Weekly Sermon

PENTECOST 17 PROPER 19, 2016

MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION CONTAINED IN EACH AND EVERY HEART BE PLEASING AND ACCEPTABLE TO THEE, O LORD, OUR STRENGTH AND OUR REDEEMER.

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE TO YOU FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR CHRIST JESUS. AMEN!

         TODAY IS THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ATTACK ON THE TWIN TOWERS, THE ATTACK ON THE PENTAGON AND THE FAILED ATTEMPT TO ATTACK THE CONGRESS.  THE LOSS OF LIFE WAS TREMENDOUS, AND IT SENT OUR NATION INTO ARMED CONFLICT WITH THOSE WHO ATTACKED US.  MOST, IF NOT ALL OF US REMEMBER WHERE WE WERE AT THE TIME THAT THE NEWS MEDIA FINALLY REALIZED WHAT HAD HAPPENED, PARTICULARY WHEN THE SECOND PLANE CRASHED INTO THE SECOND TWIN TOWER.  THEN ONLY MOMENTS LATER DID WE HEAR OF THE PENTAGON COMING UNDER ATTACK.  THE PICTURE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER OF THE PENTAGON SHOWED THE KNOCKED DOWN WALL OF THE OFFICE OF MR. PETER MURPHY, COUNSEL TO THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS.   FORTUNATELY FOR PETER AND HIS FAMILY, HE WAS NOT AT HIS DESK AT THE TIME OF THE AIRCRAFT COMING THROUGH THE WALL OF THE OUTER RING OF THE PENTAGON.  PETER HOWEVER IS NOW SAINTED AS A RESULT OF THE EFFECTS OF PARKENSON'S DISEASE.

         ON A TUESDAY EVENING SIX YEARS AGO, AGNES AND I CAME TO NEW ORLEANS AND ATTTENDED THE WAKE OF YOUNG MARINE SERGEANT WHO WAS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN.  ALTOUGH WE MOURNED THE LOSS OF THIS YOUNG MARINE SERGEANT, AND ALTHOUGH WE MOURN THE LOSS OF LIFE OF ALL THOSE IN THE TWIN TOWERS, PENTAGON, AND FLIGHT 93, WHO WERE LOST, WE REALLY HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED THAT SAME LOSS THAT WAS EXPERIENCED BY THE WIVES, MOTHERS, FATHERS, HUSBANDS, CHILDREN AND OTHERS WHO WERE CLOSE TO THOSE IN THE TWIN TOWERS OR THE FAMILIES OF OUR SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE BEEN KILLED IN COMBAT.  THEIR LOSS IS EXTREMELY CLOSE, REAL AND PAINFUL.  ONCE THEY ARE LOST TO US THOUGH WE CAN NEVER REGAIN THEM IN THIS LIFETIME. 

         IN OUR PERICOPE FOR TODAY WE SEE THE PHARISEES COMPLAINING THAT JESUS IS EATING WITH SINNERS, AFTER ALL, THE PHARISEES ARE NOT LOST, IT IS THE SINNERS, THE TAX COLLECTORS AND OTHERS WHO ARE LOST.  YET THE TAX COLLECTORS SEE THE HYPOCRYSY IN THE PHARISEES AND THEREFORE SEE THEM AS BEING THE LOST ONES.  WHO IS LOST?  CHANCES ARE THEY BOTH ARE. IF WE LOOK AT OUR OLD TESTAMENT LESSON WE ALSO SEE WHO FINDS US.  CONTRARY TO WHAT SOME TEACH, WE DO NOT FIND JESUS.  HE FINDS US AND THAT POINT IS MADE ABUNDANTLY CLEAR IN OUR READINGS AND YES EVEN IN THE HYMN OF THE DAY. 

         IN EZEKIEL, GOD IS PICTURED AS THE SHEPHERD WHO WILL COME AND SAVE HIS SHEEP HIMSELF. GOD HIMSELF WILL DO IT BECAUSE THE SHEPHERDS OF THE PEOPLE HAVE ABANDONED THE SHEEP. THAT IS WHAT EZEKIEL SAYS. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT THE SHEPHERDS ARE THE KINGS, THE JUDGES OR THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE.

IN OUR TIMES, THE SHEPHERDS COULD EASILY BE THE PRESIDENT, MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, AND THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE INCLUDING PASTORS AND LAY LEADERS OF THE CHURCH. THEY OR WE HAVE FAILED TO DO OUR JOB OF SHEPHERDING THE PEOPLE, OF BEING LEADERS FOR THE PEOPLE. SO EZEKIEL SAYS THAT WHEN THAT HAPPENS, THE PEOPLE ARE NOT SOLELY DEPENDENT ON HUMAN LEADERSHIP FOR GUIDANCE, FOR GOD HIMSELF WILL COME TO BE WITH US AND GUIDE US IN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, IN THE WAY THAT GOD WOULD HAVE US LIVE.

SO THE EXPECTATION IS RIGHT THERE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT THAT GOD HIMSELF IN TIMES OF CRISIS WILL COME AND SAVE US. IN EVERY OTHER RELIGION WE HAVE TO GO TO GOD. IN EVERY OTHER RELIGION GOD'S HOLINESS MEANT THAT WE COULDN'T GET CLOSE TO GOD UNTIL WE, OURSELVES, BECAME HOLY. SO IN EVERY OTHER RELIGION, GOD IS WAY, WAY UP THERE, AND WE ARE DOWN HERE, AND SOME OF US ARE WAY, WAY DOWN HERE. THE JOB OF THE PRIESTS IN ALL THOSE RELIGIONS IS TO MEDIATE, TO APPEASE GOD THROUGH OFFERING SACRIFICES SO THAT GOD WILL LIKE US, AND WE WILL BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD.

NOT SO IN OUR FAITH IN FACT IT IS JUST THE OPPOSITE. IT SAYS WE DON'T FIND OUR WAY TO GOD, BECAUSE GOD HAS FOUND HIS WAY TO US. WHAT IS UNIQUE, IS THAT GOD SEEKS US AND GOD FINDS US. THAT IS WHY WE SING "I ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW AM FOUND, WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE."

NOWHERE IS THAT POINT MADE MORE CLEARLY THAN RIGHT HERE IN OUR READINGS FOR TODAY. THE GOSPEL OF JOHN WILL PICK UP EZEKIEL'S THEME OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, AND JESUS, IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, WILL SAY OF HIMSELF, "I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD." JOHN MAKES A GREAT DEAL OF IT. BUT SO DOES LUKE IN THIS CHAPTER, THE 15TH CHAPTER, OUR TEXT FOR THIS MORNING.

THE 15TH CHAPTER ALSO CONTAINS THE FAMOUS PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON. WE DON'T LOOK AT THAT THIS SUNDAY. THIS SUNDAY WE LOOK AT THE TWO SHORT PARABLES THAT PRECEDE IT, THAT INTRODUCE IT. THESE PARABLES YOU COULD SAY ARE THE WARM-UP ACTS FOR THE CELEBRATED PRODIGAL SON. FOR THAT REASON THEY ARE VERY OFTEN OVERLOOKED, NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY. BUT THEY ARE IMPORTANT AND PRECIOUS IN THEMSELVES. THEY BEGIN WITH THIS INTRODUCTION: "THE PHARISEES AND THE SCRIBES WERE GRUMBLING, SAYING, 'THIS FELLOW WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM.'"

YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT IF YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT BEING RELIGIOUS. BEFORE CHRISTIANITY IT WAS TAUGHT THAT GOD IS UP THERE, AND WE ARE DOWN HERE, AND THE GAP THAT SEPARATES US IS SIN, OUR BEHAVIOR, DOING BAD THINGS. SO IF YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN YOU AND GOD, YOU DON'T DO BAD THINGS. AND IF YOU ARE SUPER-SERIOUS, ABOUT BEING RELIGIOUS LIKE THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES WERE, THEN YOU DON'T ASSOCIATE WITH PEOPLE WHO DID THOSE THINGS. IN FACT WHAT YOU DID, AND THIS IS CHARACTERISTIC OF PHARISEES IN EVERY AGE, AND EVERY AGE HAS THEM, INCLUDING OUR OWN, INSTEAD OF ASSOCIATING WITH THEM, YOU POINT THEM OUT. YOU MAKE SURE THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY DID. YOU ISOLATE THEM AND LABEL THEM.

THINK ABOUT THE EARLY DAYS OF THIS COUNTRY, THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS AND HOW THE PIETY MOVEMENT CAUSED THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE TO ACT JUST LIKE THE PHARISEES.  BUT JESUS KNEW HOW TO APPROACH THEM, SO HE TOLD THESE PARABLES TO PROCLAIM SOMETHING NEW TO THE SCRIBES AND TO THE PHARISEES, AND THAT IS THAT GOD DOESN'T WAIT FOR US TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN US AND GOD. GOD BRIDGES IT. GOD TAKES THE INITIATIVE AND COMES TO US.

I DOUBT THAT THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES OBJECTED TO THAT LAST SENTENCE ABOUT REJOICING IN HEAVEN OVER A SINNER WHO REPENTS. WHAT THEY OBJECTED TO WAS THAT THE SHEPHERD WENT TO THE SINNER FIRST. THE SHEPHERD SOUGHT OUT THE LOST. THE SHEPHERD ATE WITH THE SINNERS. THAT WAS WORST OF ALL. THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES BELIEVED AS ALL JEWS DID IN THOSE DAYS THAT WHEN THE MESSIAH COMES, THE MESSIAH IS GOING TO EAT WITH THE RIGHTEOUS IN HIS KINGDOM. THIS MAN EATS WITH SINNERS.

THE MESSAGE WAS CLEAR. IN JESUS, WE BELIEVE, GOD HAS COME TO US. IN JESUS, WE BELIEVE, GOD SEEKS US, SEEKS AFTER US, UNTIL GOD FINDS US, AND NEVER GIVES UP, NEVER GIVES UP ON ANYONE. EVEN THE LOST HE GOES AFTER.

IT IS NOT BECAUSE WE HAVE REPENTED THAT GOD COMES TO US. IT IS BECAUSE GOD COMES TO US THAT WE FIND THE GRACE THAT BRINGS REPENTANCE, GENUINE REPENTANCE, CHANGE OF LIFE. THAT IS PAUL'S TESTIMONY. WE HAVE ONE VERSION OF IT IN THE EPISTLE LESSON THAT WAS READ THIS MORNING

SO EVER SINCE PAUL, THE MESSAGE THAT CHRISTIANS PREACH TO THE WORLD IS THAT GOD HAS COME TO US. THAT IS THE GOSPEL. THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS. EVER SINCE PAUL THAT MESSAGE HAS ENABLED PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THEM, GIVEN THEM WORDS TO EXPRESS WHAT IT IS THAT GOD HAS DONE IN THEIR LIVES, OR TO UNDERSTAND WHAT CAN HAPPEN TO THEM. THIS CAN HAPPEN TO EACH OF US, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO FEAR THAT THEY ARE LOST, THAT THEY ARE NOT WORTHY OF GOD'S ATTENTION, OR THAT GOD NEVER COULD EVER SPEAK THEIR NAME. GOD WOULD NEVER KNOW ME. THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.

BUT IT HAS HAPPENED, GOD DID COME AND HE CAME TO SAVE YOU AND ME.  LET US APPROACH THE ALTAR TODAY WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS GOD’S HOLY GRACE THAT TRULY ABOUNDS. GOD GRANT IT TO BE SO.

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING, KEEP YOUR HEART AND MIND IN CHRIST JESUS, AMEN.