For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
June 22, 2009 (The Third Sunday after Trinity)
Two weeks ago we heard about the rich man and Lazarus, the one whose god was money, the other who trusted in the true God. One of the important themes of that Gospel lesson was the First Commandment, which teaches us that God is to be the priority in our lives, that we should fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. This Sunday looks at our relationship with God from the opposite direction. Instead of looking at how God as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments is supposed to be the priority in our lives, we look at what the priority is for God. We see from these two parables how to Him, nothing is more important than bringing His fallen creatures back to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation He wishes them to have.
Getting lost in sin is easy. In fact, it’s more than easy, it’s how you and I were born. And even after He brought us back and made us His own through Holy Baptism, throughout our lives we have been subjected to temptations to wander away from the true God, to allow the things of this world to deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Every one of us, including you and me and everyone else, has some area of their life where temptation has a stronger hold than in other areas. It doesn’t seem that bad at first, to do a little of this or a little of that. It’s actually kind of fun. But sin is addictive. And once it has led you down the road a certain distance, the addiction turns nasty and destructive. You begin to lose sight of the forgiveness and the power to resist that Christ gives you. The temptation begins to swallow up your whole life. Soon, before you even realize it, you have lost your way and you don’t know where to turn. You don’t even like what you’re doing or where you’re at any more, but you don’t know how to get out of it. You have wandered away from God and His grace and have found yourself in the middle of dangers and snares and accusations and condemnations. You find yourself at the point where you can’t even believe that God will be gracious to you, because of what looks to you like the extreme evil of what you have done. You are lost in the middle of a hard, cold, and cruel world, and as far as you can see at the time, there is no way back to the safety for which you yearn.
It is precisely to those who find themselves in this predicament that the Holy Christian Church has been sent. It is precisely those who find themselves in this hopeless state that are in a position to fully appreciate the riches of God’s grace in the total and free forgiveness of all of our sins. However, it is precisely those who are in such a hopeless state that are the most likely to be condemned and rejected by people who think that they are “religious” or “good Christian people.” The Pharisees to whom Jesus was responding it today’s Gospel are perhaps an extreme example of this, but it is something against which we all must guard. The fear that lost sheep have of approaching Christ or His representatives has a huge basis in reality. Too much of Christian preaching focuses upon condemning the evils of society or harping on the evil, nasty, wicked things that are happening out there in the world, and thus making those in here, in the Church, feel better about themselves by running others down. Too many Christians think that because they haven’t done any of these evil, nasty, wicked things that therefore they are a cut above the rest of humanity when it comes to sin. Too many times those who have come looking for God’s forgiveness and restoration and healing in their lives have found only condemnation and contempt from those who only see them as “those sinners” rather than strayed sheep whose Shepherd seeks them out earnestly.
But the fact of the matter is that there is no one who is righteous. We all like sheep have gone astray. We all have been led down the road of sin. We all have the roots of that sin in our hearts, inherited down through the generations from our first parents, Adam and Eve. It is only sinners who need Christ’s salvation. If you think you are completely righteous, if you think that sin is something that is only a problem for other people, if you think you are a perfectly good and healthy Christian with a perfectly good and healthy faith, then quite frankly what you are thinking is that you don’t need the Church. What you are saying, if you think these things about yourself, is that you don’t need Jesus Christ, and therefore you really shouldn’t even be here. This is a place where sinners find hope and strength to heal their broken relationship with God and with one another. It is not a place where so-called good people go to show that they are better than others. Of course, despite what we may think, there is no one in this world that really is that good and righteous in himself. All have sinned, and all need Christ to come and rescue them. But it is too easy to think, because the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh whispers it in our ear, that we are pretty good people who don’t really need Christ’s forgiveness. If any of you tend to think this way habitually, watch out lest you turn away the Christ who is trying to rescue you and bring you salvation and eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins.
But to those who are broken in heart because of your sin, this is not a place you should avoid until you feel better. That’s often the mistake we make, isn’t it? I’ve heard delinquent church members that I’ve visited in the past say things like these: “I’ll go to church when I’ve done a little better in terms of resisting sin than I have this week. I shouldn’t go to communion because I haven’t been here in a while and I want to be sure that I’m right with God first.” If you tend to think this way, I have news for you. This is precisely the place where you need to be, and Christ’s body and blood is precisely what you need. Only Christ can find you where you are at in your life and rescue you from the dangers that you have wandered into. Only Christ can heal you, give you the quiet waters and the rich pastures of His Word and His body and blood. Only Christ can give you strength to amend your sinful life. Only by having the relationship with our God restored and renewed through the Holy Spirit’s power in Absolution and the Holy Supper can we also have the courage and strength to fix the broken relationships that our sin has caused in this world as well. God is the one who fixes that, we don’t because we can’t. Improvement in our daily walk with God, improvement in our ability to resist temptation, is a result of the things we receive here, not a cause of our being made worthy for them. It is precisely those who are lost that Christ comes to and heals and feeds and cares for in His rich pasture. It is precisely those who are lost who receive the most tender loving care from our Lord. It is precisely those who have been lost who provoke the most joy in our Father’s heart when they are found. It is precisely through our becoming crushed and miserable that we become those in whom God’s love expressed in His Word of forgiveness becomes meaningful to us. Those who seem like lost sheep in this world, whom we are so often tempted to regard as “those sinners,” are the ones who are really in the best position to appreciate and receive in a beneficial way the Holy Gospel. It is these whom God has told us to seek out and to restore. After all, we have been among them at various points in our lives. He has restored us, and now through us He restores those around us. Christ is now throwing a great feast to welcome us, His lost sheep, back into His fold. Come and share in the joy and the love of Christ for us as He gives us a banquet of His body and blood. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +