+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 15:5
Theme: The Joy Of Restoration
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God seeks. And what does He find? The lost sheep is not someone else. The lost sheep refers to you. He doesn’t seek because He is ignorant of peoples’ whereabouts. He seeks because He knows people could never find Him-nor would they desire to. His pursuit is driven by immeasurable compassion. He is intent on restoring those alienated by sin. He seeks the lost sheep “and when He finds it, He joyfully puts it on His shoulders and goes home.”1 There is no distance He won’t travel, no danger He won’t face; no obstacle He will not overcome. Even the chasm of sin was traversed. He bridged it by the cross. Even the wrath of God was appeased. He pacified it with His blood. Even the power of hell was broken. He shattered it with His holy obedience and sacrificial death.
Sinners, like sheep, are prone to wandering and stubbornness. Yet the Holy Spirit finds joy in gathering us into the fold of the Good Shepherd. And how does He do this: Through repentance. It necessarily involves God’s condemning word of judgment. We must be separated from our idols. Examine your heart honestly. Until the law does its work the news of Christ’s work is only information, data, historical account. “The Gospel does not preach the forgiveness of sin to indifferent and secure hearts, but to the “oppressed” or penitent.”2 Though the law demands that we amend our ways it offers no hope or power to do so. “The mere preaching of the law without Christ either produces presumptuous people, who believe they can fulfill the law by external works, or drives man utterly to despair.”3
But the Shepherd never leaves us to despair. When contrite souls grasp the forgiveness of sins in Christ there is true joy and peace. To define what the greatest joy is, humanly speaking, is an impossible task. The birth of a child or grandchild, the accomplishing of a life-long goal, the victory in a hard-fought battle, a wedding, a career, an award, and countless other things may be sources of great joy. But there is more; something deeper, something higher, something more sublime, something far beyond our doing or accomplishing. The Scripture is abundantly clear about the greatest source and cause of joy. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.”4 Jesus Christ rescues us from darkness, death, and hell. This is joy! He is joy!
Because we can never fully apprehend it we must believe it. It is beyond the capacity of mortals. It is incomparable in its significance. It is a gift. It is bestowed free gratis. It is part of an inheritance beyond imagination. It is the heritage of the baptized. It causes heaven to resound with the singing of angels. It elicits reverence, awe and profound gratitude. It is never to be taken for granted. And human logic can never be satisfied with it.
Dear friends, efforts to make the miracle of grace more “believable”, to make the core of Christian truth more reasonable, to rationalize even the miracle of the resurrection, all betray the insatiable need of the human ego to be the master and measure of all things. We cannot ultimately defend Christian truth by making it more plausible. It’s a little like nine year old Billy who was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. "Well, Mum, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his shortwave radio to call headquarters for reinforcements. They sent fighter jets to blow up the bridge so the Egyptians couldn’t cross and all the Israelites were saved." "Now, Billy, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no, Mum. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"
It doesn’t mean the evidence for Christianity is unimportant. Even plausibility still has its place in the discussion. In primary school, we're taught that a frog turning into a prince is a fairy tale. In university, we’re taught that a frog turning into a prince is science. What’s more “believable”, that life randomly originated out of chaos or that God purposefully
designed creation in all its wonder and complexity? Still, in the matter of God’s saving love in Christ the Holy Spirit must be the origin of our faith. We simply can’t believe on our own that God would sacrifice His Son for our eternal salvation; otherwise we were never truly lost.
Secondary to God’s initiative of seeking the lost today is the communal aspect of the resultant joy. Joy for the Christian is marked by sharing. This is especially true of spiritual blessings. Christian joy, peace, and love are corporate blessings in the best sense of the word.
There are private sins (even though they weaken the entire body). But amongst Christians there should be no private sorrows; and no private joys. The shepherd who found his sheep and the woman who found her coin both called their friends and neighbours together and said, “Rejoice with me.”5 The life of faith is to be shared. St. Paul encourages Christians to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”6
Believers in community- with all their warts, flaws, and failings- mirror the flesh and blood presence of the Saviour. The Spirit works among real people with real problems. The church is not a cyber-community. It is not measured by quantifying Facebook “likes” or tallying religious opinions. Christians certainly have online conversations and technology should rightly and properly be used for the advancement of the gospel, but the body of Christ is never just a casual association of people networked by common interests.
Each of you is privileged to have various vocations. Husbands, wives, parents and children. Employers and workers, teachers and students. All serve the well-being of Christ’s body. Many of your activities may seem mundane but you never know when God is preparing you for extraordinary things. The strongman at a circus sideshow demonstrated his power before a large audience. Towards the end, he squeezed the juice from a lemon between his hands. He then said to the audience, "I will offer $500 to anyone in the audience who can squeeze another drop from this lemon. A thin scholarly looking man came forward, picked up the lemon, strained hard and somehow managed to get a drop. The strongman was amazed. He paid the man and asked, "What is the secret of your strength?" "Practice," the man answered. "I was the treasurer of a Lutheran Church for thirty years!”
In its widest expression the Christian Church includes every believer of every time and place. In its most concrete expression it entails a group of sinners gathered by the Holy Spirit around word and sacrament at a specific location. The church is corporal; a physical entity that draws life from the crucified and risen Christ. Together we confess our need for grace and receive forgiveness. Together we partake of the body and blood of the Lamb of God slain for us. Together we struggle through the temptations, trials, joy and sorrows of the baptismal life.
The woman who swept the floor for the lost coin and the shepherd who swept the horizon for the lost sheep could not contain the joy of their faith. Faith is never turned inward. Faith always acts for the good of the community and is always a response to the gospel’s freeing and life-giving power. This power is not an end in itself. The Bible says, “He Himself –that is Christ- bore our sins in His body on the tree”7 so that he might carry us all the way to our eternal home. Christ seeks. He finds. And we share in His joy. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Luke 15:5
2 SD V, 9
3 SD V, 10
4 Luke 15:7
5 Luke 15:6, 9
6 Romans 12:15
7 1 Peter 2:24
8 Luke 7:47
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
15 September 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt