Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 12, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
Sermon: "The Righteous Welcome All"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Righteous Welcome All
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 12, 2004
One day I was watching a show about a minister. Regrettably, I don't remember his name. However, I do recall several important aspects of his life. He had always felt called to the ministry. He was very well educated and very intelligent. After graduating from seminary he began to build a reputation as a preacher. This man became known far and wide for his preaching ability. He was sought after by many churches for his talent. The churches thought he would bring in the crowds and he did. He brought in the well educated. He brought in the people with high salaries. The churches were full of people who looked the same, talked the same, and acted the same. Even though he was very popular and in high demand he was not fulfilled. Something was missing. He started doing outreach.
A little later in the story he received a visit from a downtown church in a city in New England. The church had fallen into some hard times because the neighborhood had changed. They were looking to hire him in order to restore the church to its greatness. They wanted him to bring in the well educated. They wanted him to appeal to the richer folk in the area. They wanted him to bring in the people that talked like them, walked like them and looked like them. They were after the righteous or rather what they believed to be the righteous.
This minister accepted the position, but things did not go exactly to plan. He did preach well. He also started a soup kitchen for the poor in the neighborhood around the church. They were eating in the parish hall. He also went out on the streets and introduced himself to the neighborhood children. He started playing baseball with them on the street outside the church. The members of the church were not thrilled with the people he brought in to their sanctuary. They were the poor. They were the homeless. They didn't talk like them. They didn't act like the members. They didn't look like the members. Tension began to build between the members and this minister. It all came to a head when a stained glass window was broken. The minister had pitched the ball to one of the neighborhood kids and the kid hit it through the stained glass window of the church. The church elders did not like what had happened and things became very tough for the minister after the incident. Yet, I believe we would say this minister was a good shepherd. He had gone out into the neighborhood and he had found the lost sheep.
The Pharisees and the scribes were like the members of this church. They did not like the sort of people with whom Jesus dined. They were tax collectors. They were sinners before their self-righteous eyes. Jesus had no business with them. If he was truly a man of God then he should be with the righteous. His words should have been reserved for those that counted. How utterly preposterous and pompous these people were. They totally missed the point. Jesus was not a man of God. Jesus is the Son of God. God is very jealous. God does not want just the righteous. God wants everyone. God wants everyone to know the depth and the wonder of God's love. The God we worship does not want to lose a single one of us to anything in this world or otherwise. Jesus came to tell the sinners that God loves them. Every time one person followed Jesus don't you know that the angels snag and the heavens erupted in joy and celebration.
Well, what about today? How are we doing in continuing to share the love of Christ with others? Do we want people who look like us, talk like us and walk like us? Or are our doors open to all who would want to experience the love of God?
Now, I know we once had the soup kitchen here. So, I believe we would open our doors and feed the hungry. However, would we open the doors of the church on Sunday morning? Would we get to know them personally? Would we take the initiative and sit beside them and assist them with the order of service? If we would do these things then we would be good shepherds. If not, then we would be no better than the Pharisees and scribes in this story. See, the scribes and Pharisees got caught in the oldest of all traps and the deadliest of all sins. They thought they were better than everyone else because of pride. They were better because they were smarter, wealthier, and more refined. I have just described a large portion of the Christian Church in America today. We tend to think we are smarter, wealthier, and more refined. Look out pride here we come.
We forget the first and most basic truth of all. We are all sinners first. We can't help ourselves. We let our wants and desires get the best of us. In order to get what we want we are ready to do anything to get it. We would walk over just about anyone to achieve our own ends. Left to our own devices there is no health in us. We are sinners most severe.
And yet, there is one hope. The hope that we have is the same hope the sinners had in this story, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to teach us about love. Jesus came to show us the most excellent way. In order for us to be truly great people, we have to be willing to die to our own desires and place the needs of others first. Our greatest need is not food or shelter. Our greatest need is not good health or riches. Our greatest need is the redemptive love of God. This love is fully recognized in the offering of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Son of God offers himself for our sinfulness in order to establish a relationship of love between us and God. As Jesus has offered himself for us, Jesus wants us to offer ourselves for the others. Do we have to die for them? Most probably not. We only have to love them, meet them where they are, and invite them into the community of saints. Today we celebrate the beginning of our Sunday School. We tend to concentrate on our children and we want to teach them about God. We just might really serve our children well if we admit we are all children of God. We are all learning about the richness and fullness of God's love. Most of all we are still learning how to share that love with others. The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling about Jesus and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." Jesus calls to us and says, "Come eat at my table. There is room for all. Come all my children, Come."