Sermon - 9/15/19
2019.09.15 22:21:19

Proper 19/C [Pent. 14] (2019): Ezek. 34:11-24; 1 Tim. 1:5-17; Luke 15:1-10.


Near,             Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (vv. 1, 2).


One can almost empathize with the Pharisees and scribes, learned in the law of Moses. By his speech, Jesus invited outsiders into a fellowship of ongoing feeding, an intimacy that would turn the world of Israel’s religious leaders “upside-down”.


It must have seemed to these religious men that Jesus was endorsing lawlessness, and eschewing human “righteousness”. For the Pharisees (meaning “Righteous Ones”) and Torah scribal scholars, Jesus’ associations were “crazy” and threatening their centuries old vocation as shepherds of God’s people. For those without ears to hear, Jesus’ invitation must have seemed, that he endorsed evil as good, and good as evil.


Jesus, following the ministry of JB, taught a baptism of repentance, turning from sin; yet repentance as taught by JB and Jesus was altogether different than the “repentance” understood by the Mosaic teachers.


Now this Sermon is not intended as an historical recount of comparative doctrines; rather it calls you to see that in turning from sin one must turn toward Someone, and that someone is Jesus, God’s sole shepherd, a posture that the Israelite teachers had arrogated to themselves.


St. Paul observed of the Ephesus congregations the very confusion that Jesus addresses today; and for this reason, he wrote to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul then identified the danger to these congregations, even as we may discern it today, “Certain persons by swerving from these [aims] have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding…” (1 Tim. 1:5-7a).  


The problem confronting Jesus, St. Paul, and every “Christian” congregation revolves around a proper understanding of faith, specifically repentant faith; the question, is repentant love begotten of God’s law or of his gospel activity on the cross?


The Israelite teachers, thinking that Abraham’s faith was located in obedience to God’s commands were baffled by the proclamations of JB and Jesus. They observed and grumbled that public sinners, tax collectors, and those they considered “afflicted by God”: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, whom they excluded from their own communion, were invited and drawing near to Jesus by the message of unmerited grace and participation at his table and teaching.


But Jesus was teaching nothing other than what he already taught the Pharisee’s at their own Sabbath table; “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk, 14:12-14). The repentance that Jesus endorsed was one having orientation in God’s love of sinners.


For the teachers of Moses’ law, ancient or modern, Jew or some “Christians”, Jesus’ drawing of sinners to himself was exactly the wrong way of salvation; in short, a congregation of confessed sinners were perceived as “deplorables” and “irredeemable”, an abomination.  


Pharisees and scribes, were purveyors of God’s perfect morality in the congregation, holding themselves out, exemplars of “righteous” behavior; following their lead would labor induce and usher-in God’s Kingdom among men.


But to the Pharisees’ and scribes’ astonishment, JB’s witness to Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had already arrived, wholly apart from their own “righteousness”; “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).


The Mosaic teachers roundly rejected John’s preaching and his baptism pointing to Jesus; on the other hand many, sinners who admited their condition and inability to obey the law, believed JB’s word, shifting focus on to Jesus, God’s Lamb in whom all men who confess their sin find atonement, forgiveness, God’s gracious love, a good conscience, and sincere faith.


JB’s proclamation of Jesus as the locus of God’s favor toward men was an earth-shattering “upside-down” revelation to the teachers of the law; that the Kingdom was a gracious, utter self-giving of God without man’s inducement, it in any way.


JB’s proclamation of Jesus answered two outstanding questions: 1) Isaac of his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7, 8); and, 2) our own question, “from whence comes repentance?” St. John the evangelist replies to both, “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love, [by what God desires most, repentant faith], because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10, 19).


This morning Jesus illustrates our source of repentant faith by three parables: 1) the lost and found sheep, 2) the lost and found coin, and 3) the lost and found prodigal son. God sent Jesus to his sheep, his new David and Good Shepherd replacing those “desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding… [and] that Jesus came into the world [precisely] to save [not the “righteous”, but] sinners…” (1 Tim. 1:7, 15b).


The thing about sheep is that any one is pretty much like another; certainly, in the sense that all are sinners gone astray. But God by his love of sinners takes exquisite concern and particular care of us; “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezek. 34:11).


God’s concern for each of his sheep is obsessive; he constantly counts, seeks, and sorts his flock. When one goes missing, he goes out to save, restore, carry, herd, bed-it down, bind up its wounds, nourishes, and strengthens it in the power of his word and Sacrament. His love for his wandering sheep knows no bounds, to the extent of sending his only Son the crucified Lamb of our propitiation at the cross, the place to which our following leads.


Is it any wonder that repentant sinners flocked to Jesus for a new begetting, not of legal demands, but of faith in an imparted knowledge that “Jesus sinners doth receive”. The author to the Hebrews urges us to “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” in whom all of heaven rejoices for his joy in the cross set before him (12:2).


Finally, Jesus employs a feminine figure for his church illustrating ongoing repentance in her house. The woman lost, perhaps a part of her dowry who is Christ, one of ten valuable coins. The congregations of Ephesus were muddied by “persons… without understanding” of law and gospel (1 Tim. 1:6, 7). To counter what would amount as loss of Jesus from false doctrine, St. Paul left Timothy as spiritual overseer in word.


By the light of the woman’s lamp, the sweep of God’s word rightly proclaimed toward Jesus only, the woman locates a hidden coin. In the fullness of law and gospel properly distinguished, the church has her joy in the fullness of Christ, her dowry, trusting that both in proper purpose will be applied in her house. Amen.





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