Summary: Christ welcomed "the wrong crowd." Is our church doing the same?
“THE CHURCH THAT WELCOMES SINNERS” Luke 15:1-10
Have you ever visited a church, and not felt welcome? A few years ago, I went to an area Reformation service. I had to drive an hour to get there, and I was running late. I almost couldn’t find the place, but I did, and I had to park pretty far away. I felt pretty awkward walking up to that church – I could hear that everyone was already singing. It was my first year of living in that area, and no one knew me.
I slowly opened the big wooden door of that church and quietly stepped into the entry way. That entry way was very small – about the size of two phone booths, put together. I did my best to act like I belonged there, but deep down, I felt awkward. The ushers were sitting on chairs in the worship area facing forward – they were so busy singing their hymns that they didn’t notice me. I looked around, but I could see that there was no place to sit. And there weren’t any hymnals either, so I just stood there, trying to look cool.
But I wanted to get out of there. I saw that there was a side entrance with a hallway, and maybe that would be a better place to stand. So I walked out of the church and over to that side entrance. I found a little hallway, about the size of one phone booth, between the outside door and the door leading into the worship area. I spread out my bulletin on the floor and sat on it, and listened to the service, resting my head and my arms on my knees. I decided that I would stay long enough to hear the sermon and then go home.
But right when the sermon started, an older woman got up – I’ll never forget this - and walked over to me. She looked down at me, sitting on the floor, and she whispered to me that it was too drafty. And so she shut the door on me, and I was left sitting out in the hallway where I couldn’t hear or see anything. I was shut out, so I went home.
Have you ever felt unwelcome at a church? When non-WELS visitors come to our churches for the first time, they probably feel more awkward than we really know. Are you welcoming them, or shutting them out? In Jesus’ day, a lot of people were being shut out of church. The Pharisees were the religious leaders, and they were in charge of the synagogues. That’s where they had their church services, where they read God’s Word and sung the psalms.
But certain people were not welcome there. Tax collectors – not welcome. Sinners – people with immoral lifestyles – not welcome. Only the good people, the upstanding members of society, the moral, pious, “normal” people – only they were welcomed at the synagogues.
But the Pharisees saw that Jesus treated the tax collectors and the sinners differently. In verses 1 and 2 we are told that the Pharisees were saying to themselves, “This man Jesus welcomes sinners and tax collectors, and he even eats with them.” “Why is he doing that?” they probably wondered.
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so he went on to tell them two short stories. The first is the parable of the lost sheep. There’s a hundred of them, and one of them gets lost. What does the shepherd do? He goes and searches for that lost sheep. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders, takes it home, and throws a big celebration.
The same things happens with a woman who loses a silver coin. She lights her lamp, sweeps out her whole house until she finds that one lost coin. And when she finds it, she gathers her friends and neighbors and celebrates.
Jesus’ main point with these stories is this – he is doing mission work. That’s why he’s welcoming tax collectors and sinners. They are lost sheep, lost coins. Jesus was welcoming them because he loved them. And if even just one of them would repent, then there would be great rejoicing among the angels in heaven.
Do you have the same approach to mission work as Jesus? Are you out there, with the sinners of our society today, talking with them, listening to them, looking for a way to share the Word of God with them? Are you someone who welcomes sinners?
Sometimes we’re like those Pharisees, aren’t we? We’re selective with who we would like to come into our church. If you’re a good person, if you have your act together, then come on in. But if you have problems, if you’re struggling with some different sins in your life, we would rather that you stay away. Only the good people who have their act together are welcome in this church. Not the sinners. WE all have sinful natures that make us think that way sometimes. Let’s do mission work, we say, but only to the normal, upstanding members of society. In reality, that’s not mission work. That’s just being a Pharisee.