Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 19)
September 15, 2013
Text: Luke 15:1-10

            “Jesus sinners doth receive” (LSB 609:1).  This fact is maddening to Pharisees, but the greatest comfort to us who believe what we have just said of ourselves: that we are by nature sinful and unclean; that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone; that we justly deserve God’s present punishment now, in this earthly life, and His eternal punishment in hell.  Jesus receives even you and me.  And that’s grace.  That is God freely bestowing upon us His undeserved kindness and love on account of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is now risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity.  Jesus took our sin and death upon Himself.  He became a man, became flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, that He might do this very thing.  He takes it all upon Himself and bears it to Golgotha, where He suffers our condemnation and dies our death.  God’s justice must be satisfied.  If our God is to be a just God, He cannot simply sweep our sin under the rug and pretend it never happened.  He must punish sin.  Otherwise He hasn’t really done anything about it.  And so He does punish our sin.  On the cross.  God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That is grace.  And now our God, our Jesus, receives sinners, receives you, receives me, in His Kingdom, at His Table.  And the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven rejoice.
            The great scandal of all this is you didn’t do a thing to deserve it.  In fact, you did anything and everything possible to NOT deserve it.  That’s what you did.  And so all the doing that merits the forgiveness of sins and a seat at the Table is accomplished by Jesus alone.  For you.  He does it all.  “Well, there’s got to be more to it than that,” we object.  “Surely we have to do something.  At least we have to choose to be Jesus’ disciple, dedicate our lives and our hearts to Him, clean up our act, stop cussing, be better spouses and parents or children.”  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for cleaning up our language and our behavior, and I’m certainly all for family values.  But here’s the scandal: If you did all that… If you dedicated your life and heart to living for Jesus, if nothing but pristine pious language came from your mouth, you were the nicest and kindest person anyone had ever met, generous with time and money, a fantastic husband and father, wife and mother, son or daughter, the kind of person every one of us wants to be… If you did all that and brought it before the throne of God for His approval… you would be a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were great people when judged by human standards.  The problem is, they trusted in their own goodness, their own religiosity, their piety, to earn God’s favor.  And they were absolutely blind to their sin.  They were outwardly above reproach.  But on the inside they were filled with the same lust and hatred and selfishness as the rest of us poor schmucks.  Jesus described them as whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but inside full of the rot and stink of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27).  Jesus simply wasn’t impressed by their outward righteousness.  And that’s why they hated Him and sought to put Him to death.  I mean, here they had done all this work, meticulously keeping the Law of Moses and all sorts of man-made regulations devised to put a hedge around the Law so that there would be no possibility of transgressing it.  And Jesus tells them that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 Pharisees and Scribes who need no repentance (Luke 15:7, 10)… or so they think!  Jesus, contrary to every social and religious scruple, goes to the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the dregs of society.  He receives them, associates with them, touches them.  And He eats with them.  The dishonorable.  The dirty.  And this is really good news for us poor miserable sinners.  He receives us!  We’ve done nothing to deserve Jesus’ reception.  And that’s just the point.  You can’t deserve it.  You can do nothing to earn it.  You cannot acquire it by your own efforts. You can only have it bestowed upon you by God, in Christ, by grace.
            The sheep in Jesus’ parable could do nothing about being lost.  Even if the sheep resolved within himself to behave better and be dedicated to the Shepherd, he wouldn’t magically be transported back to the flock.  Actually, what happens when sheep become lost is that they are completely incapacitated with fear.  They can’t retrace their steps.  They can’t walk.  They can’t even stand.  That’s why when you see pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, He’s carrying the sheep, like the guy on the front of your bulletin who is carrying the sheep on his shoulders.  He has to.  The sheep has no ability to come back on his own.  Then there’s the coin.  What can the coin possibly do about finding itself?  All a lost coin can do is lie there in the dust and filth of the house until it is found.  That’s you, beloved.  You’re the incapacitated sheep, the coin laying in the filth, unable to do anything about it.  But the good news is, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep until He finds it.  He comes after you.  He seeks you out, comes to you right where you are, picks you up, and carries you home to His sheepfold.  Jesus is the Bridegroom who sends His Bride, the Church, the woman of the parable, to shine the light of the Holy Gospel throughout the filthy house, to sweep away the dirt and the grime and find you.  “I once was lost, but now am found,” as the old hymn goes.  Notice that the lost one is purely passive.  Who takes all the initiative?  Jesus does.  He finds you where you are and He brings you home. 
            That’s the definition of repentance, by the way.  To be brought back.  Jesus gets all the credit for your repentance, too.  He repents you, so to speak.  You don’t come back on your own initiative any more than the sheep comes back to the Shepherd or the coin comes back to the woman.  He comes and gets you.  He brings you.  Grace.  And then He throws a Feast for you.  Now, imagine this: Dumb old sheep wanders away.  It’s his own stupid fault.  The Shepherd has to trudge through the hills and ravines to find the sheep and then carry the smelly animal back to the flock.  And what does He do when He gets back?  He throws a party in the sheep’s honor!  I mean, it’s absurd.  That’s what Jesus does for you.  This is the party.  This is the Table He has set (the altar).  For you.  Because there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who think they need no repentance.  Indeed, heaven joins us, quite literally, here at this Table, at this Meal, with this Host who here gives us His true Body and Blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. 
            The saying is trustworthy,” writes St. Paul, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15; ESV).  Paul, the Pharisee, who stood by giving his approval while Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58, 8:1), who persecuted the Church of God, arresting Christians and bringing them bound to Jerusalem, upon this man God bestowed His grace in Christ Jesus.  He forgave Paul all His sins, called Him to be baptized, to be a Christian, and in fact to be the great Apostle to the Gentiles.  The Chief of sinners is forgiven all his sins.  He is declared a saint with the righteousness and holiness of Another, of Christ Himself.  Jesus sinners doth receive.  And so you.  Chief of sinners though you be, Jesus shed His blood for you.  Jesus receives you here today at His Table.  Not because you deserve it.  Not because He finds something in you that is worthy of such a gift.  But because He is gracious and merciful.  Because He loves you.  Because He’s given Himself into death for you.  In His death all your sins are forgiven.  And in your Baptism into His death and resurrection, you are made a member of God’s family.  You belong at the family Table.  There is always a place for you here where Jesus receives you, pierced hands outstretched. “Here is hope for all who grieve: Jesus sinners doth receive.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    


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