Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Who would do that?

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19C, preached on Sunday, September 11, 2022.

We live in a world where you write off your losses and get on with it.  We think it only smart.  If your old car breaks down, you get rid of it.  Better to face the small loss than keeping pouring money into a broken down vehicle.  There was a movie called The Money Pit in which the same thing was said of a house that was one expensive fix after another.  There is a certain amount of wisdom in knowing when to give up, when to write off your loss, and when to pursue another path.  That is the context of Luke 15.  A lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son are all seen, in the wisdom of the world, as lost causes.  Give it up and get on with it.  But not God.

These are parables of unfathomable mercy.  Jesus tells them because He is accused of being foolish, of eating and drinking with sinners who, in the minds of the religious authorities, are not worth it.  Jesus does not argue with them.  He does not explain Himself or God’s mercy.  He simply confronts us with the lavish and generous love of the Father and says “there it is.”  

Some have tried to turn these parables into morality plays.  The Church needs to be where the homeless, lost, and forsaken are – to leave behind the people in the pews in order to find those scarred by broken lives, broken hope, and broken identities.  It sounds good and it is certainly a great mission – sort of like a peace corps for God.  Go where good people won’t and confront those you find with the Gospel.  While only a fool would suggest that the poor and needy and forgotten of this world do not need to hear the good news of Jesus, that is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is saying that the very folks who complain about the wasted time and effort on the lost sinners and unrighteous people are the lost sheep and lost coins whom God is not willing to write off, to walk away from, and to ignore.  This goes back to the earliest preachers in Christian history.  According to them, the ninety-nine sheep left behind and the nine coins still in the purse are not good people on earth but the heavenly host whom Jesus left to tabernacle with us sinners.  

In other words, God could have merely written off the world He created and consoled Himself with the legions of angels and heavenly beings who were always His.  He could have cut His losses and contented Himself with the heavenly host and said “enough already.”  But He did not.  Who does that?  Who risks everything for nothing?  There is only one.  God.

The great good news of this story is that God did not write YOU off.  You are the dogs who dare not get what belongs to the children, the one lost sheep who probably had a history of wandering off anyway, the lost coin that was not worth the cost of finding it, and the lost prodigal who cashed in God’s goodness and squandered it all.  Write them off.  Write them all off.  But God says “No.”

He is not content only with angels and heavenly beings.  He insists upon pursuing those who were lower than angels – the flesh and blood.  And for you and your salvation this merciful God willing to be made like us in every way except sin in order to rescue those unworthy of His extravagant and lavish mercy.  

You and every other sinner on earth are the lost sheep and lost coin and prodigals who deserve nothing but for whom God is willing to give all to save.  Why on earth would this not be the best news of all?  God knew you were unworthy of His love and He loved you still.  He knew you deserved nothing of the high cost He must pay to bring you back home but He paid that cost willingly.  He knew you to have wasted His resources and squandered His love but instead of cutting you off, He continues to give to you – mercy without end and grace without limit.

Jesus leaves heaven to search for and restore the lost – to restore you that you might belong to the Father, know the joy of your place within His family the Church, be regularly absolved of your sins, be fed and nourished at His table, and, at the end of days, be raised up glorious and holy and righteous to live as His own under Him in His kingdom forever.  If we have something for the least and lost of this world, it begins with this mercy.

Strangely, we tend to be jealous of angels.  We dream foolishly of growing wings and becoming angels when we die.  The reality is that the angels are envious of YOU.  For what angel did God leave heaven to rescue and restore?  None.  Jesus has not come for the good but to save the lost, condemned, and unworthy sinners that you see every time you look in to the mirror.  He has not come to pat anyone on the back or laud our good intentions that fall short of righteousness.  He has come for the complete failures who have only their sins to offer.  

On the cross, He bids us come. Come and lay down every sin where the only good and righteous man suffered and died.  Come and look into the face of mercy in the Savior who turns the cross into an altar and sacrifices Himself to set us free. The angels and heavenly beings are in awe of such love so how can you be complacent about it?  They rejoice every time the lost are found, the sinner welcomed home, the prodigal restored, the broken healed, and the dead raised.  There is the sound of joy in the heavenly places over you.  He who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame, has given everything that you might be His own – now in this mortal life and in eternity.  Can you honestly look into the face of such wondrous love and not be moved to joy, to tears of appreciation and thanksgiving?  The angels rejoice in heaven.  Will you rejoice on earth – you whom Christ has found, cleansed, raised up, and given eternal life?

The parables of a lost sheep and a lost coin bring home the wondrous love of God with which YOU are loved.  It is contrary to every earthly wisdom and logic.  Nobody wastes their most precious resources on something lost that does not want to be found.  No one but God.  The God of all eternity planned and moved until in the fullness of time He gave up everything for you.  You are the lost sheep and the lost coin.  Where God could have contented Himself with the angels and heavenly beings at His side, He willingly left them all for you.  The joy that comes from other things is fleeting but the joy that flows from mercy is eternal.

On this momentous anniversary of the event that shaped our world for evil, 9-11, we ought to know how fragile everything is but the mercy of God.  That is eternal.  God has not written you off.  He has not abandoned you.  His extravagant mercy has willingly suffered all things that you might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom forever.  The lost are not your job to save.  Jesus has already saved them.  What is your calling is to shine with His light and show forth the joy of His salvation and God’s saving will shall be done.   In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

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