Monday, September 20, 2010

The Radical Values of God's Kingdom

Sermon Preached for Pentecost 16, Proper 19C, on Sunday, September 12, 2010. 

    Every day we are faced with questions about what something is worth to us – do we go back to the restaurant to retrieve a cell phone, do we head back home to get a forgotten grocery list, do we dig through the trash to find the bill we discarded, do we pick up a penny or nickel on the side walk... What is it worth to you?
    Today we heard a shocking story of what Jesus values.  It seems like an affront to everything reasonable and expected.  Jesus tells a story of a shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to find one wanderer.... and a woman who turns her house upside down to find one lost coin only to spend it celebrating with family and friends that she found it... and of heaven that rejoices more over one renegade sinner who repents and a ton of righteous who think they are pretty good to begin with.  What on earth is going on here?
    These are the radical values of the kingdom of God; since we have been baptized into that kingdom and put in Christ in those living waters, they have become our values as well.  But these are values in conflict with the world around us and our own reason and wills.  Today is the call of the Spirit through the voice of the Word to acknowledge the radical values of grace that sought us out and made us God’s children and to embrace those same radical values as our own as we consider what God has called us to do.
    Jesus speaks of the joy that erupts in heaven over one lost sinner who repents from his ways.  Imagine the heavenly picture of angels and saints whose tears of joy overflow over the kingdom of God that comes to one sinner at a time.  God has placed the highest value upon you, the love of the Father fulfilled in the Son to seek you out and redeem you.
    God declares you of great worth to him – just one single, solitary lost soul who is found by the grace of God and born anew in the waters of baptism and washed clean...  One single sinner whom God declares righteous and just in Christ.  One soul lost and abandoned to sin now found by God, claimed for His family and given the gift of eternal life.
    Let us make this picture even more pointed.  The lost one is no lovable lamb but a renegade who has rebelled against the right, rejected the truth, willfully chosen the path of self and evil, and squandered every gift of God.  This is the one hard to love by every estimation.  Yet in the radical values of the kingdom, this very renegade sinner marked with death is loved by God – loved to eternal life.  This sinner whom the world has long since written off, God has continued to love and seek with grace and mercy.  He waits as the loving father of the prodigal for the return of that which was lost to Him.  This is the radical voice of the Gospel; these the radical values of the Kingdom of God.
    According to Jesus, this one lost one who is restored and reborn by the Spirit, is a greater cause for joy that those who appear to have it all together – the righteous who think they are good enough.  God is happier over the publican who acknowledges his sin more so than the righteous who are thankful they are not like those people.  Heaven’s joy erupts over the sinner who is sinner inside and out than the righteous who has only a thin veneer of holiness, masking a heart resentful of the generous grace of God that seeks and saves the undeserving.  Heaven has no joy over those who glory more in self than in the unmerited and saving work of Christ for them.
    We know what each individual sinner is worth to God – nothing less than the love of the Father and the saving death of His Son.  But what about us?  What about our congregation and our church body?  What are these lost worth to us?  Jesus has not come for the good and upright, but for those whom we have written off and rejected.  God insists that we lift high the cross is for those lost sinners so hard to love, that there is grace enough in Christ to recall, reclaim, and restore this renegade.  That the Spirit can and will bear the fruit of repentance and faith in the lives of these unlikely saint.
    We are here not only because we were the lost who were found by God’s grace in Christ.  We are here to spread the news of that saving grace to those still lost.  Could it be that we are too comfortable in our place as the redeemed of the Lord to care for those who are not yet among the company of God’s people?  Could it be that the joy of heaven over that one sinner who repents is lost on us, whose hearts have no room to rejoice in the good news of Jesus that reclaims and restores others?  If we acknowledge the radical values of the kingdom that sought us out, then do we not have a responsibility to embrace these radical values for us and our vocation of witness and service?
    Jesus is not ignorant of the 99 already in Church but the radical grace of God is not content to have some or even many.  The radical grace of Christ seeks every stranger, seeks every outlaw, seeks every rebel, seeks every outcast and delights in these renegades whom the Father loves.  These values are not merely academic points to ponder but the working values of a kingdom which will not be still until all the lost have been found and all those marked for death have been reborn into life in Christ.
    So look around these pews and see the empty spaces and think of those who used to sit there.  Do you see these folks as your responsibility?  Do you believe that seeking them out and calling them back is your responsibility?  Does your heart overflow with joy over every lost one restored or each stranger who hears the Gospel for the first time? We know what we and they are worth to God. What are they worth to us?
    This is not a guilt trip laid upon an unwilling heart but the privilege of grace that calls to you.  The radical values of the kingdom are yours because of Your baptism into Christ and the faith that lives in you.  This is not an appeal to the law to force you to do what you do not want but the call of the Gospel to those who values and priorities have been reborn in Christ.  For each of you were the one lost whom Christ has found, the fallen whom He restored, the sinner whom He has forgiven, and the dying whom He has given life!
    So I ask you again, What is it worth to you?  And I urge you to consider the grace of God that brought you here, planted faith in your heart, washed you in baptism, gave you ears to hear His Word, and fed you at this table.  Now I call you to learn with me the radical grace of God that rejoices over each lost restored, over each renegade reformed, over each sinner forgiven, over each heart reborn in faith.  For if heaven's cause for joy is over every lost sheep sought out and brought them home to the rich green pasture and still quiet waters of the Good Shepherd that are His Church and this place, should this not also be our joy, purpose, hope, and desire as well?  Amen!

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