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Sermon: Luke 15:1-10
Pentecost 17 – October 6, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

I think it’s because our nation is such a large and wealthy nation that we Americans are unusually impressed with large numbers. What I mean is we have a tendency to think that the financial corporation that has the most investments is the best corporation. The department store that has the most stores and sells the most products and makes the most money is the best store. The organization that has the largest membership must be the best organization.

We unfortunately often think the same way about churches. We conclude that the church that has the most cars in the parking lot on Sunday morning and the most people in the church pews must be a really good church, the best church in the community. The truth is that large statistics don’t always prove the worth or effectiveness of a corporation or a church or any other organization.

In our text today Jesus tells a couple of well-known parables that indicate that God is not primarily concerned about large numbers and statistics. It’s true that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, but these parables indicate that God is much more concerned about the salvation of each individual and that God rejoices every time just one person repents, and so should we.

Today we’re encouraged

BE GLAD WHEN GOD SAVES JUST ONE PERSON –
NO MATTER WHO IT MAY BE

Many different groups of people came to listen to Jesus’ preaching. Often among them were “tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” Tax collectors and “sinners” was a polite way of referring to the members of society that people often looked down on, the members of society that people didn’t want to associate with. The tax collectors were notoriously unpatriotic thieves. The “sinners” were considered to be the really bad sinners, guilty of sins of immorality that people were careful not to mention.

But also among those who listened to Jesus surprisingly were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were conservative religious leaders and scholars in the Law of Moses, the word of God. Most of them didn’t like Jesus very much. That’s why I say they were surprisingly among those who listened to Jesus. But they did listen to Jesus, some for the purpose of trying to catch Jesus is his words and prove that he was not teaching the truth. But there also were those Pharisees and teachers of the law who were curiously intrigued by Jesus’ teaching and miracles, and, in fact, there were some who listened because their consciences and hearts were touched by Jesus’ call to repentance.

But it was the not so charitable and impenitent Pharisees and teachers of the law who sneered at Jesus and mumbled to one another, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus of course knew their unloving thoughts and words which prompted him to tell the two parables that we have in our text today. The first parable was the one about the lost sheep. Jesus told the story of a shepherd who had one-hundred sheep. One sheep got lost so the shepherd left the ninety-nine to go and look for the one lost sheep. When he found the lost sheep he rejoiced with his friends and neighbors. And Jesus draws this conclusion: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Jesus really was directing his words right at the Pharisees and teachers of the law: “God is overjoyed each time if just one of these lowly tax collectors or ‘sinners’ repents. He has no joy over you ninety-nine proud Pharisees and teachers of the law who think you don’t need to repent of your sins.”

Just in case the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t get Jesus’ point he told a second parable, the parable of the lost coin. A woman had ten silver coins. She lost one of them. So she swept her house and looked carefully for it until she found it. Then, like the shepherd who found his one lost sheep, she also rejoiced with her friends and neighbors that she had found the lost coin. And once again Jesus emphasizes his point: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

It’s interesting to consider the wide range of God’s emotions in the Bible. In our Old Testament reading today God was angry, intensely angry, with the people of Israel because they broke his first and most basic and fundamental commandment – “You shall have no other gods.” Moses was a long time in returning from meeting with the LORD on the top of Mt. Sinai so the people concluded that he was dead. So they had his brother Aaron fashion a golden calf like they had seen in Egypt and they began to worship that idol. God was so angry that he threatened to kill all of the people of Israel.

But in these two parables we go all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum of God’s emotions. God is thrilled, he’s overjoyed at one person who repents. Jesus even says that God rejoices in the presence of the angels in heaven, along with the angels who rejoice with God.

God is thrilled when we repent of our sins. Do you repent of your sins? Do you thrill God with your repentant heart? We should all ask ourselves these questions quite seriously and regularly. Almost anyone who considers himself or herself to be a Christian is going to say, maybe with some hesitation, “Well, yes, I’m repentant. I think I’m repentant. I’m sorry for my sins.”

But I say we all need to ask ourselves these questions about repentance seriously and regularly because it’s so easy for us to take our repentance for granted. Too often our repentance can be woefully imperfect or completely lacking when we think we’re repentant.

Repentance is much more than just reciting the words of a confessional prayer as we will do together later in our service today. Repentance means that we confess to God our inherited and inborn sinfulness, that we are born dead in our transgressions and sins, that we are by nature objects of God’s wrath as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians. Repentance means that we confess to God that our inborn sinfulness causes us to commit sins each day in our thoughts, words, and actions.

But repentance is also a heartfelt changing of the mind and heart that acknowledges that our sins are bad, that they offend God, that they make God angry like he was angry at the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf. Repentance is also a desperate turn to God for his mercy and forgiveness. And real repentance implies the genuine intention to change sinful behavior. When the tax collectors and “sinners” repented they intended to leave their sins of greed and theft and immorality.

You may remember the lesson about Zacchaeus the repentant tax collector, the short man who climbed a tree in Jericho for the opportunity to see Jesus. His mind and heart changed about his sin. His mind and heart changed about God and his forgiveness. And his changed mind and heart promised to pay back what he stole and to not return to that life.

That kind of repentance is a miracle of God. It’s not just deluding ourselves by saying some thoughtless words of repentance. Only the Holy Spirit can work that kind of genuine repentance. We all need to make it our prayer each day, before we even confess our sins, we all need to make it our prayer each day that the Holy Spirit would give us true repentance and make that repentance more genuine every day.

We pray for many things in life, but we need to seriously and regularly ask God to make our repentance heartfelt and genuine. And God will answer that prayer over the course of our lives. He will make us more like Zacchaeus and like those tax collectors and “sinners” who repented. God rejoices in that kind of repentance. God is thrilled when we repent from the heart and change our thinking and behavior.

And these parables in our text today also teach us that God and the angels don’t wait for a thousand people to repent and then they rejoice. They don’t look over a whole world of sinners who repent and then they can rejoice. God and the angels rejoice in heaven when just you repent of your sins. God and the angels rejoice in heaven when just I repent, when just one person repents, when one sheep is found, when one lost coin is recovered.

Think of our second reading today in which the Apostle Paul recounts how Jesus found him and led him to repentance. Paul hated Christ and hated Christians. But Jesus changed Paul’s heart and mind. God forgave his sins. And Paul’s whole life changed. On that day God didn’t gather a group of a thousand sinners and lead them to repentance so he could rejoice. He looked for and found one man, one person, one lost sheep named Saul, and turned him into the Apostle Paul. And God and the angels rejoiced in heaven that day.

Why so much rejoicing over just one sinner who repents? A thousand repentant sinners would be much more impressive, would be a much more significant reason to be glad. God and the angels rejoice over just one sinner who repents because the repentance of just one sinner is so rare, so precious, so miraculous. It is one heart and life changed from going to hell. God and the angels rejoice over just one sinner who repents because God has that much love for just one sinner.

God has that much love and compassion for you and for me. If you or I were the only sinner in the world Jesus would have come from heaven to this world to die on a cross to atone for just your sins or my sins.

And since God rejoices so much over one sinner who repents, he also wants us to rejoice when someone else repents, just one person – no matter who it may be. That was the lesson the Pharisees and tax collectors needed to learn. If they had really been repentant themselves they would have been thrilled that these tax collectors and “sinners” were coming to listen to Jesus. But they weren’t. They weren’t either repentant or thrilled, and they didn’t rejoice.

Be repentant and be thrilled, rejoice, that God has found you his lost sheep. And be glad every time God finds just one other lost sheep, no matter who it may be. Amen.