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Sunday September 12, 2010
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

I Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Why We Need To Be Saved

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Many years ago I was a Curate for a wonderful Rector who was on a powerful roll in his preaching. He was preaching salvation and grace through Jesus Christ, no matter who you are. One Sunday morning a long-time church member memorably confronted the Rector at the door after the service. “Why do you guys keep going on about salvation?” he said, and went on, “I’ve lived a pretty good life. I don’t need to be saved.” We’ll stop there.

Of course the Church is about salvation, no matter who we are. It is about salvation because it is about Jesus, whose very name means Savior. Today’s Gospel from Saint Luke presents the same spiritual issue as I just recounted at the church door. Tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus to hear him. The Pharisees and scribes murmured against Jesus, that he received sinners and even ate with them. In response Jesus tells some parables, two of which we hear in today’s reading, The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin. There is good news for sinners in these parables.

To liken a person, a sinner, to a lost sheep or lost coin is good news, because it means we are precious in the sight of God, and that God cares enough about us to go looking for us. A lost sheep cannot with its limited faculties find its way back when it wanders off far away. Its life is in danger. Jesus’ shepherd goes off to seek it, to find it, to pick it up and put it on his shoulders, and to bring it back safely. He even calls his friends and neighbors, rejoicing that he has found his lost sheep. Just so, says Jesus, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, who turns back to God, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. A lost coin has value. Jesus’ woman (perhaps he saw his mother do it) lights a lamp and sweeps the house until she finds it. She invites her neighbors to share her relief and joy at recovering it. Just so, says Jesus, there is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. A sheep and a coin (probably the denarius, a day’s wage) were things of value to their possessors that Jesus’ hearers could appreciate.

God, says Jesus, is persistent in searching for what is his that has gotten lost, and he is also jubilant upon recovering it. This contrasts sharply with the religion of the scribes and Pharisees, who stayed clear of tax collectors and sinners as though they feared pollution from them. This attitude exposes the superficiality of the supposed holiness of such religious practice, as though contact with the poor, the sick, the weak, the sinful would bring it down. Jesus, who really was pure and holy, had no such fear at all. He could come in close contact with those who had fallen low without ever being contaminated; far from it, like the shepherd and the woman in today’s parables, he sought them out and received them. Sinners didn’t taint Jesus; Jesus befriended and blessed sinners. He spoke to them, taught them, and showed the way to life and peace in both time and eternity. He wasn’t simply being humanitarian; he was literally God incarnate, their maker and redeemer, on mission. And what attracted sinners to Jesus was their finding in him not that hard, cold righteousness, full of pride and contempt, by which the Pharisees condemned them, but goodness associated with tender love and mercy.

Furthermore, surely there is more to being a child of God than “living a pretty good life.” Anyone with insight and honesty knows that’s a hollow phrase. Did you notice, in today’s Epistle, Saint Paul says that Pharisees need salvation as much as tax collectors and other obvious sinners? In his opposition to the Gospel, like today’s scribes and Pharisees, Paul (who then was known as Saul of Tarsus) blasphemed and persecuted and insulted Jesus in the persons of his disciples. Then he was knocked off his high horse of self-confidence and made this extraordinary confession: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.” He had come to see that his religious pride was his most dangerous sin of all and had brought about terrible things. But look at the good news: even a Pharisee of Pharisees can be saved! But first there must be honesty.

The first Beatitude of Christ is that the poor, the poor in spirit, are blessed, for theirs in the Kingdom of God. The blessedness consists in our awareness of our need for God, our knowledge of our poverty, our being lost, without his love, his forgiveness, his grace and power. We are far better off, much nearer to God, if we recognize ourselves in the position of the tax collectors and sinners, than if we have the complacency of the proud and the self-righteous.

That confrontation at the church door ages ago between my old rector and the church member reveals a perennial issue. The Pharisees have not gone away; they have taken up membership and positions in the Church, and they resist the purposes of Christ as much as ever. And they may be us! The Pharisee spirit can take root in our hearts and lead to a hardening. When this happens, we forget who and what we are: every bit as needy as ever. To be genuine, the Church is always the place where sinners draw near to hear Jesus. May we see our place with them in order to hear clearly what the Lord has to say. Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs in the Kingdom of heaven.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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