11 September 2016

To Seek and to Save the Lost

There are lots of different ways in which you can get yourself lost.  If not in the location of your body, then in your heart and mind, in your relationships and undertakings.

For example, you may be listening to a lecture, a presentation, or even a sermon, and yet, although your ears are hearing the words, you don’t understand them.  You are completely lost.

Or you may be in the middle of a game you’ve never played before, a complicated board game or a sport that you’re not familiar with; and despite your best efforts and good intentions, you’re just not sure what’s going on, or what you’re supposed to be doing, how to play, or how to win.

You might also be lost in the middle of a crowd, even within your own home and family, especially if you’re at odds with someone (or with everyone around you).  You might be painfully aware of where you are, and yet feel totally alone and terribly afraid.

Meals, in particular — which ought to be a place and occasion of belonging, of peace and security, of rest and rejoicing in the grace and goodness of God and the company of family and friends — can sadly become a battleground and a tricky terrain to navigate.  If you’re out of sorts in yourself, or with those eating at the same table, you may find that you have no appetite, or that your food is like gravel in your throat and your stomach.  Whether you attempt polite conversation or quietly stare at your plate until the ordeal has passed, you may wind up with indigestion or heartburn.

Location, location, location, yes.  But where your heart is at is more crucial than the little blue arrow on your GPS.  The Lord looks at the heart and not so much at the outward appearance.  Your body can be in the right place at the right time, and yet your heart and mind be far from home.

So, then, is your heart at home here in the Lord’s House, as you recline here at His Table?  Is your heart at home, and are you at peace, as you listen to His preaching and teaching?  Do you know what to do and how to live according to His Word, His Law and His Gospel?

St. Paul has taught you this morning: The Law is not intended to make you righteous.  If you try to use the Law to justify yourself, and to control or condemn your neighbor, then you are lost, and you don’t know what you’re doing.  You do not understand the things about which you make such confident assertions.  Your heart is not in the right place.  Your mind, for all its knowledge and intellect, does not have the wisdom which begins and continues with the fear of the Lord.

The Law is used lawfully when it reveals that you are a sinner.  And in showing you that you are a sinner, God is merciful.  For if you are a sinner, then Christ is your Savior, and in His love He calls you to repentance, that you may be saved by His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

And as for your life in the world, the Law shows you how to love your neighbor.  The Law curbs and guides you.  Not so that you can pick apart your neighbor’s life and show him all his faults and trespasses, but rather so that you know how to love your neighbor.  How to do him good and not harm.  How to care for his body and his possessions, his family, his good name and reputation.

So, if you recognize your sin, repent of your sin, and love your neighbor in the keeping of the Lord’s Commandments, then you are hearing and using His Word lawfully, and you are living in the way of wisdom and righteousness, in the fear and faith of God.  You are at home and at peace with your God and Father.  You are right where you belong.  But, again, if you are using the Law to justify yourself, and if you are trying to control and condemn your neighbor, then you are lost to the Lord and His Love, and you have wandered far and wide from the Kingdom of God.

Yet, there is this one Man, Jesus Christ, who is not like any other man in the way that He acts and in the attitude of His heart, in His faith toward God, and in His love toward all of His neighbors.

There is no shepherd in his right mind who would risk ninety-nine sheep to go and find just one.  But this one Man who is among you does exactly that.  He leaves the ninety-nine behind, in order to go searching for, seeking out, and finding the one that is lost.

He leaves the ninety-nine who appear to be doing just fine, who imagine they are righteous, out in the desert wilderness, where they continue to hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist, calling them day after day to repentance, faith, and love.  Because they, too, are lost, each in his or her own way, until they cross the waters of the Jordan into the promised Land and ascend the hill of Zion to abide in the Temple of the Lord.  In the meantime, in the wilderness, they must live, as you must live, by the Word of His mouth, by the water from His Rock, and by His Bread from heaven.

It is not so different when you have wandered away and gotten yourself into trouble elsewhere.  Wherever you are lost, whether near or far away, the Lord Jesus preaches repentance to you, and by His Law and His Gospel He seeks you out, in order to find you and bring you home to Himself.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  He draws you to Himself, and He leads you as your Shepherd into the Way of Life, which is the Way of His Cross and Resurrection.

So the Pharisees and Scribes have got one thing right: This Man receives sinners, including you.

He calls you to come and receive His forgiveness of all your sins.  Real forgiveness for real sins.  Not to continue in them, but to be set free of your sins, no longer controlled or tyrannized by them.

He calls you from your sham life of sin and death to share His Life, and to live with Him in His own House, both now and forever.  He calls you to eat and drink with Him, at His Table, the Food and Drink that He provides, which He serves Himself.  And not only is He your Waiter, but He is also your Meal.  He feeds you with Himself.  So it is that God is your nutrition.  God is your Food and Drink.  Your soul and body are fed and nourished on Him.

It is for this purpose that He has taken your sin upon Himself, upon His own shoulders, and given Himself even unto death upon His Cross.  So has He become your Scapegoat and your Sacrifice of Atonement.  For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has offered Himself unto God and is received as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them.

So it doesn’t matter where you are — in your body, in your mind, or in your heart — the Son of God has taken your sins upon Himself, and He has died for your sins, atoned for them, and made propitiation for them.  And since God raised this same Jesus from the dead, you know that all of those sins, yours and everyone else’s, are forgiven.  Live no longer in your sins, therefore, but in your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  Die to your sins, and let your sins be dead to you forever.  They are not permitted to have the last word concerning you.  Your life is found in Christ Jesus.

To that end, Jesus also takes you onto His own shoulders and brings you home with Himself by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, by the preaching of His Atonement, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

By this preaching, He exposes your sins in order to extract them from your body and life, from your heart, mind, and flesh, in much the way a surgeon opens up your body to extract whatever may be in there causing you a problem, making you sick, and threatening to kill you.  The Lord Jesus opens you up with His Law, in order to remove your sins, to heal you with His gracious Gospel of forgiveness, and to bring you home with great joy and gladness.

Already here and now, His House is your home.  This is where your heart reclines in safety and peace, along with your body, in order that Christ may feed you in both body and soul with Himself.

In yourself you are lost, but He is not.  And He has taken His stand with you, so that you may also be at home with Him where He is.  No matter where you may end up here on earth, He has risen and ascended and ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of God in heaven.

It is in Him — in His Redemption, in His Righteousness, in the repentance that He has suffered and accomplished in Himself, in His own Person, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, by His Cross and Resurrection — that you are found and rescued, that He rejoices over you, and that He brings you home, a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

What sort of woman is it that lights a lamp and sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds what is missing?  It is this Bride of Christ, who is like her Husband.  It is the Holy Church, of which you are a member by His grace.  So, then, as He rejoices over you, and over all of those whom He has found and carried home, rejoice now with Him.  Rejoice with Him by feasting at His Table on the Food that He has prepared and provides.  And rejoicing with Him in His Holy Supper, so also rejoice with Him by seeking out your neighbors, your brothers and sisters, and bringing them home to Christ, to the Father’s House, to the household and family of God.

How shall you go about seeking the lost?  It’s really nothing more nor less than simply being and living as a Christian, as one whom the Lord has brought home in heart and mind, body and soul.

You live and you love in the freedom of the Gospel.  And you have such freedom because your life does not depend on you.  It is found in Christ.  You live in the freedom of the Gospel and in the joy of faith, because success does not depend on your cleverness or efforts, but it is already yours in Christ.  You will not fail or fall flat on your face, even if you do look like a fool and the whole world laughs at you.  What of it?  Christ does not laugh at you, but in His love He cares for you.

Live in the joy of faith and the freedom of the Gospel.  Then you will be the lamp that is lighted by Christ and His Church.  Most basically, forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  He may not welcome or accept your forgiveness, but forgive him anyway.  Forgive him from a heart set free by Christ the Good Shepherd.  Forgive him because you are safe at home with the Lord.  And in your forgiveness, your neighbor will hear and receive the Gospel.

Confess the Word of Christ that you have heard and received.  And don’t suppose that you have to be too clever about it.  Confess the Word that you have heard, according to the pattern of sound words that you have received from the saints who have gone before you in the faith of Christ.  And trust that His Word is living and active, even when spoken on your trembling and fearful lips.

So also, bring your neighbor with you to Church.  That is most surely the way you bring your neighbor home to Christ, and to your God and Father in Christ.  If you are a parent, bring your children.  If you are married, bring your husband or wife.  If you are a child still at home and your Mom and Dad are reluctant to come, ask them to bring you, anyway; it is surely more important and more precious than the toys and tasty treats you beg them for.  If you have adult siblings, or adult children, urge them and encourage them to go to church, and help to make that possible.

Do what you can, from within your own vocation and stations in life, to bring your neighbor to Church, because it is here, in the gathered congregation of Christ’s people, in the Lord’s House, at the Lord’s Altar, that the Lord’s friends and neighbors are gathered together with His family to eat and drink with Him, to recline at His Table, to be fed from His hand, and to live by His grace.

That is why you are here, yourself: To receive, enjoy, and benefit from His gracious hospitality, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Even more important, it is for this reason, for this purpose, that He Himself is here with you in His Church on earth: That He might love you with His Word and with His Supper.  It is indeed for this great benefit that He, your Good Shepherd, has sought you out and found you, and called you to Himself, and gathered you up into His arms, onto His shoulders, and brought you home, rejoicing.

Have no fear, little lamb, but eat and drink, give thanks to God, and live here with your Lord.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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