Audio: Trinity III Sermon
Text: Luke 15:1-10
St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “[Cast] all your anxieties on [the Lord], for He cares for you.” Likewise, St. Paul wrote in our epistle text, “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.” This past week at St. John we have hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. The title this year was “Barnyard Roundup: Jesus Gathers Us Together.” It was based on the verses of Psalm 23, and our readings this week perfectly capture that theme. Particularly, this morning we will be looking at our Gospel text, which contains some of the most beloved and comforting words in all Scripture.
In our Gospel Jesus pictures Himself to us as a shepherd. Though He’s in charge of a multitude of sheep, He does not hesitate to drop everything to seek and save the one sheep gone astray. When He finds it, rejoicing, He places it on His shoulders and gathers it back into the fold. Jesus also commends Himself to us in the parable of the Lost Coin. There a woman who has ten coins loses one. She drops everything, lights a lamp, and searches till she finds it. And, like the shepherd, she rejoices. So, we see, the Lord is our shepherd who seeks us out, who saves us, and gathers us through His Word.
Our Gospel reading is building on a theme in Luke’s Gospel. One of my commentaries calls this section of Luke the Table Fellowship section. In this whole chunk of Luke, Jesus is reclining at table in the house of one of the head Pharisees. One of the key themes of this discussion is shared between Jesus and John the Baptist – a theme we usually take up in Advent – the importance of repentance in the life of a Christian. You know the words of John the Baptist’s ministry, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was the midst of that meal that Jesus spoke our text last week about the Great Banquet.
He told a parable about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many to come and feast. When the time was ready he sent his servant to gather those who had been invited. The way things worked back then, you would send out an initial invitation saying there’s a feast coming up. Then, when the feast had come, you would go and gather everyone up. But, when the servant went to do that, everyone turned him down. One claimed he bought a field and couldn’t come; another, oxen; another, newly married. The master then sent his servant to call people who had not been invited, first those in the city: the lame and crippled. These represent the tax collectors and “sinners” in our reading. Then, even those outside the city were compelled to come to the feast. These are those, like us, who were born outside God’s covenant people.
Here’s where we get to Luke 15. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” Jesus was teaching about repentance and faith. The tax collectors and sinners were hearing Jesus’ words in faith, confessing their sins and being forgiven. The Holy Spirit was working through the Word to create repentance and faith in them. They had learned to recognize their sin and believe in Jesus for their salvation. Meanwhile, the Pharisees were doing as they usually were. They were grumbling, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So, Jesus 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…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.’
Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees and us to show us just how much He cares about us and what He does for us.
First, Jesus seeks us out. In the parable Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. And like sheep, we are prone to wander. Not content to live within the fold of God, Adam and Eve began to wander, thinking grass would be greener in the field yonder. Ever since, we who have been born of flesh and blood also go astray. But, what does the shepherd do? He leaves the other ninety-nine in the care of faithful undershepherds, and drops everything to go and find the one lost sheep. This is what Christ did by emptying Himself of His eternal glory, which He shared with the Father and Spirit before all time, and taking on Himself our human flesh.
I read somewhere that when sheep get lost, once they realize they’re in an unfamiliar place, they will lay down and not move. Then, when the shepherd finds it, he has to physically pick it up and carry it, because otherwise it ain’t going anywhere. I wonder if that isn’t a good description of us, the sheep. As we walk through this valley of shadow, we do wander. We wander into all sorts of sins, physical, mental, and spiritual. And, sometimes we hunker down. We get lost in our sins and we forget that we’re sinning. Or, rather, we choose to persist in our sin. That is, until Christ finds us.
How does He search for us and find us? He seeks us out through the preaching of the Word. He works through the preaching of the Law to show us our sin and then He calls to us through the Gospel saying, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He sends pastors to share His saving Word and to administer the sacraments, so that the Gospel may have free course to create and sustain faith throughout the world. Then through Holy Baptism He puts us on His shoulders. In Baptism we are united to His death for our sins and the forgiveness that He won on the cross is given to us through that sacred washing. Just like the lost sheep may kick and fight at first when the shepherd picks it up, so the Old Adam in us kicks and screams within us as it is drowned in the water and the Word.
Through the preaching of the Word and in Holy Baptism, Christ seeks us out and saves us. He finds us and, rejoicing, puts us on His shoulders. Then, on His shoulders, He gathers us back to His flock – the Church. And, actually, that was theme of VBS this week – Jesus, our Good Shepherd, gathers us together. As Scripture says, all we like sheep had gone astray, yet He, in love, sought us. He took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we might live with Him (our shepherd) in His kingdom (the Church).
The second parable in our Gospel is the parable of the Lost Coin, and has much in common with the first parable. In it a woman loses a coin. The number is lowered from one hundred sheep to ten coins, to two sons later. Jesus lowers the number to show us how important each individual lost sheep, coin, and son is to Him. After losing the coin, the woman lights a lamp and searches diligently until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her, since she had found the coin that she had lost.
If we keep in mind that the parable goes with the parable of the Lost Sheep and is about how Christ seeks out, saves, and gather each individual lost sheep, then we might also be able to talk about what it means to be found, saved, and gathered by Christ into the Church. King David sings in the psalms that the Word of God is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. Christ Himself is the light that shines in the darkness and He has given the lamp of His Word to His bride, the Church. Like the woman in the parable, we are called to shine the lamp of God’s Word into the dark places of the world to find the lost coin.
Our temptation is always to be like the Pharisees and scribes. The Old Adam in us wants us to point and scoff at tax collectors and “sinners;” but then we would be blind to the fact that we are all chief of sinners. We all like sheep have gone astray and need to found by Christ. And so we are. We confess in the Creed that we have been called by the Gospel. Through the preaching of the Word, Christ has sought us out. He sends His Word into all the earth to find each lost sheep. Then, through Baptism He places His lost sheep on His shoulders and gathers them into His fold. Having been gathered into His fold, we also seek to save the lost, sharing with them the hope and comfort that the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want.