Summary: A sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, [Proper 19] Series C
16th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 19] September 16, 2007 “Series C”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that you sent your Son into our world to redeem and restore sinners to a right relationship with you, our Creator. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to realize that we, too, come before our Lord’s table as sinners who have been redeemed by your saving grace. Take from us the arrogance of pride in our self-accomplishments, and help us to trust solely in your amazing grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning contains two of those familiar parables of Jesus – “The Parable of the Lost Sheep,” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” We know these parables well. We probably learned them in our early years of Sunday school, and because of the simple nature of these stories, they were easily committed to memory. That was the purpose of Jesus using parables to teach us. They were easy to remember.
Thus, we know the text of these stories well. But how many of us have really struggled to understand the context in which these stories are recorded in Luke’s Gospel? Even though the parables themselves may be rather easy to understand, if we consider the context in which Jesus told them – those to whom they were addressed – we might gain a deeper appreciation of their significance to our own lives.
Thus, this morning I would like to begin by focussing on the first two verses of our Gospel lesson. Here, Luke tells us that by this time in Jesus’ ministry, “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
Just picture this scene! The persons whom Jesus seems to be attracting to him by his teachings and ministry, are the tax collectors – those who had agreed to work for the occupying Roman authorities to collect taxes to support their empire. They were considered to be traitors by most of the people in Israel. And with them came the “sinners” those who were most likely known to have committed offenses against God or those in their neighborhoods.
Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? I mean, here is the incarnate Son of God, who came among us to proclaim God’s word to the people, and the ones who seem most interested in hearing him preach and teach, are the ones that most of the respectable people of that day would rather ignore.
And according to our lesson, this did not go unnoticed. For Luke tells us that the Pharisees and scribes grumbled among themselves, most likely loud enough that Jesus could have heard their utterings. “This fellow,” which I don’t believe was meant to be a flattering comment, “welcomes sinners, and even eats with them.” It was as if they were saying, surely this man can’t be a prophet of God, or the Messiah.
Now, before we get to quick to label the Pharisees and scribes as the bad guys in the story, we might do well to stop and consider what a Pharisee and scribe were. A Pharisee was a person who accepted the teachings of Moses based on the Ten Commandments, and strove to follow those teachings to the best of their ability. In other words, they were deeply religious persons, who took their faith seriously.
In the same vane, the scribes were deeply religious persons, who were well schooled in the books of the Old Testament, and who devoted their lives to teaching the precepts of Scripture and the Mosaic Law to others. They were Biblical scholars who read the ancient manuscripts and then translated them into the language of the people.
As a result, I’ve been led to a couple of interesting thoughts, that I would like to share with you this morning. To be sure, I still believe what most of us have been taught since childhood, that these parables of Jesus are stories of God’s relentless grace in seeking out the lost in order to restore us to a repentant and meaningful relationship with himself.
Thus, it is not so much that the tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus to hear his message, but that Jesus welcomed them and ate with them. It is the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, and the woman who searches for the lost coin. It is God’s will to seek the lost, and to do so until it is found. God’s love never gives up on anyone of us, no matter how sinful we may be, or no matter how long it takes. God continuously seeks us, and with his loving grace, offers us forgiveness of our repentant sins.