14th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 19) LSB #’s 609:1-3, 6-7, 608, 611
Text – Luke 15:1
Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.
DRAWING NEAR TO JESUS
I’m going to venture that every one of us in this room has lost something important. Whether it’s the car keys, or a wallet, or a child, we know what that stress & fear is like when we have lost something valuable. Are we going to find it? When, where, how soon? Will it be safe until we find it; will it be harmed or stolen?
It can be difficult to focus on anything else, even other important matters, until the lost item is found, hopefully safe & sound.
On the other hand, imagine searching for something, not because of fear, nor clouded by thoughts of fear. Imagine searching for something, not because it was lost, not because you needed it in order to function. Imagine searching for something simply because you love what you are searching for? That scenario paints a completely different picture.
In the sermon last Sunday, we heard that a substantial number of the Christians in the early church were enslaved people. They had little hope of improving their station in life. They had no means by which to give their children hope for a better life than that of their parents. People were born into the upper class or the enslaved class & one of them held all the power.
It’s not difficult to understand why much of the early Christian church was made up of enslaved people. They were drawn to the teachings of Jesus because He treated them with dignity & offered them hope for this life & for the next. This week, Luke writes that the poor, disabled, lame & blind, along with tax collectors, were drawing near to hear Jesus.
You may notice that I expanded the list from the sermon text, which read, “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” In Jesus’ day it was thought that people ended up poor, disabled, lame & blind because God was judging them for their sin. They were people too disadvantaged even to serve as slaves. And tax collectors were typically Jews who were seen as betraying their own people in working for the hated Roman government.
All of them were hopelessly outcast from mainstream Jewish society. In our independence minded culture, that doesn’t sound like such a terrible thing. In the Jewish culture it was the equivalent of being outside the kingdom of God. They were treated as if they were not even alive.
Not only did Jesus treat them as if they were alive, He truly cares about them. They responded by following His words spoken immediately before the sermon text, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:35b ESV) And that’s where the Gospel reading begins today, “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].”
And that was driving the Pharisees mad. They just could not believe that Jesus was God because if He were He would know who these people were. The Pharisees had already judged the sinners & tax collectors as not deserving of the kingdom of God. They had disowned them & written them off as undeserving of life.
It boiled down to a very simple problem. Either Jesus was wrong, or the Pharisees were wrong. As sinful beings, at times we go about the business of solving that kind of problem like Russia & Ukraine are doing. It too is very simple problem. Either Zelensky is wrong, or Putin is wrong, & they are fighting a war to see who wins. The scale of destruction is easy to see.
In many problems, human beings turn to science for solutions. If we can just examine what’s happening we hope to solve our problem. With the Covid 19 pandemic people were literally screaming “Just follow the science.” However, the science was way too slow & people couldn’t agree on what they were discovering. The scale of destruction is now easy to see.
As in all societies, there are many problems here in the United States. All kinds of people today are confused about gender. Are the people who are confused right, or is Jesus, their Creator, right? In this case, the science of DNA is very clear, but many people are afraid of the answer it gives.
Due to the recent Supreme Court decision, the battle over abortion is raging across our nation. People who end up pregnant do not always want to be a mother. But it is God who creates life. How can sinful beings solve that problem? One of the greatest obstacles to solving the problem is the inability to have even a civil discussion about the concerns of each side.
Ultimately, all problems in our lives come from sin. God has provided us with answers in His Word. Some people are willing to hear what their Creator has to say. Sadly, many others are not. In the verses right before the sermon text, Jesus describes that sad reality of those who absolutely refuse to hear what the God who created them has to offer:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:34-35 ESV)
Jesus is warning the Pharisees about the danger of refusing to hear what Jesus is offering. Those who refuse to listen will be removed from the permanent place of God’s kingdom, which we often refer to as heaven. This is simply a fact, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus has already paid for the sins of every single human being.
Sin no longer separates us from heaven. Unbelief, the refusal to hear, is what causes the salt to lose its taste. For the salt that has lost its taste Jesus has come – searching. He does not take the judgment of men, about who is salt & who is not. Jesus alone makes that final determination. No religious leader of any stripe can keep one of God’s children out of the kingdom. The parables in the Gospel reading describe the great effort that is expended in order to find those who are lost, whether they are lost in gender confusion or whether they have aborted a child. Jesus searches for all His children, no matter what their sins. He even searches for us when we fail to love others who are lost. Yes, Jesus even searches for you!
Ezekiel gave us these words, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep & will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, & I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds & thick darkness.” (34:11-12 ESV)
And the best news of all is that Jesus searches for you & for me, not out of fear, nor out of need because He cannot function without us. God’s own Son searches for you & for me because He loves us. We are His precious creation. You & I have purpose & meaning determined by the Almighty God of the Universe, even before we were born.
Jesus already knows where we are lost & He personally searches for us in the exact place where we need to be found. You can rest in that love no matter what problems of life are hounding you, or dragging you down. Neither abortion or gender confusion or climate change can steal you away from Christ Jesus. His love is too great & that’s why He searches. Amen.
Lord, to You I make confession: I have sinned & gone astray, I have multiplied transgression, chosen for myself my way. Led by You to see my errors, Lord, I tremble at Your terrors. Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me, Father, I will seek Your face; though Your child I dare not call me, yet receive me in Your grace. Do not for my sins forsake me; let Your wrath not overtake me. For Your Son has suffered for me, given Himself to rescue me, died to save me & restore me, reconciled & set me free. Jesus’ cross alone can vanquish these dark fears & soothe this anguish. Amen. LSB 608:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet