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Trinity 3 – Luke 15:1-10

by pastorjuhl ~ June 25th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Grand Central Station, the elegant train station in midtown Manhattan, has over 19,000 items in their lost and found. The most popular item lost is a coat. Up to 2,000 coats a year are lost there. 60 percent of lost items are found. When a laptop computer or iPod music device is lost, close to 98 percent of them are claimed.

The one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, Jesus Christ’s elegant bride scattered throughout the earth, has countless numbers of people who are lost. The most popular lost person is the Christian who once believed that Jesus Christ is their Savior from sin and death, but no longer practice what they once believed. Few of these lost souls are found. When one person lost is found, Jesus says there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Congregation, our Lord’s elegant outpost of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Momence, Illinois, has 295 baptized members, yet averages around 55 people for Divine Service. Where are the 240 others? Are there still 240 others out there who are lost? Some of them we cannot find. They have moved away or refuse to remain in contact with us. Some are not here because of a personality conflict with one of us, with the current pastor, or with a previous pastor. The conflict may be years old but still festers in their mind so much that they cannot, or will not, return to this congregation.

Perhaps the most popular reason why so many are on our rolls yet never attend Divine Service is that they don’t need this congregation anymore. They have paid their debt to the Lord by having their children baptized, attending Sunday School, maybe Divine Service once in a while, and going through confirmation instruction. Once that debt of responsibility is fulfilled, then going to God’s House becomes an option rarely taken. One train of thought might be, “I know I am baptized. I know Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead. I can practice my faith from the privacy of my own home. I no longer need to go to church. I can pray from home and watch the occasional TV preacher.”

Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter 15 describes three different situations of someone or something lost that is found. The first two are things without a rational soul: a sheep and a coin. The last situation is one that hits close to home for all of us: a lost son. The sheep strays from the flock. The coin is misplaced. The son tells his father to drop dead. That is what is behind the son asking for his share of the inheritance before his father dies. The shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep behind to search for the lost one. The woman performs a thorough search of her house to find one silver coin. The son loses all his inheritance and lives with swine before coming to himself and preparing an appropriate apology for his father.

All three items are precious things to which they belong. When they are found, there is much rejoicing. If the party on earth for a lost sheep, a lost silver coin, and a lost son is something, think of the party in heaven when one lost soul repents of their sin and again believes in Jesus Christ. Yet we seem to think nothing of it. We might think it’s high time that heathen dragged their sorry self back to church. They need the Lord.

When we despise preaching and God’s Word, it’s high time we heathens dragged our sorry selves back to church. Saint Peter says in today’s Epistle be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. When Peter mentions sobriety he doesn’t mean quit drinking. Peter means stay alert; watch out for the roaring lion of sin prowling on cat’s feet right behind you. Whether it’s been one week or one decade since the last visit to church, what a Christian suffers in this world is no different from any other person.

The big difference between a Christian and the person who hardens their heart against God and His amazing grace believes Jesus Christ is the end of sin and suffering. Listen again to the prophet Micah: Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old.

God loves the lost. He pardons their sin and forgets His anger because He delights in mercy. Mercy is God’s standard default position over creation. Before the foundation of the world, God knew man would fall into sin. Our heavenly Father’s love and mercy for mankind caused Him to send His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ in the flesh into our world. Jesus Christ came to our world to destroy sin and death. He found the lost, scattered sheep of Israel, died for their sins, and rose from the dead triumphant over our satanic enemy. Jesus ascends into heaven to prepare a place for you and me at the banquet table of forgiveness and life in heaven. The life of the world to come will be a feast the likes of which you and me can only imagine.

There is a foretaste of the feast to come here in this world. This foretaste is in this chancel, where the Word of God’s mercy and love for lost sinners is proclaimed week after week. It’s stunning that more people do not want to be a part of the foretaste of the feast to come. Reasons abound why so many call themselves Christians but want nothing to do with Christ. Rather than count reasons or cast aspersions, we rejoice with God over one sinner who repents, is found by the Master, and returns to the fold.

Rather than worry about all the people who are not coming here to the church, rather than pine away for a church where the people were more active, where visitors were more frequent, and where there is a thriving youth program, let’s focus on the one sinner that repents. Rather than worship our god of numbers and size, let’s rejoice when just one sinner comes back to the faith, when just one sinner sees his need for Christ and clings to Him. That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the way of the holy Christian Church. Therefore, what if our numbers are small. Who said it would be different? Just look at Jesus’ ministry. Over half those who followed Him left Him after Jesus said He was the Bread of Life. When Jesus questioned whether the Twelve would also leave, Peter responded Lord, to Whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.

Big Church; little Church; it’s still the Church. It’s still the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ still dwells here. Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, says Christ, there I am in the midst of them. Let’s be done with “wishing we had something better.” It’s time to be done with the negative thoughts and attitudes. Let’s put behind us the attitude that says: “We’re going to be the last people who ever come here.” It’s time to be the Church. Do what Christians do. We worship God; we serve one another in our vocations, whether that is in the home, in the church, or in our work. We pray to our heavenly Father daily, confess him in the Creeds, study His Word and grow in our knowledge and understanding of it, and most of all, we take refuge and comfort, whenever we are afflicted with the guilt of sin or the attacks of the devil, in the holy and life-saving cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Size doesn’t matter in the kingdom of heaven. What matters is when lost souls like you and me are fed with Living Bread that comes from heaven. The angels rejoice with us today as God gathers His beloved around altar, pulpit, and font in this foretaste of the feast to come. To [God] be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

(I am indebted to Rev. Paul L. Beisel for his thoughts in the last two paragraphs.)

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