Monday, September 12, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "For the Love of Losers"

+ 17th Sunday after Pentecost – September 11th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 19: Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-11, 12-17; Luke 15:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We don’t like losing. Oh, sure, we’ll be polite and say things like “It’s only a game”, “better luck next time,” or “at least you had fun”. But deep down we don’t like to lose: not a card game with friends, not a rivalry game with our favorite sports team, and especially not when we lose something a bit more important like a job opportunity or an important client.

And then there’s all those times we lose our car keys and search the house in frustration, or can’t find your phone, or worst of all, your child’s favorite toy or blanket is missing and pandemonium sets in until it’s found.

No. We don’t like to lose.

And the whole of Luke 15 - all three parables - is about lost things: one lost sheep, one lost coin, two lost sons.

These three parables are stories of grace through and through. Not a word of earning or merit, not even a breath about rewarding good behavior or self-improvement. Not even the slightest hint of being a Christian super-hero and or positive thinking. There is only the outrageous, gracious, saving determination of the shepherd and the woman and the father – all figures of God - who raises us from the dead, finds us in our lostness, and gives us victory though we were losers.

St. Paul says it this way in 1 Timothy: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

And this is precisely what upsets the Pharisees so much at the start of Luke 15.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees were the A-listers. The celebrity pastors of their day. Respected. Revered. Religious. And…they also didn’t like to lose. And they certainly didn’t like a guy running around claiming to be the Messiah who happened to make a regular habit of eating and drinking with losers, outcasts, sinners, and lawbreakers. They were healthy. They were the righteous ones. They were the winners. Or so they thought.

But we’re not all that different. The prophet Ezekiel was right about us. We muddy the clear water of God’s Word with all kinds of dirt – from our thoughts and feelings. We push with side and shoulder against one another till we get our way. We butt heads with our horns against the weak – no perhaps not physically but certainly in the way we treat one another, and definitely in how we think about others around us. Like the Pharisees, we don’t like losers, and we consider ourselves to be big-shot winners. Don’t think so? Seems like that’s all the more evidence that we are.

This is why when we confess our sin we aren’t admitting our mistakes and promising to be on our best behavior. Church isn’t a rehabilitation facility for sinners. It’s a hospital where Christ heals us in his body and blood and, a rescue center where the lost are found, the dead are brought to life.

Thankfully, we have a God who loves losing; and loves losers, sinners, and outcasts like us even to the point heading straightway to a losing, outcast, cursed death on the cross for you.
It may sound strange, and it may be the opposite how we think. But that’s how God works – opposite of what we expect, deserve, or think.

God specializes in rescuing the lost. In raising the dead. In snatching victory from the jaws of death. All for you.

Think about it in the context of the Luke 15 parables. The lost sheep would be considered dead. A lost coin is a dead asset. And a lost son is a deadbeat son who wanted his father dead. Lostness and deadness go together in these parables.

That means that the entire rescue operation for you – just it was in both stories for the sheep and the coin – is found in the determination and work of the shepherd and the woman to find the lost. Jesus seeks, finds, and rescues you.

What do we contribute to our rescue? Our lostness, deadness, and sin. Jesus does it all, accomplishes all, completes, fulfills, and makes it all happen for you.

And to make his point even clearer to the Pharisees and us, Jesus tells a 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.

Notice that the sheep didn’t do a blessed thing other than being lost. And more importantly, the shepherd does everything. Finds the sheep. Rescues the sheep. Carries the sheep home. And throws a party. So it is for us. All we do is lose, sin, find ourselves in need of rescue. And along comes Good Shepherd Jesus. He finds you in your lostness. Rescues you from sin. Carries you home. And throws you a party. The angels rejoice in heaven. And we rejoice with them.

But there’s something unexpected about this shepherd. If you’re looking at this parable as a how-to guide for running a successful sheep-ranching business, you’re missing the point. Think about it: 1 sheep out of 99. What’s so important about the one sheep? He has 99 others. Most fishermen would call that dead loss. Why leave the 99 in the open country where they could run off too? One lost sheep is no big deal. But it is to Good Shepherd Jesus. It’s personal. You matter.

 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Again, the saving, rescuing, and finding is personal to Jesus. One sheep. One coin.
1 coin out of 10? What’s so important about that one coin? It’s not like it was her last mite. She had 9 others. Even us who don’t like to lose would consider that an acceptable profit loss. But not Jesus.

You matter enough for him to come and rescue you himself. You matter enough that he refused to write you off as dead loss or a dead asset, but instead makes you the object of his seeking, saving, and life-giving love. God turned over every rug, looked under every pillow, sofa cushion, and turned over his grave stone to find you in your lostness. Your value is not in how you see yourself or even how other see you. Your value is not in whether you are a winner or a loser, but in Christ Crucified, in the cross where Jesus finds you. Seeks you out. Rescues you. Delivers you. And carries you home.

These are parables of 200 proof, radical, outrageous Good News for undeserving sinners like us. We might even call the Gospel here absurd. Not absurd in a silly, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory kind of way. But absurd as in the unexpected; the opposite of what we think.

It’s the happy ending of a story you didn’t see coming. It’s getting an A when we deserved an F. It’s the prodigal/lost son who gets the shoes, the signet ring, the family robe, the inheritance, and a party on top of it all.

It’s Jesus, the Shepherd, who lays down his life to rescue us lost sheep.

It’s Jesus who loses his life to find you.

It’s Jesus the rich one who becomes poor so that by his poverty you are made rich.

It’s the God who loves you with an all-consuming love that drove him to the cross to save you.

And so today the angels rejoice as we rejoice in losing – losing our sin, losing our life, losing our death – and being found by Jesus. We rejoice that the Pharisees were right about this: Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. We rejoice in the God who loves losers enough to become one for us.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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