Trinity 3 (July 10, 2011)
Rev. Todd Peperkorn
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter 15, the parables of mercy and repentance.
I really wonder sometimes if we understand God’s mercy at all. There is such a pervasive sense in our culture that God is all about condemnation, that God is basically a mean taskmaster whose sole goal is to trip us up into doing something wrong, and then BAM, we are condemned to an eternity in flames. Certainly that is the perception we get of God in popular media. I couldn’t help but notice, for example, the upcoming remake of the 80’s classic movie Footloose. It’s basically the story of how an overbearing father who happens to be a pastor tries to keep his daughter from having good, innocent fun. Perhaps the story hits too close to home for me, but the impression of God in movies like this is that God is the bad guy, the devil is the good guy, and if we can just get past all of the religion stuff our lives will be much happier.
Now the other popular impression of God is that He is a like a kind and somewhat forgetful grandfather who just lets us get away with stuff because He doesn’t care that much. God just wants us to be happy, and everyone knows that the way to happiness is permissiveness. As long as you can do anything you want, whenever you want and with whomever or however you want, well, then you must be happy. Happiness in this view is the ultimate in selfishness. God, so it goes, wants us to do whatever makes us feel good.
Both of these views are wrong. Both of them hold God to be either small and vindictive or dottering and helpless. A better, more biblical view of God is that He is our Heavenly Father, that He created us by the Word of His mouth, and that He loves us with an everlasting love. Our sin has separated us from God and from each other, but God goes after us, He goes after you. Why? Because that is who He is. He loves you.
You can almost sense Jesus’ frustration at the beginning of our parables here. He is sitting at a Pharisees house for dinner, and tax collectors and public sinners are coming to eat with Him. The Pharisees are offended by this. They don’t want that kind of people eating in their homes. It isn’t civilized. It’s dangerous. It’s messy.
So Jesus tells them a few stories to try and get their heads on straight. He compares you to a lost sheep. He hunts you down, because you are lost and alone and in great need. And when He finds you? He throws a party. You are worth that much.
Or, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like a crazy housewife that turns her house upsidedown and inside out because she lost that one fifty cent coin she got at the grocery store in 1984. God’s love for you is like that. It’s irrational. It, frankly, is a little crazy. We can surely agree with Micah when he says, “who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” Or one pastor put it this way,
Our Blessed Lord receives sinners, welcomes them, and embraces them. He does not turn them away when they cry to Him. He does not ignore their prayer or turn a deaf ear to their plea. Our Lord receives sinners. And Our Blessed Lord eats with them. He feeds on their bread of sorrows, drinks down their cup of suffering, and consumes their grapes of wrath. In other words, Our Lord does not shrink from coming into the filth our natural desires produce. He does not refuse to take into Himself the very thing that kills us.
Christ carries you on His Body. He took your sins upon Himself, the Church seeks you out, and the Father receives you. Our Savior rescues, the Church intercedes, and the Creator reconciles. In this way, the weary sheep is recalled by the shepherd, the coin which was lost is found, and the son retraces his steps to his father and returns, guilty of error, but wholly penitent. So let us rejoice that the sheep which had strayed in Adam is lifted on Christ. The shoulders of Christ are the arms of the Cross. There, I laid down my sins. There, I rested on the neck of the noble yoke. And the angels rejoice, whose protection is to be sought and whose displeasure feared. (St. Ambrose)
God’s love for you, dearly beloved, does not end. It does not make sense. It isn’t fair. It is mercy. It is mercy in the flesh, the flesh of His own Son for you. You were lost, but God has found you. You, like Paul and Peter and all the sinner-saints before, do not deserve God’s love. But love is never about deserving it. God’s love is for you even now.
So come. Come to the feast of God’s love for you. Come and receive what only He can give you. Come and receive God’s mercy in your mouth and heart in His feast, prepared for you this day with great care and love. He is both the host and the meal here, and He comes to give you Himself. Come, for all things are now ready. Come, for He wants you here and now. Come, and receive and live.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.