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