Pentecost 14 2019 Proper 19
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 15, 2019
Ezekiel 34:11-24, 1 Timothy 1:5-17, Luke 15:1-10
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It is Friday night and you are celebrating so you and your spouse go to a fancy restaurant for dinner. As you follow the hostess you see a large table set up and a well-dressed, respected local leader is there at the head of the table. He is respected, but you look around and you see a bunch of the low-life folks of town eating with him. There are bums and meth heads and burnouts and gang-bangers and ex-cons, and hookers and drunks. It is a motley-looking group all sitting down for dinner with this respected leader.
You wonder to yourself, “What is going on here? What is he doing with the likes of them?” These are not the people he should be having dinner with. They should not be at this nice restaurant.
In our Gospel reading Jesus is attracting a motley group of sinners and tax collectors. They are coming to Jesus to hear Him teach, and this makes the Pharisees and the scribes angry; they start to grumble. They grumble like the Exodus Israelites in the desert who grumble because they do not like how God is doing things. The Pharisees and scribes grumble because Jesus receives sinners and even eats with them. They wonder… “What is He doing with the likes of them?”
The Pharisees and scribes think Jesus is one of the “us”; one of the good people, the religious leaders and teachers. So what is “He” doing hanging out with “them”; low-life sinners, and dishonest, traitorous tax collectors.
The Pharisees and scribes have the “us” being the good religious people like themselves and the “them” being those no good sinners.
It is easy to fall into thinking about people this way. “Us” versus “them”. “Us” being the good, hard-working, rule-following people and “them” being the lazy, no-good rotten sinners. “Us” and “them”. It is easy to fall into this way of thinking, it is the world’s way of thinking…but it is not Jesus’ way of thinking. We are tempted to categorize people so we can dismiss them and ignore them. We have all sorts of categories. There are the bums, drunks, druggies, thugs, hippies, LGBT folks…lots of categories we use to sort people into “us” and “them”?
In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus addresses the grumbling scribes and Pharisees by telling two stories about lost and found. What we need to figure out is how Jesus’ “lost” and “found” categories relate to our “us” and “them” categories. In the first parable the shepherd is very concerned about one lost sheep. The message is Luke 15:7 (ESV) 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 
The woman in the second story is very concerned about one lost coin. The message is Luke 15:10 (ESV) 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus rebukes the grumbling religious leaders who are thinking that the sinners and tax collectors do not belong with “us”. Jesus is teaching that the sinners and tax collectors are the lost item that has been found. They are one sinner who repents. They are the one for whom heaven rejoices. The Pharisees and scribes are lost even though they believe they are good enough. They are the ninety-nine who “need no repentance.”
What does Jesus means when He says they “need no repentance?” He is being sarcastic. We know from 1 John 1:8 (ESV) 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Who needs repentance? Who needs to turn from their sin and return to God? Everyone. Everyone except the Lord Jesus Himself. Everyone needs to repent, but the Pharisees and scribes believe they do not need to repent. The Pharisees and scribes think they are good enough, and Jesus is calling them out.
The Pharisees and scribes are not alone. There are an awful lot of people in our world who believe they are good enough. If you were to stop someone on the street and ask them, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”, most folks I think would answer “yes.” And if you ask them, “Why?” A great number of them would answer, “Because I’m a pretty good person.”
The Pharisees and scribes think they are good enough. A lot of people today believe they are good enough. There are so many who think they are just fine on their own. They don’t need Jesus, they don’t need the Church. They don’t need repentance. They don’t need forgiveness. But they are wrong. Everyone needs Jesus. Everyone needs the Church. Everyone needs repentance. Everyone needs forgiveness.
You confessed at the beginning of the service that you are by nature sinful and unclean and you deserve God’s present and eternal punishment. You confessed that you are a sinner and that you need Jesus. You need Jesus on the cross paying for your sins. You need Jesus raised from the dead to know the payment is complete. You know you need repentance and so you gather here each week to repent and receive the forgiveness of your sins.
This is what the Church does. As the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, we exist to deliver Jesus’ forgiveness to people. This building is not a museum for saints; it is a hospital for sinners. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy says he is the foremost sinner. Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me. Jesus is telling the Pharisees and the scribes that they are in eternal trouble because they do not think they need to repent.
Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. We welcome sinners and eat with them. When someone comes to know that they need Jesus we welcome them no matter their background. No one is too far gone that they cannot return to the Lord. They are welcome to come to hear the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. We welcome all the drunks and drug addicts and LGBT folks to come and hear Jesus’ words of law and words of Gospel; to repent and receive forgiveness. We welcome them and rejoice with great joy over one who was lost but now who is found.
Now we do not change God’s law. We do not minimize it or lessen its severity. We do not get to adjust God’s truth to fit our own understandings, or the changing winds of culture. Instead, as followers of Jesus, we humble ourselves and submit to God’s truth. Everyone is welcome to join us in submitting to the Word of God. We invite everyone to hear the good news and come to Jesus in repentance.
When someone comes into our midst that belongs to one of those categories that people use to dismiss others, we welcome them. We don’t say, “What is someone like you, doing here, with people like us?” Instead we say something like, “Welcome, it is wonderful to have you here. Join us as we repent and hear the Good News.” Because the real question for all of us is, “What are we… sinners, doing with Him… the Lord Jesus?” The “us” is sinners who need to repent.
Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. We welcome sinners, and we repent with them, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ with them for the forgiveness of sins. We welcome sinners. Otherwise this place would be empty. We are indeed a hospital for sinners where Jesus gives out the medicine of forgiveness and eternal life. And there is great joy in heaven.