The Third Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Luke 15:1-10 – July 2, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today there are pointing fingers and grumbling hearts gathered all around the table.
Judgment and pride, arrogance and self-righteousness are out in the open for everyone to see.
All of those sins that we so detest in our modern society, come bubbling now to the surface as sinners take their place at the table of Christ, and as the Pharisees take note and look on.
However, what is most striking and profound in this entire Gospel lesson, is how true and fitting and accurate the Pharisees’ grumbling actually is.
For they say, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
To which, the Church of Christ should humbly respond, “Amen. Truly, truly, it is as you have said.”
The Gospel of our Lord is found precisely in His reception of sinners, of the unrighteous, of the unprepared, the
dysfunctional and even the dead.
His answer to these is not to brow beat them or send them off with ways to forgive themselves, but instead to receive them, forgive them, and bring them to life, all because He feeds and eats with them.
What the Pharisees intended as mockery and scorn, as the fool-proof knockout punch to the legitimacy of Christ’s mission and atonement, is absurdly enough, the proof of it.
And dear friends in Christ, just as it was then, with mockery and scorn, so it is now.
The judgment of the Pharisees is not unique to them, it lives on in every heart that beats with the blood of Adam.
For just as that First Adam was unable to see beyond his wife’s sin in the garden, so the sons and daughters of this Adam suffer the same brokenness.
As it was then, so it is now.
You don’t have to go searching for mockery and scorn directed at the Church of Christ. It will find you. It’s common, in fact, it might even be considered in style at the present moment.
And the attacks and grumbling that you encounter today, are actually very much the same as the Pharisees grumbling at those gathering around Jesus.
That is, these attacks are usually concerned with the morality of the church, with how good she is, with how successful and upright and her people actually are.
Sometimes these are expressed as passing jokes, and other times as serious analytical critiques on whether there’s any value, any benefit at all in being found in the community of Christ’s Church.
When the atheist points out that your family is actually more dysfunctional than theirs, it is usually never just a simple observation, it mocks and ridicules, it implies that being around Jesus actually makes you worse, that nothing you believe changes anything in your life, that spending an hour on Sunday is a waste of time, after all you’re no different than the rest of the world, in fact, you might very well be worse than them.
You might be a sinner. A lazy husband, an addiction-entangled father, you might be a grumpy worker, an uncharitable citizen, a so-called fake Christian.
And if you’ve experienced these comments, then perhaps you’ve felt some of the despair that they cause.
Perhaps you’ve wondered what’s the point?
What’s the point of the church if she’s no better, and possibly worse, than the culture around her?
What’s the point of a sermon if it doesn’t promise me a five-step plan to being a more patient person?
What’s the point of being Christian if nothing in my life seems to change?
That kind of despair is troubling, and it is dangerous, not simply because it hurts you, but because it has a way of teaching you a different gospel to believe.
It teaches you the false belief that Christ comes not to forgive your sins, but make you better than your neighbor. Not to give you His life, but teach you only how to live yours.
It depends on the church, that collective company of forgiven sinners, to always look better, to suffer less, and to respond more graciously than the world.
And that is a belief that will quickly be destroyed. The church and her Christians may try to hide it, to cover it up and make sure no one notices, but it will never be true.
If this is believed as the Gospel, then we have neither Christ, nor the Gospel at all.
Jesus receives sinners, and eats with them.
This is what the Church knows, and not only does she know it about herself, but it is how she responds to the disgruntled and grumbling neighbor.
She suffers the humility and scorn of the Pharisees, all so that she might reply with the words, “Amen, it is as you say, but that’s not all”, this Jesus receives sinners, He eats with them. He gives them life that they do not have, He fulfills the Law which they could not do. He grants real healing to real sickness, real forgiveness to real sinners.
We were lost, but He has found us. We were dead, and He has made us alive.
This is the true voice of the Church, the voice of sinners, and the voice of the forgiven.
Yet even as the Church takes this voice into the home and into the world, we who would be Christians ought to tread very carefully here.
As sinners proclaiming and bearing the Gospel, we would be wise to take note of all the dangers along the way.
The flesh is weak and is full of pride.
This is true not just of Pharisees, but of sinners who recognize even that they sin.
Indeed there are pointing fingers all around the table today, and they belong not just to comfortable atheists and pompous Pharisees, but to you as well.
The absurdity of our sin, and the brokenness of our condition is perhaps revealed best in what we are able to mysteriously take pride in.
Truly we are a strange people. Whether we climb the mountain of human accomplishment, or fall flat on our face in moral failure, we are still, strangely enough, capable of taking pride in these things.
Whether its boasting of our achievements or proclaiming the unique wisdom that we acquired from being such sinful people, in all things, we are captives of pride.
We brag about our humility, we boast of our charitable accomplishments, and especially today, we fail to see the painful irony of looking down on those that we would deem judgmental.
There is a dangerous thought that lingers in our hearts, and is found even today preached in Christian pulpits. It teaches that the Gospel is sweeter, more profound, more meaningful, based on how wicked our particular sins are.
It teaches in the end, a perverse sense of pride, that we who have fallen so far from the Lord, understand the Gospel in a more meaningful way, indeed far better than our brother in Christ who tries to be faithful.
It proclaims that to truly understand the light of God’s truth, one needs to live in the depths of the darkness.
This kind of teaching is not only a hijacking of the Gospel, so as to turn our eyes from Christ and fix them upon themselves again, it is not only wrong, it doesn’t make any sense.
It would mean that Christ Himself is incapable of understanding the meaning of His own Gospel.
That the angels in heaven, as pure and sinless as they are, are found in the dark and without understanding as to why they rejoice over one sinner who repents, one son who is brought back into the family.
As sinners received by this Jesus, there is an unending list of ways in which we might get distracted and lose sight of the Shepherd who sought us out, found us, picked up our sin, and carried us back into the family.
We might buckle under the despair and grumbling of the Pharisees, we might be tempted to turn the church into a moralistic country club for ‘perfect’ people. We might despair in their grumbling and believe that we are too far gone for the Shepherd to find us, too far lost for the light to reach us.
And we might even begin to revel and delight in our sinfulness, we might tell ourselves that sin and temptation are the greatest teachers. That our wickedness makes us better Christians, better receivers of this Jesus.
There is much that would distract us, and there is much that might rob us of the joy of the angels.
The only answer to our constant pride and judgment is first to hear the judgment of God. The Law must be preached without winking.
It makes no exceptions. It is not directed simply at your neighbor, or at ‘those’ people, and neither does it come to you so that you would be proud of how far you’ve fallen. It does not come to make you cry and feel better because of your sorrow.
In truth, the Law comes that you might despair.
But this despair that the Law brings with it, is godly, it is a good and even life-revealing despair.
For it is the despair of ourselves, it is the exhaustion of all that we might cling to in ourselves for help and comfort. It kills the pride found in our works, it burns up the boasting that we might be tempted to have in our wickedness. Indeed, it exhausts all of our options. For the Law, is good, and it is perfect in its work.
Like Adam, we do not much enjoy looking in the mirror, we might like the vanity, but not the reflection.
We need the lamp to be lit by someone else, we need the rescuer to be sent looking for us.
We need the Lord to teach us these parables, that they are not about us, but in fact His own mercy for us. That He loves us and seeks us and finds us and brings us home.
Repentance is difficult, sometimes it hurts; certainly it kills our pride. But the angels rejoice. For they see the truth of the matter, that even when you feel like coward and fool, repenting for the umpteenth time for that sin that you keep on doing, that thought that you keep having, the angels see the truth.
That the Lord has sent His son looking for you, that the Holy Spirit has worked the Law in your heart, and brought you faith in the Gospel, that the Lord bears you home, even in those frail and mumbled words of confession, in this the angels rejoice, for in this, our eyes are fixed not to ourselves, not to our pride, but the true judgment of God, the Shepherd who has joyfully taken up our burden, crucified and buried it, and now welcomes us home.
It is no small thing that when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we come to a table, and a rather strange table at that.
Here, unlike perhaps any other table, we do not look at each other, because that’s not the point.
We have something far greater to fix our eyes to.
And it is not the pastor.
It is Jesus who receives sinners, Jesus who welcomes us to His table, Jesus who eats of the same judgment, drinks in the same peace, and now delivers to us that same truth in His own body and blood.
This is why pastors don’t primarily look at you during Communion. It’s not because we’re ashamed of one another, and it’s not even because we’re afraid of dropping or spilling the body and blood.
It’s because the eyes of faith are fixed first and foremost to the Lord who receives and eats with us.
In order to truly sit down at a table with no pointing fingers and no grumbling hearts, the Church must leave its own eyes behind. It is given to taste and see, to see through the body of Christ, the neighbor forgiven, to see through the blood of Christ, the family restored.
Indeed, to see the kingdom as it truly is.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.