14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19[c] September 11, 2022
5 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In the Name of Jesus.
Let’s rejoice in the Church! Let’s rejoice together, even all of us, right here, today!
What brings joy to the Church?
To shift gears, what brings rejoicing not to the church, but to Pharisees? If you and I were teachers of the Law, what would bring us rejoicing?
The Law—the Pharisees rejoice in that. The Pharisees form up their own lives by the Law; they expect their neighbor to do the same.
What kind of food you eat, what kind of drink to have on your table. What to wear, how to live in the most minute details of your life. The Pharisees even tell you how many steps you can take when you walk outside your house on Sabbath. They can even tell you the proper way to divorce your wife. Divorce is bad, but it’s really, really bad if you do it the wrong way.
And who are your friends, who do you hang out with?—that’s a big one, a huge one. Hang out with the wrong people, with unclean people, and you leave yourself open to bad influence, but you are also giving approval, giving credibility to their way of life.
By hanging out with someone unclean, you are saying this one, this neighbor of mine who doesn’t keep all the Sabbath rules, doesn’t eat all the right foods, or who cusses too much, or who drinks too much, or who—fill in the blank, too much—this neighbor of mine, he is of my flesh; he is human with me; I count him as my friend.
You can’t do that, say the Pharisees. For then you will be unclean, too.
Keep yourself clean. That’s what brings rejoicing to the Pharisees.
Or, if you don’t keep yourself clean, if you hang out with the wrong people, if you give respect to your neighbor who’s a little shaky, then you need to be cast out, cancelled. That, too, brings rejoicing to the Pharisee.
When the Law is being wielded to count up who is unworthy, to exclude the unclean, then the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees rejoice. For then the Law is doing its work and all the clean ones can continue keeping themselves clean.
And if you are the unclean sheep who does leave the flock, or the black sheep who has been cast out of the flock, then the Law gives you the way back into the flock. Just start keeping the law, start cleaning up your life, start distancing yourself from the unclean ones, and you can work your way back into the flock.
That’s using the Law for your own righteousness—Pharisees rejoice in that.
But that’s not the work of the Law as the Lord gives it, as he uses it toward us. The Lord doesn’t give the Law for you to be righteous. How can a sinner make himself righteous?
The Lord gives the Law to accuse the sinner, to condemn, to testify to the sinner that he is, after all, a sinner, and that even works of righteousness only increase his sin, for done by a sinner they are only attempts to improve self, to justify self, and no sin is more condemning than that for the sinner.
So, we turn from the Pharisees teaching us to use the Law to clean up our lives to justify ourselves. We’re done with the teachers of the Law teaching us the Law as the way to please God. These teachers of the Law, they rejoice in lives driven by the Law, but Heaven does not join in their rejoicing.
What does Heaven rejoice in?
Our Lord teaches us to pray to the Father, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” What is this will of God done in Heaven that the Church prays for here on Earth? Luke 15:10:
[Jesus said,] “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Repentance. The angels in Heaven rejoice over a sinner repenting. As God’s will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven, the Church on Earth rejoices over a sinner repenting.
Repentance is of the life not of works but of faith.
It’s the life of flesh that tries to self-justify under the Law. That’s why it’s the sinful flesh. It’s the old life. It’s the Old Man or the Old Adam, as the Apostle Paul refers to it.
Our life of sinful flesh does not rejoice in repentance. Our life of sinful flesh joins with the Pharisees in rejoicing over the sinner trying to justify himself by the Law.
But repentance—this is the life of faith. The life of the new Man, the New Adam.
Repentance is the language not of works, but of faith. It’s gift. Repentance is the Lord’s work toward the sinner, for the sinner, in the sinner.
Repentance: it’s the Lord speaking his Law to accuse the sinful flesh, to sting the Old Man, to daily put the self-justifying flesh to death, and then speaking the Gospel to daily bring forth the New Adam, to cleanse the conscience by the forgiveness of sins, daily creating and enlivening the life of faith.
The gift of repentance is the sinner, is you, is me, being turned to look at Jesus, at his cross, at the gift of his Name bestowed in Baptism, at his Body and Blood of the cross he brings to us in His Supper, and looking at him, at Jesus, we are given to say, There, that’s my justification, that’s my certainty, that’s my life in the flock, because he is my Shepherd.
So in the Church, the Lord gives rejoicing! It is the rejoicing of Heaven, where the angels rejoice, even right now, over repentance being given the sinner.
We rejoice together, rejoicing not only that the Lord makes each of us one of his sheep, but that he makes us sheep together, binding us together as his flock.
We hear the voice of our Shepherd calling to us and saying, I came to call not the righteous, but the unrighteous to repentance, [Luke 5:32], and in that call, we hear our shepherd gathering us into his flock.
What brings rejoicing in the Church? The same thing bringing joy in Heaven. The forgiveness of sins, the gift of repentance, the justification of the sinner on Earth, the Word of Gospel creating the life of faith, this is joy in Heaven. Luke 15:10: There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner repenting.
In the Name of Jesus.