1 Peter 5:6-11
In the name of Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
All while leaving rest of flock with the undershepherds in the wilderness. It seems like a bad investment strategy to us. You do not abandon your wealth just to try to hunt down one lost, probably dead sheep out in wilderness. What if while the sheep are on their own, or in the care of your underling, lions, wolves, or bears should come? If the head shepherd is not there, who will protect them?
We say: cut your losses. Consolidate what you have. It’s bad strategy to risk all for just one. But this is our God. He is willing to seek out even the most lost among us. Even the dead. This is your security! For each of us was lost. But Christ has found you. You did not find Him. He found you. Your ultimate security in His flock rests on the fact that He will give all in order to save you! He will seek everyone who wanders from His flock. For in truth, we love to wander.
This is our Lord’s point. The Pharisees thought they were not lost. They thought they had found the paths of truth. They followed God in the ways of righteousness. By their own strength. By their own goodness. By their own worthiness. And their goodness and worthiness is sensible. It says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Which is true. Watch who you hang out with for your peers influence your conscience, justifying your behaviours according to what is acceptable to the group. If everyone at work cusses, before you know it you cuss. If an alcoholic hangs out with social drinkers, even though it is death to him, before he knows it he finds himself drinking. As soon as someone in your family or circle of friends divorces, whether for just reasons or not, you instantly become five times more likely to divorce. The people you hang out with set your baseline for what is acceptable. Thus how can Jesus hang out with sinners? Worse, how can He eat with them? For in those days, as in ours, to eat together is an intimate act. Especially to welcome them into your home, or go into theirs is to say, “I accept you. I approve of you. We are friends. We are family. What’s yours is mine. What’s mine is yours.”
No righteous person, no good person who wants to make God love them and stay on the straight and narrow would eat with real sinners. Just like we watch who our children choose as friends. Just as we try to influence them away from kids who are rebellious, who stay out all night, and drink and do drugs because we know how bad company corrupts good morals, and leads people down a path of rebellion and death.
What the Pharisees fail to realize is that Jesus does not get corrupted by us. Contact with sinners does not make Him unholy, or influence His morals. Rather Jesus’ holiness makes sinners holy. Why? When He eats with you in His Holy Supper, He says, “What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine.” He takes your sin. He gives you His righteousness and goodness. He who knew no sin becomes sin for you. He becomes your sin. He takes it. He removes it from you. He carries it to the cross. He pays your debt not with silver or gold, but with the most precious commodity in universe: His precious blood and innocent suffering and death. It is a bad investment from our perspective. All the labour is on His side. We contribute nothing. And saving us He still has to carry us home. He has to shepherd us into eternity which He willing does. Even though we are sheep who wander. Even though our wills are eternally bent inward on ourselves. Even though we want what we want when we want it. Though we do our own thing, go our own way, wander from flock, go off to a far land, whoring, partying, and exploring every unsavory tidbit world has to offer, yet He accepts our loss as His fault. “I must seek my wandering sheep,” He says, “I have lost my coin. My son has told me He wishes I was dead so He could have my stuff, but I will run out to Him and restore Him. I will not make him grovel. I will not give Him what He deserves, or treat him as the loser he is. I will clothe him, cut him back into inheritance, throw a feast for him. And we will rejoice. I will call all to rejoice with me, for what is lost I have found. What was dead I have raised to new life.”
This is you and me. We are lost in sin. Dead to God. Before God we can do nothing to save ourselves. All our best works are but wandering from His fold, us losing ourselves in the cracks of the floor of His house, and telling God our Father we wish He was dead. In sin no one is righteous. No one finds God. No one even seeks God. We say we are seekers. We think we are religious or spiritual. But we always want a God other than the one who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ dead on a cross. We shy away from that. “Did He really have to die for me? Am I so bad? Can’t I do something? Isn’t there something worth loving in me?” Even when we repent, we think that earns us forgiveness. But repentance is merely recognition that we are dead in sin, and can do nothing to save ourselves.
Think of your child. A newborn does nothing. They just sit there. They eat, sleep, poop and keep you up all night with their crying. They do nothing to earn your love other than exist. Their behaviour is enough to drive you to drink. By their actions are they worthy of your love? Did they do anything to earn your love other than exist? Or do you just love them, because? Because they come from you, are your flesh and blood, your child. Because God gave them to you and your life is changed by them? And as they grow can they do anything to make you stop loving them? Sure, they disappoint you, hurt you, despise you, turn back on you and all you value, they devour your income, and mess up your house, they take themselves and you to hell and back, and after failing to launch they come back home and do it all again. But you still love them. Simply because. When at last those colicky newborns, those tantruming toddlers, those terrorist teens give you some peace by going to sleep, do you remember when you used to stare at them while they slept doing nothing, earning nothing from you and yet you stared at them in their cribs and loved them all the more?
This is you. A pooping, crying, wandering, hiding, I-wish-you-were-dead-ing child whom God loves and takes responsibility for because that is who He is. He says, “Their rebellion is My responsibility. I must search them out. I must find them. I must run to them when they come to their senses. I will clothe them, feast them, give them a place at my side. For this child of mine who was lost is found. They were dead to Me but they are alive with Me again.”
This is the meaning of “Justification by faith.” You who are dead in sin and transgressions, whose actions have told God and others, “I wish you were dead,” are sought by Him. Found by Him. Carried home Him. Given a position of honour in the family not earned. You do not do a thing for it except exist. It is your God who gives it all to you. Who is a God like Him? Pardoning iniquity. Passing over transgression. Pouring out His anger in Himself at the cross so that He does not give us what we have earned. Instead, He gives us what He earned. He is a bad banker. We are a bad investment. But with Him it is all eternal gain.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON