The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 11-12, 2010
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Dear Friends in Christ,
In one scene in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, the king of Rohan asks one of his aides, “Who am I?” The aide is a little taken aback and doesn’t know what to say. He simply replies; “You are the king, sire.” Who am I? It is a question that we often ask ourselves. Who am I that I should have such troubles? Or who am I that I should be so blessed? Who am I that I should be blessed to hear the Word of God throughout my life. Pastors must ask who am I that should presume to stand before the Lord’s throne and speak from the Lord’s pulpit? Who am I? It is a question that mocks us. It is a question we often ask and receive silence for an answer. And yet, how we answer this question will determine so much of our lives.
Who am I? This is the unspoken question that completely underlies the text. Everybody reacted as they did, based upon how they answered this question. The text has three people or groups of people interacting. How they act in the text is determined by how they have answered this question for themselves and for others - who are they?
The tax collectors come to Jesus and Jesus receives them. He has dinner with them. He teaches them and they eagerly hear Christ’s words. So how do the tax collectors answer the question. Who do they think that they are? Sinners. Sinners in need of a savior. They need forgiveness. They need hope. They were considered hopeless by the people of their day. They were reprobate - beyond redemption. They had sinned by collaborating with the Romans. But Jesus doesn’t treat them that way. He welcomes them. He offers them forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life.
What about the Pharisees and the scribes? Who did they think that they were? They were the righteous. They were without sin. They followed the law of Moses. But St. Paul, himself one of the most learned of all Pharisees, tell us: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law thought that through the law, they could save themselves. How do they see Jesus? As a threat. He attacks the law by making it unattainable. He drives people to despair. But at the same time Christ flaunts the law by eating with sinners. How then did Jesus see the Pharisees? He saw them as sinners who did not see their own sins. They were self righteous which always means unrighteous. They were enemies of God. They were enemies because they misused the law. Instead of seeing the law as a mirror to examine their lives, they saw the law as something that they could actually do. What does St. John tell us? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9) Now none of us have ever heard that before, have we? The Pharisee were making God a liar by not acknowledging their own sins.
Now, we come to us. Who am I? Who is Jody Walter? Who is Bonnie Walter? (Name some other names.) We must each ask and answer that question. Our text actually gives us a good mirror, or foil. We can test ourselves against the text. We obviously are not Christ. That part of the answer is easy. So are we the Pharisees or the tax collectors? Who should we want to be? The tax collectors, of course. They were honest sinners. They came to Christ as beggars knowing that their was no good in themselves. All too often however, we find ourselves being the Pharisees thinking we can somehow please God by our own righteousness.
The law of God functions in several ways, both properly and improperly. We think of three proper functions of the law. The Pharisees were of course using the law improperly. In fact when we try to use the law, we almost always abuse the law. When the law is functioning properly we are not using the law, rather God is using the law upon us. The law is really something for God to use. And when He uses it upon us it functions in three ways. First it is a curb upon evil. God has built His law into the fabric of the universe and established the authority to restrain evil. So if you were a soldier or a police officer, God’s law would explain to you, your vocation. The law is a mirror. It shows us our sins. Then God uses the law to teach us His will. But only those who have seen their sins in the mirror of the law, can truly understand the will of God. The will of God flows out of forgiveness. It does not ever function apart from forgiveness. Obedience must always flow from the forgiveness of our sins. If we try to be obedient apart from forgiveness, we will only be self righteous hypocrites.
Jesus eats with the tax collectors because they understand that they have no hope in themselves. They need a Savior. Christ is that Savior. That’s why He came to Earth. That is why God dwelt with mankind. God came so that He could be our Savior from sin and death. God would pay the price of our rebellion. He would die on the cross in our place. Crucifixion, in the Roman system, was the death of rebel. Christ died as a rebel. He died because we are the rebels. But He did not die so that He could come and zap us. He came to die so that we would live.
So who am I? In my sins I am a rebel and whore. I am an enemy of God. In Holy Baptism I was reborn as a child of God. I was put into that room with the tax collectors and sinners. Of ourselves there is no hope. In ourselves there is only false hope that only leads to the fires of hell. But that’s the strange part about what Christ has done. It is those who know that they are sinners who are received by Him. Sin is a terrible thing. But to be placed into the company of sinners by Christ, is a good thing. For in that company of honest sinners, there is a certain hope. For those who know that they cannot save themselves have a Savior - Christ Jesus, our Lord. So who am I? A poor, miserable sinner, a beggar, who has nothing to offer God. Those who approach God in this way, are filled with hope, love, mercy, forgiveness, and life. So who am I? A redeemed sinner who lives because Christ is righteous in my place. So who am I? A redeemed sinner who lives because Christ lives for me.