The Third Sunday after Trinity: Jesus Receives Sinners

Parables of Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
A woman searches her house for a lost coin while a shepherd brings a lost sheep home, based on Luke 15:1-10. From a book by Martin Luther interpreting the Epistles and Gospels, 1544.

Lessons: Micah 7:18-20, 1 Peter 5:6-11, Luke 15:1-10
Hymns: LSB 614, 609, 618, 839, 692

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      It’s easy to disapprove of those who seem to us to be controlled by the winds of various stages of public opinion. We pity those who seem to be influenced by certain media outlets or various forms of propaganda. We do so because we, being influenced by opposing viewpoints, figure we are enlightened while the others are not. When we find media outlets that say what we want to believe, we consider them to be unbiased. But when they say the opposite of what we figure is right, we label them as biased and conclude that their audiences are tricked into their propaganda.

      Even though our society says all viewpoints are valid and we must respect everyone’s opinions, at the same time society is telling us we must only go along with certain narratives. This is creating much hatred and polarization. Christians are often the victims, for many Christian values are under attack. Christians are being condemned for their biblical beliefs, especially as we know the best way to raise children is with their father and mother under the same roof, that it is not good for children to have two dads or two moms, that no-fault divorce is wrong, and it is also wrong to kill unborn babies or euthanize people. Many condemn us because they figure they are more enlightened than we are who believe God doesn’t change and reveals His truth through the unchanging Bible.

      In Jesus’s day, those who thought they were enlightened were the Pharisees. They figured they understood all aspects of theology and life correctly, while others did not. They were so sure of their opinions that they openly criticized Jesus for not conforming to their ways of thought. In today’s Gospel, Jesus received sinners and ate with them. This action—receiving and eating with sinners—was particularly egregious to the enlightened Pharisees who knew so much better. To eat with someone meant solidarity and unity with that person. How could Jesus unite Himself to such sin?

      In the two parables we heard today, Jesus politely rebukes the Pharisees, showing the importance of calling sinners to repentance and the fruitlessness of refusing to repent.

      So what do we make of this account today? Are we in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod just like those Pharisees in Jesus’ day? We may find some striking comparisons. Both the Pharisees and the Missouri Synod figure they are right while others are wrong, both are concerned that God’s people follow pure doctrine and right practice, both are known to condemn sin, both seem to be rather exclusive for the Pharisees won’t eat with certain sinners and the Missouri Synod won’t commune those outside of the LCMS, both have high standards for morality, and both want to be right.

      Does this make us the Pharisees of our day? Some would have you believe it. More liberal Lutheran church bodies are particularly offended by us in the LCMS and frequently draw the conclusion of how pharisaical we are. Many hate us for sticking with the Bible’s teachings on many matters. In fact, their hatred of us is like the hatred the Pharisees had for Jesus and His followers.

      So are we Pharisees? Is it pharisaical to practice closed communion, recognize that God made us male or female, uphold marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, reject the lodges, or accept only men as pastors? While many may try to portray us as Pharisees for holding to these positions, the reality is these are the positions of the Bible; they are the teachings of God.

      Practicing closed communion may seem pharisaical because we are not communing those who hold to other confessions within Christianity or communing those who are openly unrepentant. It may seem like this is the same as the Pharisees who were not eating with sinners and tax collectors, whereas Jesus was. And, in last week’s Gospel, we heard the Parable of the Great Banquet in which all are invited. So who is right here? What practice is upholding God’s Word? Commune everyone? That, from a worldly standpoint, appears to be the nicest. Or commune only those who have been examined, absolved, and confessed with their lips the doctrine of our Church? While that is too narrow for many, it is the right way.

      To come to an understanding of how this is correct, we need to look at today’s parables. A sheep and a coin are lost. The shepherd seeks the lost sheep, and the woman searches for the lost coin. Both are found. There is much rejoicing. But notice Jesus’ commentary: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance” and Jesus said, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

      When Jesus receives these sinners and tax collectors and eats with them, He is not confirming them in their sin. He is not saying, “Well, you were born with the propensity to steal, cheat, fornicate, cohabitate, murder, or believe in false doctrine so let’s celebrate you, have a pride month for your sin, and allow you keep on doing it.” Instead, Jesus brings them to repentance. And there is joy in heaven.

      To repent is to admit sin and turn from it. Without the Law of God, we would not repent, for we would not know that our actions are sinful. God the Holy Spirit leads us to repentance. He certainly can cause the feeling of guilt in us. And instead of despairing over our sin, we confess our sin to God. We make no excuses or attempt to explain our sin away by coming up with logical explanations for what we’ve done wrong. Instead, we plead guilty before the Lord. We confess our sin. And God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 8:7-10).

      It is these repentant sinners whom Jesus is receiving. He isn’t receiving them by saying, “Well, I will be crucified to take your sin away, so keep on sinning so you can keep on piling up the sins for which I must make atonement.” The Moral Law of God remains the same, whether at Creation, during the days of Moses, the days of Jesus, or in our day. Same with God’s Word. So, we listen to what God teaches. We do not amend His Word. It’s His Word, after all.

      So, when Jesus dines with sinners and tax collectors, He, through His Word, calls them to repentance, and their lives are amended. Their temptations may remain, but their hearts no longer desire to continue in the sins by which they formerly walked. The desires they have according to the Spirit are to walk according to the ways of the Lord.

      This, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what the Pharisees did not see. They knew the past lives of the sinners and tax collectors, but they did not care to see that they had repented. The Pharisees were too self-absorbed for that. They were ready to judge and condemn, not to receive or call to repentance.

      When we practice closed communion, we are still communing sinners. You are. I am. We don’t hesitate to kneel next to someone who has wronged us in the past to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. We don’t dig up their pasts, ready to fling mud at them. We rejoice that they are leading repentant lives, the Lord has drawn them to His house, and invites them to the Lord’s table. We were once lost; but our Good Shepherd found us. He added us to His family through Baptism. When we have strayed into sinful lifestyles or false belief, He has sought us out through fellow caring Christians who bring us back into His fold.

      If Jesus had not called these sinners and tax collectors to repentance and just allowed them to continue in their wayward ways, the Pharisees would have had a valid case against Jesus. But, as the parables teach, Jesus did not do that. He rejoiced that they repented and believed in Christ for their salvation. In the same way, we cannot commune those who hold to other confessions of the faith or remain unrepentant. We seek after them. We show them the right way. We call them to repentance. And when they repent and join in confessing with their lips the same biblical truths as we confess, then we gladly invite them to the Lord’s table to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus with us. And we are filled with joy, as are the angels in Heaven.

      Should we ignore doctrinal differences or impenitence and invite them to the Lord’s table anyway, we would be lying to them and misleading them into thinking that their sinful ways are ok. They may then die condemned, and we would be instruments of their eternal death. In love for ourselves and for them, we cannot allow for that.

      After all, Jesus, in love went to the cross to pay for every last sin. There’s no sin—and there’s no sinner—whom Jesus left out when He shed His Blood as the atoning sacrifice to make amends on our behalf with our heavenly Father. Having received His love and forgiveness, we turn to our neighbors in love with a forgiving heart.

      Wanting our fellowman to know the truth of God’s Word and lead repentant lives is our heritage as Lutherans. In Martin Luther’s first of 95 Theses, Luther wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And, on this day 493 years ago (June 25, 1530), the Lutheran confessors at Augsburg gave our confession of the Christian faith, risking their lives to let the world know what we believe as truth from the Bible. It was not a compromise to agree to disagree. The Augsburg Confession states the way of salvation, found only through faith in Christ. After all, we want people to know the truth, for Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In Christ, we are freed from sin and received into His kingdom. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen