risen. We can only be made righteous and be saved from sin and the death sentence that our sin warrants, by God’s grace–His charity–through the faith in Jesus given to us by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

We believe in the Savior Jesus for whom God’s people had long looked and by that God-given faith, God credits Christ’s righteousness to us!

This is the very gracious Word and promise that the tax collectors and sinners craved as Jesus moved among them! It was good news and they knew it. Do we know that it’s good news for us as well?

Aware of the derision of the proud religious folks who thought Jesus couldn’t be of God if He shared the Gospel Word with sinners, Jesus told two parables for all, like us, prone to the sin of pride.

The first is about a shepherd who loses one of his one-hundred sheep. He leaves ninety-nine sheep “in the wilderness” in order to go find the lost one. While in Old Testament times, shepherds were valued by God’s people, by Jesus’ day, people like the Pharisees and teachers of the law viewed shepherds as low-lifes. They even had a list of dirty, contemptible professions, and shepherds were on it.

Yet, in Jesus’ parable, the shepherd is a stand-in for God Who so loves every single human being, that He sent His Son to seek and save everyone who would otherwise be eternally lost in sin and death.

Jesus sought and still seeks you and me in the very depths of our sin and death, bearing our sin in His sinless body and enduring death on the cross so that He could give His righteous perfection and life with God as we turn from sin and trust in Him.

When, in Jesus’ parable, the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he carries it back to the wilderness with other ninety-nine sheep, but to his home. He then invites his friends to a party.

Jesus says that, just so, there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns to Him than over ninety-nine proud people, like the Pharisees and scribes, who trust in themselves and don’t think they need to repent or trust in God.

Notice too, what the lost sheep has to do in order to be saved by the shepherd: nothing.

Repentance and faith in Jesus consist in just this: being found by Jesus, our good shepherd.

If we will not stand apart from Jesus, as the Pharisees and scribes did, His Word can find us and bring us saving faith!

Jesus tells a second parable about a woman who loses and then seeks to find one of her ten coins.

Like the lost sheep, the lost coin does nothing to find itself, any more than we can find ourselves or save ourselves or overcome our sins or avoid dying.

God comes to us in His Word and in the Sacraments, bringing us the salvation Jesus has earned through His death on the cross for us. When that Word finds us and when, by God’s grace, faith takes hold in us, we are saved from sin and death.

At that, God and all the angels in heaven rejoice. This partying happens every time we encounter God’s Word and the Spirit incites us to gladly hear, learn, and believe it. The righteousness of Jesus covers all our unrighteousness.

Jesus humbly offered Himself on the cross to overcome all our sins, even our pride. The God Who searches for us in God the Word, Jesus, brings us saving faith in Jesus and we who are born lost and needy are found.

Whether because of pride or some other sin that tempts us daily, you and I are prone to wander from the God Who searches for us in love. We get lost.

May we then each day lay aside our pride, asking God to crucify it and our whole sinful selves, knowing that without Jesus’ grace, forgiveness, and righteousness, we are lost.

So, let this be our prayer as we turn to God In Jesus’ name each day: “Lord, find me again today. Find me every day. Then carry me into the kingdom You have won for all who trust in You alone.” Amen