Lectionary Series C; The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Proper 19
Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What causes you to rejoice? Do you rejoice when it is time to leave the office for the weekend? Do you rejoice when you are about to depart on vacation? Do you rejoice when a child or grandchild is born? Do you rejoice when you graduate from high school or college? Do you rejoice when the kids go back to school? Do you rejoice when you catch the big one or shoot the big buck? Do you rejoice when your team wins a long volley on the volleyball court? Do you rejoice when your team scores a touchdown? And on that note, do you rejoice when the Vikings beat the Packers?
We do all sorts of rejoicing in this life. But what about in the life of the church? What causes us to rejoice? Do we rejoice when a child is baptized into the kingdom of God? Do we rejoice when the Lord’s Supper is offered to us week after week? Do we rejoice when children receive their Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs with blessings? Do we rejoice when youth get up in front of us and boldly share their Confession of Faith essays? Do we rejoice when the Almighty God speaks to us in His Word? Do we rejoice when someone who has been away from the church for awhile returns? Do we rejoice when sinners repent and are forgiven?
Rejoice! As we think about what causes us to rejoice, do we find ourselves rejoicing more in the things of this world, or in the things that pertain to the kingdom of God?
Our text for today includes two parables. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. In each instance, there was rejoicing when what was once lost was found. The shepherd rejoiced when he found his lost sheep while carrying it upon his shoulders. He rejoiced with friends and neighbors as he brought back that sheep into the fold. The woman rejoiced when she found her lost coin. She rejoiced with friends and neighbors as she put that coin back where it belonged. But as each parable has its meaning, so do these. Each connect us to what we as the Church are invited to rejoice about: Rejoicing over sinners who repent.
You see, these parables were told in the hearing of a diverse group of people. Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners all gathered around Jesus as he told them these parables. But the Pharisees were not rejoicing. They were grumbling.
Grumbling reminds us of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. They grumbled when there was no food. Then they grumbled when the food was the same thing over and over. They grumbled when there was no water. They were a grumbling group.
We can relate to grumbling. We do it all the time. We grumble when the boss gives us a project we don’t want to do. We grumble when we don’t get our way. We grumble when the teacher gives us homework. We grumble when our mom makes something we don’t like for supper. We too, can be a grumbling group.
When it comes to the worship service, one thing we grumble about is time. In our American minds, we have so compartmentalized our lives that we think the Divine Service ought to never go over an hour. And because we think that way, we may be inclined to grumble. Because when there is a baptism, the Lord’s Supper every week, blessings for those receiving Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs, and youth delivering Confession of Faith Essays, there is a good chance that the service is going to go a bit longer than what we think it should be.
Grumbling steals from our opportunity to rejoice. The Pharisees missed out on a fantastic opportunity to rejoice. Instead of seeing, recognizing, and rejoicing that they were welcomed into the presence of Jesus, they chose instead to grumble about the other people who were welcomed into His presence. How could He welcome sinners and eat with them too?
To dine with someone in the first century meant more than just association, it meant welcome and recognition. A Pharisee would in no way associate with a tax collector or sinner, let alone welcome or recognize them. They would become unclean, and it might hurt their reputation.
Is there someone in your life that you are avoiding because things might get a little messy and difficult? Is there someone you are avoiding because to spend time with them might hurt your reputation? Do you find it easier to just grumble about them, rather than welcome them and recognize them as those for whom Christ died?
You see, when we choose to grumble, we miss out on all of the opportunities God places before us to rejoice. Jesus rejoiced in the opportunity to dine with sinners and tax collectors because they recognized that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They saw that they were nothing without Jesus.
I asked last week, “can we ever get enough Jesus?” For these tax collectors and sinners, they concluded that they could not. They couldn’t get enough of Him. The text says that they “drew near to hear Him.” “They drew near to hear Him.”
How are you drawing near to hear God’s Word, and is there a way you could get more of Him? Today starts another year of Sunday School and Bible Class. Have you considered joining those classes? If not, what is keeping you from attending? Is it a good reason, or is it because it just hasn’t been your practice in the past? What is keeping us from starting a new trend? And not just for ourselves, but for the children of our congregation as well. After all, they will mimic what we do, not necessarily what we say. And can any of us ever get enough Jesus?
That is some challenging stuff for us to consider. But when we look at a text like today, it challenges us. It challenges us to consider how we have become too comfortable with the ways in which we have always done things. The Pharisees had been acting as if they had no need of the Messiah, and it was instead those tax collectors and sinners who did. But it was really the other way around. The tax collectors and sinners saw their need and they saw their Savior. The Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.
And that became very clear not long down the road. By this time, Jesus face was set on Jerusalem. And breathing down his neck were these Pharisees and other religious authorities. Jesus was challenging everything they held dear, and their power among the people was being reduced. Enough was enough. He had to go. And go He did. All the way to the night He was betrayed where He was hauled away by men with clubs and swords into an unruly mob of a courtroom. All the way to Pilate’s praetorium where He was riddled with shouts calling for His own crucifixion. All the way through the streets of Jerusalem to a cross where they nailed Him. But all of this, He did with joy because it is what it took in order to save you.
You see, for all the times, we have thought we have had enough Jesus, He has never had enough of you. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep, and goes searching for you. Like the lost coin, He searches diligently until He finds you to bring you back. And then He, and all of heaven rejoices when you are found.
You see, there is not-a-one of us here that doesn’t need Jesus. Like the lamb that was carried upon the shoulders of the Shepherd, so has He carried you and your sins. He has carried them, and He has buried them. They are no more. And now He invites you to His table to rejoice with Him. Rejoice that He invites you to draw near to Him again and again.
But, I have news for you brothers and sisters. We live in a growing and changing community. There are countless people right here in our community who also need to draw near to hear the words of Jesus. But it is going to be a challenge for us. It is going to take us out of our comfort zone, and we are going to be tempted to grumble.
As I said last week, we are going to need to pay off our deficit and our debt. We need to add more volunteers to the fold. And that might cause us to grumble as we consider the sacrifice to our pocketbooks and our calendars, but consider for a moment what we are being invited to rejoice about.
We are being invited to rejoice about welcoming people into the kingdom of God. What an opportunity! I talk to pastors who are living in towns that are stagnant or shrinking. There is great discouragement, and no doubt it is hard for them not to grumble. Zion is not in that position. Mayer is growing, Zion is growing. These are good things for us to rejoice about.
But that means we need to be equipped. And that starts with drawing near to hear Jesus. It starts with God’s Word. From that gift of the Word and God’s forgiveness given to us in Jesus, we give from what He has given us.
Did you know that if we were to maintain our giving from last week, we would be ever so close to eliminating our deficit in the course of a year? And if we maintained it for two years, we would be close to paying off our debt. And if we continued it from there, we could actually discuss the options that are there for us in the future, ministry expansion, mission endeavors, building projects. Just something to think about.
Another thing to think about is ways that we can serve. We are about ready to welcome an Associate Pastor into our midst. No, we don’t know the timetable, but we want to be ready. Fiscally ready, and ready with willing volunteers. We have had youth leaders step up and Sunday School volunteers step up. But, our Board for Family Ministry has only two members on a board of six, and this position is both Associate Pastor and Director of Family Ministry. What if we filled that board? And our Vacation Bible School Action Team has served for several years, and they have asked for a break, a much needed break. But that means that a ministry that reaches out to over 100 kids nearly every summer with the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs an action team of 3-4 people to help get things ready for VBS 2020.
Now as you know from last week at Rally Sunday, there are countless other ways we can serve. And I invite, encourage, and implore you to take advantage of those opportunities. But in the midst of it all, I don’t want us to lose sight of what is of utmost importance. Sharing Hope and Teaching Christ. And for what we need to do that, we look at the One who is in the center of our text welcoming sinners and tax collectors. The One who invites us to rejoice in the salvation He gives us with His very own body and blood He gave on Calvary. It’s Jesus! And when it comes to rejoicing, it’s all about Jesus. And can we ever get enough Jesus? In His name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.