Trinity Three Sermon 2007
ďThis Man Receives SinnersĒ
St. Luke 15:1-10
Jesus received tax collectors
and sinners. They were not
the kind of people youíd want as neighbors. The
tax collectors were little better than thieves.
They abused their authority for personal financial gain.
Not only did they work for a foreign occupying government, but
they made most of their money by overcharging their own countrymen.
When you work hard for your money only to see it legally stolen
you wonít have much affection for those who stole it.
The sinners that Jesus received
included lowlifes of various descriptions: sellers of vice who tore down
public standards of morality; prostitutes who lured men away from their
wedding vows and helped to break up families, spread disease, and bring
children into the world with no fathers to give them guidance and
If people would only learn to
obey certain basic rules of conduct there would be far less crime,
suffering, pain, and general misery in this world.
Yet the very people responsible for contributing to the decay of
the culture are the people that Jesus welcomes to himself.
He expresses fellowship with them.
He eats with them. He
accepts them as they are.
Yes, he accepts them as they
are. He doesnít accept them on account of what they will be or
do. He doesnít look for
good in them and accept them because of that little spark of goodness he
sees. He doesnít insist
that they become good before he will receive them.
He receives them and honors them while they are sinners. Why? He does so
because of his mercy alone.
You can no more understand
divine mercy than you can climb up to heaven and jump into the mind of
God. Jesus is God in the
flesh. He is the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He
is the Lord of the nations. He
is the King of kings. He is
the God who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the Ten
Commandments. He is the
virgin-born Son of God. He
is the image of the invisible God and the perfect Man.
And he is the friend of sinners.
The Pharisees and scribes were
scandalized. They accused
Jesus of sin. After all, he
associated with public sinners. You
know what they say about birds of a feather.
So they spread rumors about him.
They called him a drunkard and a glutton.
It was guilt by association.
It was a false charge. Jesus
never sinned and he never condoned sin.
He never approved of or encouraged anyone to sin.
When he forgave the woman who was caught in adultery he told her
to go and sin no more.
But Jesus is the friend of
sinners. Thereís no doubt
about that. Jesus loves
sinners and receives them and welcomes them.
He forgives them. He
forgives them freely. He
dies for them. He bears the load of their guilt by suffering the punishment
they deserve to receive. In
dying for them he purchases them. In
purchasing their freedom from the sin that enslaved them he has become
their friend. Jesus is the
friend of sinners because he chooses to be.
Jesus is the friend of sinners when they have no other friend.
One of the most endearing
characters in fiction is a prostitute in Dostoyevskyís Crime and
Punishment who turns to prostitution to keep her family alive but is
at heart a sincere, loving, and virtuous woman who serves as the agent
for the moral redemption of the main character of the story.
It is frequently a feature of fiction to idealize victims of vice
and portray them as more virtuous than the rest of us.
Well, thatís fiction for you.
Itís fictional. Itís
not true. Jesus loves
sinners, not because they are lovable, not because there is virtue
beneath their vice, not because of some untapped spiritual potential
within them, but because Jesus is God and God is love.
We are altogether sinful. God
is altogether merciful. Jesus
is the friend of sinners. And
if you love him you will agree with him.
Is mercy better than judgment? God says so. When
you are guilty and you know it you agree with God.
You want mercy. When
youíve been wronged by another you want judgment.
When we look at the sins of our friends we prefer mercy over
judgment. When we look at
the sins of our enemies we prefer judgment over mercy.
Jesus teaches us to love our enemies.
He teaches us to desire mercy for our enemies. St. John writes: ďFor God did not send His Son into the
world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be
saved.Ē (John 3:17)
Christians have the mind of
Christ. We think like Jesus
thinks. Christís point of
view is mercy. Consider his
words and actions. Every
time our Lord expresses anger, as recorded in the Four Gospels, it is
directed against hypocritical self-righteousness and the denial of
mercy. Listen to what Jesus
says of the scribes and the Pharisees as recorded in St. Matthew 23.
they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on menís
shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their
fingers. But all their
works they do to be seen by men. (Vv. 4-5a)
to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you
neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go
in. (vs. 13)
you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is
won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
The religion of human works vies
against the religion of divine grace.
The two are incompatible. The
one teaches the sheep to rely on himself.
As he does, he wanders further and further away from his only
source of help. Sheep need
shepherds. They get lost
and havenít got the wherewithal to find their way back to where they
belong. They will not stay
put and make it easy to be found. They
will keep on wandering. Every
effort they make to find their way home gets them more thoroughly lost.
It isnít just that they canít do anything positive toward
getting themselves to safety. They
can only harm themselves. And
that is what they do.
They need a shepherd who will
seek them out. They donít
need instructions on how they may find their way back home to safe
pasture. They canít find
their way back home. Thatís
the point. The religion of
human works claims that if you give the sheep the correct instructions
and he studiously follows them he will be able to disentangle himself
from whatever binds him and then walk home safely on his own power. But this is absurd. The
sheep is stuck. He canít
get away. If he bleats too
loudly the wolf will hear him. He
probably smells him already. There
is no hope. He needs a
shepherd who will take on wolves, bears, lions, or any other predator.
The reason the tax collectors
and sinners drew near to hear the words of Jesus is because they were
his sheep. They saw in him the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine
in the desert in search of the one who is lost.
They saw in themselves only sin.
They saw in Jesus only righteousness.
This righteous Man was their Savior from sin.
Jesus joins himself to sinners. He expresses fellowship with them. But he has no fellowship with sin. Indeed, where Jesus enters in, sin must flee.
That because Jesus comes with forgiveness.
The smug and self-righteous despise forgiveness.
They donít want to admit that they need it. They would rather judge sinners than forgive them.
So they deny forgiveness for themselves.
Jesus expresses fellowship with sinners.
The sheep that is lost in the wilderness is the same sheep that
is carried on the shoulders of the shepherd.
What brings the sheep to safety is not a change in the sheep.
It is the shepherd who carries the sheep to safety.
Then, after being brought to the pasture and safety, the sheep is
no longer lost. Heís
found. Heís no longer
facing death. Heís
And who cares?
Jesus cares. Heís
the shepherd who searched for the sheep, found it, and with great joy
took the sheep home. Who
cares? The Church cares.
Sheís the woman who searched and searched until she found her
lost coin and rejoiced when she did.
Who cares? Our
Father in heaven cares. Heís
the father who waited patiently for the prodigal son to return home and
when he did he received him with open arms and gave a banquet in his
honor. Who cares?
The angels in heaven care. They
rejoice and sing praises to God every time one sinner repents of his sin
and finds forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Christ, their
Repentance is a wonderful thing. It doesnít appear to be.
The broken heart that seeks nothing good within itself but trusts
in the goodness of Jesus may seem to be rather pathetic. After all, self-confidence appears a bit nobler than
repentance is the occasion for Godís grace to be displayed.
And nothing is greater than the mercy God shows to those in need
of it. No sin is greater
than to begrudge God the grace he lavishes on sinners.
God chooses to love the unlovable.
By that love he rescues them from death and punishment.
By that love their hearts are transformed and their lives are
changed. The angels in
heaven rejoice and the Christians on earth rejoice with them.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus