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Summary: Our Heavenly Father welcomes us regardless of our failures. We can never stray so far that he will not run to us with open arms when we return. And He is honored by our faithfulness.

“The Least of These” Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Year C Lent 4) ESV

Introduction

Last year a former homeless man was buried at the prestigious St. John’s Episcopal Church, across from the White House. St. John’s is called the “church of presidents” since nearly every U.S. leader since James Madison has worshiped there. In an unusual memorial, former members of Congress and prominent professionals attended the burial of William Wallace Brown, Jr. Someone had swindled Brown out of his house 15 years ago, and he had lived on the streets ever since. One Sunday morning he spotted, then president, George H. W. Bush entering the church and asked the former president to pray for him. Bush looked at him for a moment and said, “No. Come inside with us and pray for yourself.” After that, William Brown became a regular attendee at the 8:00 a.m. service and always placed a crumpled dollar bill in the silver offering plate. At his funeral, Dolph Hatfield, a member of the church who befriended Brown, said: “the homeless and the most important are one and the same.” Hatfield introduced himself to Brown after another parishioner snubbed him. He became Brown’s best friend, inviting him for a meal or taking him grocery shopping after church. The pastor who conducted the service said that Brown, “really understood that the kingdom of God is for all of us. It doesn’t matter about ethnic background, race, or class — all the things that we allow to divide us, but that in God’s eyes are not really important.”

Pharisees Grumbling

In the first part of today’s reading we see the Pharisees grumbling over the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners and even ate with them. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who saw themselves as keepers of the moral codes and laws.

The Jewish people had gone through a long period of decline in Temple Worship and obedience to the Law. Largely in an effort to restore and maintain Judaic worship the Pharisees were rigid keepers of the Law. They were severe in their style and they harshly criticized those who they looked upon as sinners.

Like so many legalists in all generations, the Pharisees were very well intentioned but horribly off track. In their pursuit of pure living they abandoned the pure love of God for the empty love of the law. In their effort to maintain true worship they neglected true worship in favor of judgment, condemnation, and in many cases outright cruelty.

They only welcomed those who looked just like they did… those who thought just like they did… and those who worshipped God just the same way they did...

The problem of the Pharisee was largely that of legalism. Erwin Lutzer wrote, “legalists keep the law for self-glory, or to merit some reward; they do not keep it because it expresses the desire of their heart.” The problem of the Pharisee had little to do with intent and everything to do with attitude.

Forsaking the inward presence and love of God for an outwardly right appearance they became, as Jesus put it in Matthew 23:27, “hypocrites… like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

The law of God reveals to us our need for God’s grace. Has any among us been able to live a life free of mistakes? Have any of us been able to love always the way that should? I sure hope that I’m not the only person here who has to say no to those questions!

Psalms 143:2 says, “Enter not into judgment… for no one living is righteous.” We are all imperfect people. It occurs to me that the hallmarks of humanity are marked imperfection and immeasurable capacity.

People are imperfect and when we make the mistake of the Pharisee we wrongly assume that God is somehow pleased by outward appearance. When we make the mistake of the Pharisee, we judge others for imperfections that we ourselves may even be guilty of.

And even if we aren’t guilty of that for which we judge others, we do something much worse… we display the arrogance of the Pharisees which caused them to condemn the Prince of Peace for welcoming everyone, regardless of who they were.

Matthew 7:3 says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Today let us continue to embrace the grace of God and reject the judgment of the Pharisee.

Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup… uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment… If only I had known you better I’d have come running with a bucket.

Let us continue to embrace the refreshing waters of the grace of God. Empty legalism does not please God. He is most honored when we open ourselves to His grace. He is glorified most fully when we are filled with His abundant grace.

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