St Luke 15.1-10; Micah 7:18-20 Trinity 3
St Johns Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.6.16
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Micah has a hard time understanding what sort of a God this is that Israel has. In the Old Testament reading for today he wrote, "Who is a God like you?...Pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression... He does not retain His anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."
God is hard to understand because He's so different from us; unlike our merciful God we have a problem with retaining anger. Someone gets under our skin and we tend to hang onto the anger until it turns to bitterness. But there must be no hanging onto anger / when you're hanging about with the God of Israel. He's the God who loves to forgive, to pardon, to pass over transgression. He looks for excuses and opportunities to wipe out sin and reestablish relationships. He longs to show mercy! And He invites us to live in that bounty of forgiveness, that river of mercy.
“He will have compassion on us,” rejoices Micah, “he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” And so He has. Not a few of our sins, leaving us the rest to work on ourselves. No, He has a water that drowns every single one of them. "You will cast ALL our sins into the depths of that sea," and that means that none of them are left for us to deal with. That deep sea, of course, is Baptism.
And if there are none of our own sins to hang onto anymore, then there can be no holding onto sins of anyone else, either. No deep sea diving to scavenge for what God has cast away under the waters of Baptism. If your sins are all left there (in the waters of Baptism), then so are your neighbor's sins. All of them buried by your God in the water with a warning sign: "No diving allowed."
But this is not to say that He doesn't leave you with nothing to do. You still have a life to live. So He shows you how to live with others. Instead of hanging onto your sins or the sins of others, He shows you "faithfulness and steadfast love." That's the God of Israel, and that's the very same God who also claimed a man named Paul to be His own apostle, sending him out to preach and teach and live God's life of faithfulness and steadfast love.
Listen to how one theologian summarizes Paul's life: “He appointed me, [Paul,] to his service - ME, a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent opponent. He wouldn't let me stay that way. He insisted on giving me mercy. I was acting ignorantly in unbelief, refusing the gifts of God, and yet the grace of the Lord overflowed for me, and so I'm here to tell you one thing you can absolutely count on for sure: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. And why did I receive this mercy? So that everyone of you might have reason to hope. If He could be patient with the likes of me, the worst sinner of all, then that shows you that He will be patient with you, too.”
Mercy, mercy, mercy. That is the theme which runs all through the readings today. The central message being this: see what the Lord Jesus does, and what He loves to do: He's welcoming sinners who have come to hear Him, He's talking with them and He's even eating with them. In contrast to all this, you heard how Jesus doing His mercy-thing makes the Pharisees quite upset.
And what's a Pharisee but anyone who can look down on another because that person is a sinner. Beware, dear Christian, / are you a Pharisee? Are there people in the body of Christ, baptized into the same ocean of mercy as you, whom you are angry with? Whom you have spoken unkindly of? Whom you have JUDGED in your heart, tried them and condemned them?
Repent. For Jesus is rich in mercy, and welcomes them just as He welcomes you. For love of them and for love of you, He the Good Shepherd, left His 99 sheep - the angels up in heaven - and came to earth in search of his lost and wandering one. And you are that one. Each of you: lost and wandering, alone and in danger. But then our Jesus grabs hold of you, He tosses you up on His strong shoulders and carries you back to home, back to heaven, where to our shock and surprise there is joy over our homecoming. Heaven, then, is the place where the sinner is welcomed and loved and restored. Hell is where the Pharisee lives; that's where the sinner is judged and condemned, where grumbling and complaining take place against the Lord and His mercy for welcoming sinners; the Lord wants us to get out of that hell and into His heaven.
And then there's this woman with her coin. “Woman”, in Jesus' parables, always suggests the Church. The Church gets in on this, too. She lights the lamp of the Word of God, and uses the broom of her preaching, to sweep the house and find the lost coin, the one that bears the image of the King, and restores it to the others. And when she finds the lost, she celebrates too. "Rejoice with me!" Just so, says Jesus, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Today, dearly beloved, our Lord reaches to you, to each of you, His gift of repentance. Today he calls you to turn away from harsh words and unkind judgments and every form of bitterness, anger, self-righteousness and pride that would divide those whom He has joined together. He says: "Child, leave it all behind. Come and rejoice in the unity of my Body. What I have joined together, let not man put asunder. Hear my words of mercy and let them sink deep into your soul and bring you peace. Feast on my body and blood and let me give you forgiveness for all your sin; forgiveness so abundant, in fact, that you can share generously with each other. You are mine. All of you. And to belong to me is to be forgiven and to forgive; to be a people of mercy. For that is who I am: the God of mercy made flesh and blood. The God of mercy that lifted every sin off your shoulders and bore it myself unto death on my cross so that I could lift you and bring you home. The God of mercy who rose in victory over death and the grave. The God of mercy who established my Church on this earth to be the forgiveness place - for you, for all. Today I give you the gift of letting go of all that would hold you back from living fully and freely in that forgiveness, for today I reach you in my Body and Blood, which is the steadfast love which binds you not only to me, / but also to one another.
In response to such an invitation, what can we do but fall down before our God and cry out with Micah: "Who is a God like you?"
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
*Much of this sermon is borrowed from Rev William Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship