Monday, September 13, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 15:1-10
Theme: A Seeking Saviour

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is a seeker. He is THE seeker. And only He searches out of pure motives. All creatures seek out of some need or desire. Humans especially search for safety, or indulgence or fulfillment. We also search for meaning. God alone seeks as an expression of His unbounded love. He seeks not that He may find a reward, but that the lost might live. He seeks not to unearth something undiscovered or find purpose- nothing exists that God isn’t privy to. And His life isn’t lacking meaning. God seeks because He would not suffer one of His children to remain estranged from Him.

Today’s gospel contains two parables of Jesus that illustrate His nature as the one who seeks us. The shepherd goes hunting for his one lost sheep and the woman searches diligently for her one lost coin. Of course the need for God to seek arises from the fact of something being lost. It’s the dread reality of this situation- our situation- that Christ wishes us to understand. As the Scripture says, “The light shines in the darkness.”1

The true consequence of being lost is helplessness. Jesus means to bring to mind not a temporary situation which will be rectified with a little guidance. We might easily associate being lost with the inconvenience of being without a GPS. Or a situation in which we face a major decision and we need advice to decide which way to go. We might equate confusion or ignorance with being lost. Something more serious is meant here.

To be lost in spiritual darkness is to be personally incapacitated and completely at the mercy of external aid. Original sin is the Bible’s teaching on this condition. Spiritual ‘lost-ness’ is defined not only by the inability to find one’s way (to God), but the lack of desire to even do so. Until the law brings people to a recognition of what it means they are lost, they are content to remain so. Of course the unbelieving or self-righteous person would never consider himself or herself to be lost. Perhaps the parables reach their limit at this point. Could a sheep or a coin willfully desire to be separated from its owner?

We should put out of our mind the possibility that the one lost sheep might serendipitously wander back into the fold. The sheep is nowhere in sight. The shepherd must go searching for it. The imminent threat of predators and the elements would soon put its life in grave danger. The sound of bleating might just as easily reach the ears of wolves as the ears of the shepherd. The lost sheep will not find the shepherd and the lost coin will not find its owner. And the human being, regardless of age, status, knowledge, ability, or determination, can never ‘find’ God. Apart from Christ we would remain lost. Apart from the Holy Spirit we would remain adrift. Apart from the word we would remain astray. Apart from baptism we would still be estranged. This is not a disputable opinion but absolute fact.

This truth cannot be grasped too well. The more we believe it the greater is the comfort of the gospel. The author George Orwell describes a wasp that "was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him." The wasp and people without Christ have much in common. Severed from their souls, but greedy and unaware, people continue to consume life's sweetness. Only when it's time to fly away will they gasp their dreadful condition.

The context in which Jesus is teaching today is noteworthy. The Pharisees are grumbling because Jesus was welcoming ‘sinners’. This was particularly offensive to them because they considered themselves to the moral and upright members of the community and yet Jesus was commending the tax-collectors and sinners. Yet they were repentant and the Pharisees were not. To be people of reputable social standing in no way exempts us from being in the category of ‘sinners.’ The grace of God isn’t shown in our piety but in our humility.

It is significant that both the shepherd and the woman who finds her coin call together their friends and neighbours to rejoice. In ancient times celebration always had a community dimension. In fact it was always understood to be a collective activity. It’s an image of the nature of the church. How underappreciated is the privilege of being part of the fellowship of Christ’s body! Both your identity and purpose are incomplete apart from the collective members of Christ’s body. This is true in an absolute sense.

Strictly speaking there are no independent, autonomous or private members of the body of Christ. The rugged individualism of modern Western society undermines the biblical teaching of the church. It is a charade and deception to think a person can be a true believer in Christ and remain detached from the communion of saints. An immediate consequence of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith is incorporation into the mystical body of Christ. The relationship is maintained by a participation in the common gifts of word and sacrament. To be sure outward associations involve the particular preferences of individuals, that is, belonging to this or that congregation and/or denomination in a particular place. But each believer is part of the body and the body can only function properly with all its members.

Consider what the Bible says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”2 We are baptized into one family and together partake of one sacred meal. And here is the implication, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.”3 God not only seeks for us, when He finds us He positions us uniquely within His ordered kingdom.

Why does God seek? Is it not His greatest glory to show compassion to the helpless, grace to the undeserving, mercy to the lost? The words of Paul today can help us. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.”4 The great apostle speaks of what he is, not what he was. He still remains a sinner. Yet he is forgiven. He is also a saint.

And so it is with you, you are sinner and saint. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: You have been baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven. Though your sinful nature fights until the day you take your last breath, you have been redeemed. Christ has won the victory. He has paid the price. Through His death and resurrection He has called you out of darkness, defended you from Satan, rescued you from hell, and spared you from eternal punishment. Recall what Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”5

+ in nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
12 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:5
2 1 Corinthians 12:13
3 1 Corinthians 12:26
4 1 Timothy 1:15
5 Luke 19:9-10