Devotional Message: The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19C (9/15/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
1st Timothy 1:12-17
St. Luke 15:1-10

Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14 (2)

Prayer of the Day

O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray.  Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

15.1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

St. Luke 15:1-10, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Welcoming Sinners and Eating with Them

One of my favorite “church stories” is about the kind and faithful usher who is out in front of the church on a Sunday morning, sweeping the sidewalk and making everything just right for those who are about to arrive. A gentleman passes by, and the usher extends an invitation for him to join them for worship. The passerby scoffs, and replies, “I would never spend time in that church. It’s full of hypocrites!” With a gentle smile, the usher responds: “That’s not true at all. There is always room for one more.”

There is always room for one more. This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents. Welcomed into God’s love, just as we are. A theme is developing here; one that finds its home at the very heart of Christian faith. Who are these sinners Jesus welcomes, and with whom he eats? They are not the lost and bedraggled, living in quiet desperation, waiting for us good church people to come and save them. They are, in fact, us.

That’s the good news of this weekend’s Gospel lesson.

First century religious authorities were all about creating boundaries around the good and faithful, to protect them from the corrupting influences of the world (and perhaps even more threateningly: the sinful people who live in the world). They were seeking to establish a community focused on purity, where insiders can’t be contaminated by outsiders, and faith can grow unhindered by negative influences. Jesus takes the exact opposite approach. He understands that there is no dividing line between good and bad people — between faithful people and unfaithful people — but that each of us is both a believer, touched and graced by God, and a sinner, constantly in need of redemption. Martin Luther and his colleagues referred to this reality with the Latin phrase Simil Justis et Peccator;  simultaneously saint and sinner.

The charge against Jesus is true. He does indeed welcome sinners and eat with them. Like a shepherd who worries about one lost sheep and a woman who is troubled by one lost coin, the presence of Jesus in this world is testimony to God’s deep desire to seek and find the lost. God is one who knows us fully and loves us fully. Even in those moments when we find it hard to love ourselves, God continues to love us; loving us enough even to die for us. It is because of this great love that God welcomes us into the family of faith just as we are, without us having first to earn or deserve our place among the faithful. And it is  because of his profound welcome that our hearts are touched in a deep and profound way, causing the ones who have been welcomed to become the ones who welcome; causing the ones who have been invited to become the ones who invite.

So let us join with Christ in tearing down the walls that divide us. Let us be bold enough to welcome sinners and eat with them. Let us give thanks that, despite our own sinfulness, God has welcomed us. And let us demonstrate our gratitude by sharing this same gift with others. This is what lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Thanks be to God!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. How does Jesus’ understanding of faithfulness differ from that of the first century religious leaders?

  2. Why are the Pharisees and scribes so troubled that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them?

  3. How is the radical welcome of Jesus a direct challenge to the religious systems of his day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I been tempted to draw lines that include the faithful (and me!), while excluding others?

  2. How does an awareness of my own sin make me more grateful for God’s forgiveness, love and grace?

  3. With whom might I share a kind and faithful welcome?