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Forests, Trees, Repentance, and Rejoicing

Luke 15:1-10

Pastor Jason Zirbel

3rd Sunday after Trinity
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Jul 7, 2019 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

I’m going go out on a limb and assume that everyone here is already familiar with the fact that our Lord works in mysterious ways.  Not only do we know this, but (I assume) we believe it too.  God does work in very mysterious ways.  Here’s the problem though.  Sometimes we can get too caught up looking for the mysterious, miraculous workings of God that we can miss the plain and simple work of God right before us.  Like the old saying goes, we can miss the forest for the trees.

Consider the parable your Lord teaches in the Gospel lesson for today.  (If you notice, I say parable—singular, not “parables.” These aren’t two separate teachings on two different topics, but one teaching on one topic.  Jesus just uses two examples—a lost sheep and a lost coin—in this one parable/teaching in order to make His one, singular point).  Consider how we miss the forest for the trees in this parable.  The Shepherd/sheep imagery is easy to understand, but even there we can get off track.  Who are the ninety-nine who don’t need to repent?  Is that possible?  Who are the friends/neighbors who celebrate/feast with the happy shepherd?  What does this mean?  And as for the lost coin portion of the parable….  We can get so fixated on trying to crack the code that we wind up “over-allegorizing” the parable.  Who is the woman?  Who is the coin?  Doesn’t the woman lose the coin?  The coin can’t lose itself.  What does the broom symbolize?  What does it mean to sweep?  What about the lamp?  Why would she throw a feast simply because she found her lost coin?  We can get so fixated on trying to find the meaning of all the little things that we fail to grasp the central meaning.  “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Folks: That’s what this parable is all about— repentance and restoration.  More specifically, it’s about the Lord’s desire and will to bring the lost to repentance; to restore the lost to life and salvation.  It’s about the Lord’s joy (and all of heaven’s joy) when even one single sinner repents of their sin.  Maybe it will make more sense if we remember the fact that Jesus was teaching this parable, not to His apostles, not to the Sunday morning faithful, but to the Pharisees who despised the fact that Jesus was feasting with the dregs of society: the tax collectors and prostitutes and other “unclean” reprobates.  These guys were repulsed by the fact that Jesus would keep the company of such sinful trash.  Jesus puts it into terms that these arrogant, self-righteous fools (who claim to know God) would understand.  “What man of you having a hundred sheep…?  What woman having ten silver coins…?” “In the same way that you rejoice over these lost/found things, God and all of heaven rejoice over one single sinner who repents; who is lost but is now found and restored.” It’s so simple.

And that brings us to a very important point.  All the work of repentance and restoration is the miraculous working of God.  Look, again, at this parable.  The Shepherd seeks out the lost sheep.  The woman seeks out the lost coin.  They don’t sit back and wait for the lost to get their act together and seek them out.  They don’t treat loss like Walmart treats loss, as if some loss due to breakage or theft is to be expected, as long as you turn a profit.  That’s not God.  God seeks out even the one, single lost person, no matter their station in life; no matter how low they’ve sunk or how far they’ve strayed.  He desires the death of no man.  He desires the loss of no one.

All those tax collectors and sinners?  They were restored to Life and salvation because God’s Word of repentance and mercy and grace came to them.  They heard, and through that hearing were brought to repentant faith.  Through that hearing of Christ and His Word they were found, forgiven, and restored; brought to the feast table of the Lord Himself.  They didn’t have to earn their way back in or find their own way back.  Out of His love for them, God sought them out.  He restored them by means of His Word of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  It’s all so miraculous, and at the same time… it really isn’t.  God didn’t rend the heavens in order to work this miracle of repentant faith and restoration.  That’s what the Pharisees and scribes wanted to see.  “If you really are the Christ of God, prove it.  Give us a sign from heaven.” They refused to believe unless they had some powerful miracle that gave them no other choice but to believe.

And before you look too far down your noses at these guys, are we really any different?  How many of you struggle with the fact that the Church in America is struggling and dwindling and dying?  How many of you have people in your own immediate lives who are lost and in darkness; outside the fold of faith?  Who here doesn’t want to see these people returned and restored to the fold?  Who here doesn’t lament over such things?  (And we should lament.) But… what do we do when faced with these sorrowful situations?  Maybe a better question is “what do we not do?”

We may not want to admit it, but all too often we can get things out of focus and fixated on the wrong things.  All too often we try to “fix” the problems facing the Church with our own bright ideas, our good intentions, and our works.  We overlook the simplicity of our Lord and His means of grace, and instead look for our own “miraculous quick-fixes” that will somehow miraculously “save” the Church. 

Folks: The Church IS saved!  We are saved, not by our works, but by the grace of God.  We are saved because God came to us and did something about our “lostness.” Look to the cross.  Look to this tree.  Here is the miracle of God in the flesh; the same God who gave up all of heaven’s majesty to come down to our dark and desolate veil of tears in order to seek us out and restore us unto Life and salvation.  Here is where our Good Shepherd came to us and put our sin upon His shoulders, carrying us out of death and damnation into His marvelous Light.  Here is God in action for us lowly and lost sinners; not just for some, but for every single person ever descended from Adam’s sinful loins.  Here is the miracle of total and unconditional forgiveness and peace.  And it is this same Word of the Cross that continues to save all men.  “Faith comes through hearing; hearing the Word of Christ.” “We preach Christ crucified.” There is no other name under all of heaven by which men may be saved.  It’s all so simple, and yet… it’s so often ignored or overlooked or dismissed.  It’s not flashy enough.  It’s not appealing to particular age groups or demographics.  It just doesn’t produce the results we want to see.

Folks: This is how our Good Shepherd continues to seek and save the lost.  Through the faithful ministration of His Bride—the Church—our Lord continues to come to us and to all men.  From the midst of the Bride our Lord speaks.  Out of the Bride comes the Light and voice of the Good Shepherd, sweeping away the guilt and shame, penetrating the darkness of sin.  From the simplicity of the font and ordinary water; from the simplicity of the altar and ordinary bread and wine our Lord comes to us with His life-saving, Life-giving Word.  He seeks us out, not to punish or scold or barter a deal (or even reward works done to impress Him and merit His grace), but to save us.  He comes to us to give us the free and unmerited gift of peace that is Himself.  Here is where angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven gather around the feast that is Himself, gathered together around Him in praise and thanksgiving.  Here is where all of heaven rejoices when even one single sinner returns to His feast table in repentant thanksgiving for all that He has done and continues to do for them.  This is what it’s all about.  There’s nothing mysterious at all about it.  In fact, it’s all so beautifully simple.  It’s all about Christ.

May you never lose sight of this.  May the Good Shepherd and His Light of redemption, grace, and peace always shine forth upon you as you make your way through this dark, shadowy valley and veil of tears.  May this Light of Christ shine upon you and shine through you so that others may see and hear and be returned/restored.  Yes, it really is that simple, and praise God that it is, for left to our own devices we would only bring it to ruin.

To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor… AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.

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