Sermon – September 11, 2016
17th Sunday after Pentecost
“Savior of the Lost”
24-year-old Welles Crowther was an equities trader at the World Trade Center on September 11th. He helped at least a dozen people get out, and then he went back in with firefighters to save more. They later recovered his body in a collapsed stairwell.
Ron Bucca, a 29 year army vet who served also 23 years as a firefighter, entered the burning building to help in the rescue, and was last seen on the 78th floor of the second tower. His remains were later recovered at the site.
Rick Rescorla, a security officer for Morgan Stanley, was responsible for saving more than 2,700 lives. He sang songs to keep people calm while they evacuated. He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower, heading upward to look for any stragglers. His body was never found.
Why do these stories of heroism strike us so poignantly? What is it about the self-sacrificial actions of the hero that lead us to honor them? Perhaps especially for us as Christians, we see in these stories a picture, a reminder, of the one who left everything behind to save the lost. They show us in a small way what Jesus Christ has done for us in the grandest way – laying down his life for the sheep.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
Now, at this time, Jesus was only sacrificing his reputation in order to eat with sinners and tax collectors. But he would soon give much more for many more at the cross. Nonetheless, it's an opportune time to teach the Pharisees and us the true purpose for which he came. He tells these two parables, and later in the same chapter, the parable of the Prodigal Son or the “Lost Son”. So this chapter of Luke 15 has sometimes been called the “Lost Chapter”.
But are you, truly lost? The Pharisees didn't think so. They looked at the prostitutes and tax-collectors and said, “Surely these sinners are lost! Surely they are outside the pale of salvation!” And it befuddled them why a great teacher would give these ne'er-do-wells the time of day, let alone the courtesy of table fellowship. What gives?
And in a way, Jesus agrees with them. These are the lost! The parable he tells compares them to the lost sheep who has wandered off. Or the coin that rolled under the couch. They are lost in their sins. They've wandered from the path. They are not where they need to be. But that is why he came! Not to confirm the self-righteous in their self-righteousness, but to seek and save the lost! He's the Savior, after all, and here's for those that need to be saved. He's the Finder, who comes to find those that are lost.
So the question is, are you lost?
Sometimes, we don't see our lost-ness so clearly. Sometimes we are like the Pharisees. And if you don't see your sin, you won't see much need for a Savior. If you can't admit you're lost without him, then you won't see much need for him to find you. Because you think you've got it covered. Repentance, what's that?
Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”. And it is just so true. The “99 righteous persons who need no repentance” are not really righteous at all, and they do need repentance. They are even worse off than the prostitutes and tax-collectors. They just don't see it. Friends, don't let this be you.
Take a good look in the mirror of the law, to see just how lost, how far off course you are. See all the little gods you make for yourself and bow down to. See your negligent prayer habits and your too-casual regard for God's holy name and word. Admit your inclination to rebel against authority, the murderous hatred that lashes out from your heart. The lusts of the flesh. The greed and avarice for things. The way you drag your neighbor's good name through the mud.
We're such pretenders. We act so often like nothing's wrong. We've got it together. We're not lost! Sin is no big deal. We need to be convicted, called to account. For only then do we turn from sin, and turn to Christ.
But sometimes, our predicament is clear. Sometimes the building is burning around us and the smoke is choking us and the exits are blocked and there appears no way out. And then when the voice of the savior calls out, “this way!” we are eager to hear and follow. We may know we are lost when our sins are set before us, when they slap us in the face, when they weigh on us like a ton of bricks. Sometimes sins' wages of death stare at you with a cold gaze that makes you wonder if there's any hope at all.
And if this is you, then you need to know Jesus has come to your rescue. He saves you not from a burning building but from the fires of hell. He saves not just your life for a little while, but your body and soul forever. He rescues from sin, death and devil. He delivers from the very wrath of God. Because he steps in the way of it, takes it into himself at the cross. And promises you paradise in return.
The Good Shepherd leaves all behind to find the one, the one that is lost. But the mystery is that we are all lost. And he comes to find each of us. His saving work is without limits – for the whole world – and yet it is also very personal. He seeks out the one, the you, who is lost. He finds the sheep, but not to give it a beating for wandering off. He's there in compassion. And it's not just that he leads you home by example, oh no. He picks you up, carries you on his shoulders, and takes you back home.
For he picked up his cross, and on it all the guilt and gunk of sin. All the lostness of all who ever wandered away – he met there on Calvary. Casting himself, instead, into the darkness of God's wrath, he became lost for you.
Or take the lost coin. The woman lights a lamp and gets to work – there's no waiting till morning! This is urgent! She tears apart that house, sweeping and searching, until she finds that coin. How much more the urgency when God sends his own Son to seek and save us sinners? He brings the light, he is the light, that shines in this dark world. So we are not lost in the dark, forgotten in the couch cushions. We are instead his own prized possession. Won by his own sweat and tears and even blood. Paid for with everything he had.
For this, heaven rejoices. And so do we. What a thought, that every time a sinner repents, there's a party in heaven! When you see your sin and turn to Christ in faith. When you confess and believe in the forgiveness he proclaims. Even in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, when Jesus' words invite sinners to come – and your faith says, “Yes, I'm a sinner! I need you, Jesus!” - and you receive him, his very body and blood. Heaven rejoices. Angels do a happy dance. For your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer lost!
Rejoice this day to repent and be rescued. Rejoice this day to be lost and yet found. Don't be like those pharisees, who pretend to have their act together. Be like the rotten sinners who know it, but who looked to Jesus in faith. For he is the Savior of the soul and the Finder of the lost. And his love will never forsake, but always find you.
And rejoice with the angels and all the company of heaven that you are not alone, but that many other sinners repent and come to faith and come to his table in fellowship.