Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept. 15, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-10
Sermon Theme: “Lost and Found”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; personal examples and original ideas; Brokhof, Series C, Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of you have been lost at one time or other in your life, I’m sure. It’s a terrible feeling! Growing up with a perceptual problem that is probably a mild form of dyslexia, I have always had trouble with directions and not knowing whether I should turn right or left. When I was seven years old, I got so lost I thought I’d never see another human being ever again.
My parents, my aunts and uncles, and my brother and I were fishing in the deep woods in Dime Box. We were fishing in groups at several locations on this endless creek, and I left my parents’ group to go join one of my uncle’s group. Rather than follow the winding creek, I took a short cut to save time. Well, it was the long cut, because I soon found myself in a strange part of the woods, far from any branch of the creek. No one answered when I hollered for help, because I was too far away for my voice to carry. Keep in mind there were no cell phones in those days.
I became terrified and started running through the underbrush. I ran and ran until I was even farther from the creek. Suddenly, I saw a fence, and I followed that fence literally for miles, and it led me to the Highway to Caldwell and Bryan. I crawled under the fence and got on the shoulder of the highway. “Is Dime Box to the left or to the right?” I asked myself. I turned right and headed on foot toward Caldwell, thinking I was heading home. Just before I reached the County Line, Mr. Kyle, the Mailman picked me up. He said nothing but drove me straight to my home, where huge numbers of people were gathered.
It seems that the entire population of Dime Box, 350 men, women and children in those days, had been out searching for me. I couldn’t imagine why the entire town was looking for me; why would they care? I was lost, but now I was found. What a great feeling to be found by an entire community!
Well, it’s obvious that’s today’s sermon theme is “lost and found,” though the real message is a different kind of “lost” and a different kind of “found,” a very appropriate theme for our Rally Day service.
You know, church is a hospital for sinners, and our Sunday School and Bible classes are the learning gallery where we prepare the lost and broken people of this world to understand healing and redemption. Too many churches are not concerned about the broken people of the world or the folks who have drifted away until it’s time to pay the church bills. If that’s your reason for bringing them in or bringing them back, don’t even go there.
Every lost person is a terrible loss to God, Jesus says. And everyone who turns again to be re-instated to the Body of Christ is a source of rejoicing in heaven! Jesus says in our sermon text, “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Rally Day offers us the opportunity to say that God misses you, too, when you are not in Sunday School or Bible class. And we rejoice when you return or when you come for the first time.
In our sermon text, the Pharisees and Scribes are grumbling about Jesus, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Where were they coming from to say that?
First, the Greeks had conquered Judea, trying to Hellenize them, and then the Romans had conquered Judea, trying to Romanize them. The Greeks and Romans were pagans, and the Pharisees wanted to protect their traditions and their religion from outsiders. The Pharisees believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and it was their duty to keep the trash out. They saw themselves as Bastions of protection, and Jesus was going after all of the riff-raff.
Then Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus says the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one that is lost. He searches until he finds it. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Jesus explains to them that He is talking about a person who has strayed from Godliness.
Many people think of repentance as the condition for forgiveness, thinking that God will forgive only when we repent. But, if repentance were a condition for God’s favor, Jesus would not have had dinner and fellowship together with sinners. You see, we are forgiven before we repent, and we repent because we have been forgiven.
We are forgiven not because we pay God the price of repentance, but God loves us whether or not we repent. Those who have faith, that is those who know and accept God’s love, respond with repentance. It is God’s loving kindness, His grace, that causes us to repent. No repentance is a sign of no faith.
To the Pharisees, Jesus was going way outside of the box in His thinking, and this was dangerous. The Pharisees were the self-appointed preservers of the “pure” religion, and Jesus was messing things up. If you let in the riff-raff that He associated with, they might defile the Temple!
There was one mayor of a large American city who did so much for ghetto kids, — he built a park in their neighborhood, gave them playgrounds, etc.; and yet one night, some of those ghetto kids spray-painted graffiti all over the mayor’s house. Yes, there are those who will bite the hand that feeds them.
Henri Nouwen tells about an old man who prayed by the river every day. One morning he saw a scorpion floating on the water. When the scorpion drifted near the old man, he reached to rescue it, but was stung by the scorpion. A bit later he tried again and was stung again, the bite swelling his hand greatly and giving him much pain.
A man passing by saw what was happening and yelled at the elderly one, “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”
The old man calmly replied, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”
Please note that not once, but twice in our text, Jesus tells us of the joy in heaven when a sinner repents. We can see the smile on the Father’s face. The choirs of angels are singing. The archangel’s trumpets are blaring! In heaven, it’s a big deal!
But, how much joy is indicated when sinners repent in most churches? In our church? Is there are party spirit of great joy when someone is baptized in our church? Do members treat Confirmation Day as a day of great celebration in the church, — or is it just an attitude of the same ole, same ole? When a new member is accepted by Affirmation of Faith, is there rejoicing in the fellowship hall afterwards?
In some churches, there isn’t. But there should be! Our congregation should be echoing what is going on in heaven. “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We should also rejoice over each child who comes to Sunday School and each adult who comes to Bible Class.
If we’re not happy at Baptisms, Confirmations, Affirmations of Faith, Confessions, and Absolutions, then perhaps we need to understand why God is so happy, and that might change our demeanor.
God rejoices because His will is fulfilled. God wants everyone to return to Him, for He loves each and every person. Repentance not only means faith but it also means a wayward child has come back to God. This makes God happy, for His will is done. God’s portion is His people.
God is happy for the sinner’s sake. Prior to repentance, the sinner was going down the road leading to death. Now he has avoided destruction and is coming to life, love, and light. This is God’s wish for every person, because He loves each one of us dearly. We are His sheep and He wants to be our Shepherd, He wants us back in the fold.
There are seasons in our lives of great stress, — times of deep mourning, times of agonizingly difficult decisions, times of excruciating pain, times of emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness, times of terrifying fears; and, often, at these very times, we stray, we drift away, almost like a sleep-walker, from the Good Shepherd. And yet these are seasons in our lives when we desire nothing more than for someone to find us, to talk with us, to lift us up, to share our heart’s pain. Then He comes, searching for us, finding us, and lifting us up onto His shoulders while the choirs of heaven rejoice! It doesn’t get any better than that! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.