Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Micah 7:18–20; Psalm 103:1–13; 1 Tim. 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32

Tax collectors and notorious sinners were all drawing near to Christ. Jesus didn’t turn them away and so the pharisees grumbled, saying “this man receives sinners and eats with them.” Those pharisees recalled the first psalm which said that the Messiah doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners. From Deuteronomy they knew the law, or thought they did: to stay away from every evil thing. They knew from proverbs to stay away from forbidden women – and to turn away from evil.

And so Jesus does something incomprehensible, well, reprehensible to those self-righteous pharisees. Jesus surrounds himself with these shady and troubled people. They draw near to him, they listen with receptive hearts…But the pharisees grumble: “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”     

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Pharisees didn’t understand it. The scribes and pharisees did not believe in the God who came into the world to save sinners. They believed in a god who blessed men because of the goodness and righteousness they had achieved for themselves. They believed that salvation from sin was earned. They therefore loved themselves and were puffed up in self-righteous thinking. They relied upon the law but in truth did not know the law because they had no room for mercy. And so they hated Christ.

Why? Because Christ taught that man was helpless and unable to save himself, well, like a lost sheep. And who wants to be told he’s lost? Who wants to be told they’re helpless – that they are easy prey, and incapable of their greatest need – to be saved? That requires humility, recognizing one’s sinful condition and sinful deeds, and acknowledging that by nature we are enemies of God. Without proper fear, and love and trust in him. It would actually require one to say something like, I, a poor miserable sinner. And not just to mouth those words but to mean it. Me, a lost sinner? Miserable?

But how about your love of money? How about your love of self and living for vain pleasure? How about the chaos of lust and wicked thoughts that you indulge in with barely a hint of embarrassment? How about pride – the strutting you do, with the undeserved blessings God has given you, whether it be earthly gifts, an untarnished reputation, or other blessings. These are gifts that you would glorify him, but you’ve made it a point of glorifying yourself.

Admit you have a tendency to be like those pharisees: You’re good at calling out those who don’t measure up! You shake your heads with disapproval at those who have fallen into public dishonor, scandal, or vice. You are quick to call them out – an expert really.

But like the Pharisees you make a big mistake in this. A damning mistake. With the rest of the world you go right along with it – and have the tendency to distinguish between great and small sinners. But according to God’s Word the opposite is true because God’s eyes see differently than the eyes of the world. God looks above all at the heart. The most serious sins a person can commit are the transgressions against the first three commandments.

So consider the anarchy of your heart – how far you’ve strayed – how far you’ve wandered from him. Consider how little you actually fear him.

Consider how weakly you love him. How pathetically you trust him. Or sure you give God lip service, but your hearts are far from him. You look good to the world, religious, spiritual, impeccable.

You have an advanced degree in posturing. An advanced degree in pharisee(ing) you might say. Of fooling everyone with the veneer of worldly respectability – which you’ve dedicated nearly every waking hour. But the hard truth is: it’s all worth nothing in the eyes of God. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of us: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”   

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way. But, the LORD has laid on him, on Jesus, the iniquity of us all.

That is why these three wonderful lessons are so wonderful. In the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, we see nothing but God’s gracious heart toward those whose hearts have strayed. Our Lord is consumed with passion to save a single lost soul.

Consider those tax collectors and sinners this morning, who were drawing near to hear Him. Jesus is tender and kind to those frightened by their sins. He loves to show mercy. He doesn’t push them away.

Consider Zacchaeus who wanted to catch a glimpse of that mercy and the Lord gladly announced “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Consider the woman caught in the sin of adultery who kissed the feet of Christ, who tenderly comforted her, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Consider the criminal, whose sinful life nailed him to the cross, who at the gates of eternity was filled with sorrow over his guilt, asking Christ to remember him in heaven. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We recall these accounts to counter a false view of Christ, which comes from the devil: which essentially says “hey God is merciful and loves to forgive. And hey, I love to sin. So I’ll just keep willfully sinning. I’ll harden my heart. I’ll eat pig slops all week, come to communion, and then I’ll run back to the pig slops again.

This is not the Gospel. The Lord has a frenzied passion to save you. And so he runs to you. And bring his salvation by the word of absolution. The law of God crushes you. The Gospel raises you up from the judgment of the law by proclaiming all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

In Catechism class I love asking the young Christians why - why the father in the parable of the prodigal son forgives that son of his. Don’t overthink it I warn them. Why does the father take that rebellious son back? 

“Because he loves him!” they say. The father in the parable of the prodigal son gives to his son because he is his son – simple as that! A son does not earn the love of his father; he is born into this love. So it is for all of you. You are baptized and born into the love of God which is unearned and undeserved.

And yet it remains that children sin. They spurn the love of their father. They abuse his love, they take it for granted. It remains true also for the baptized children of God. We spurn the love of our father in heaven. We are reckless, stupid, and rebellious. We trade in our birth right – and rather than feast in our father’s house – we opt for pig slops instead. Like sheep we have gone astray.

But be comforted. God’s love for the lost sinner is radical and absurd to human reason. Our Lord is consumed with a passion to save the single lost soul. He journeys into enemy territory among wild and evil men who would torture him and leave him for dead on a cross. But the Good Shepherd does not cut his losses and write us off. He knows the cost and how great it is. And he does it anyway.

He lays down his life for the sheep. He lets your sin hang around his bruised and bloody shoulders. He bears it all – the burden of his lost sheep. He pays the price and cries out in victory “It is finished.” And those shoulders are raised up gloriously in His resurrection. Shoulders, strong to save, and carry sheep like you to His Father in heaven.

The Pharisees accusation of Jesus is true. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  And God be praised for that. The Pharisees are right. God eats with sinners and we should be glad. Because that means us. And I know we’re Lutherans and that means we’re generally pretty stoic and serious in church but know that inside we’re grinning ear to ear, that Jesus receives sinners. You give him joy. And why should it be otherwise?  You are His after all. He is your shepherd and you are his sheep. Therefore, let him throw you proudly over his shoulders. It’s Father’s day. A good day if any for sons and daughters to come home. In the name of Jesus.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Lord of heaven and earth, consider our afflictions and troubles, and forgive all our sins. To You, we lift up our souls. In You, we trust; let us never be put to shame. Seek us when we stray, work in us repentance and, by the voice of Your Son, our Good Shepherd, bring us back into the fold. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord of the harvest, send forth workers into Your vineyard, and bless the pastors and teachers of Your Church. Preserve them from all error, false belief or other great shame and vice. Bless their preaching and teaching, that it would lead their hearers to confess, with St. Paul, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Defend Your Holy Church throughout the world. Bless those who serve overseas in the work of the ministry and the extension of your kingdom, especially Rev. Jacob Gaugert, the Wildauer family, the Askins, Cortrights, the Sovitzky family, Dierdre and Temish Christiansen and all those whom we name in our hearts. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bless all our families and, especially on this day, all called to the vocation of fatherhood, that they might faithfully provide and care for those entrusted to them in both body and soul. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Support and defend all those who are facing any trials or tribulations in their lives; those in any want or need; those who are burdened with animosity in the home, workplace or community; comfort our homebound members with the consolation of your promises and the gift of Christian friendship and company: Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Give strength and endurance in the midst of all difficulty and, if it be Your will, grant restoration and relief. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, You call all Your penitent children to the feast of Holy Communion. Grant that we who receive this most holy feast of Christ’s very body and blood today would be strengthened in our faith and encouraged to love one another as Christ has loved us. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy Father, receive our praise this day for all who have fallen asleep in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ. Keep us in that same faith and hope, that we would rise with them on the Last Day and enter the inheritance prepared for us before the foundation of the world was laid. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.