The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19C (9/11/2016)

Lessons:Exodus 32:7-14 Psalm 51:1-10 1 Timothy 1:12-17 St. Luke 15:1-10

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 Psalm 14 (2)

Prayer of the Day: O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray.  Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

15.1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and 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 of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 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 in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

St. Luke 15:1-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

Joy in Heaven

The one thing we know for sure about God is that there is nothing we can know for sure about God. That is the wisdom behind the theological principle which goes by the name Deus Mysterium ("the mystery of God”). We cannot, and we never will, come to know God fully. All that we know of God is what God has chosen to reveal to us. The rest of God’s nature is shrouded in mystery.

God is shrouded in mystery (Deus Mysterium), yet God is revealed to us (Deus Revelatus), and so every week we turn to the Scriptures to discover what is revealed there about God. This week we read from the thirty-second chapter of Exodus and the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke. We find that two profound aspects of God’s nature are revealed to us in these texts.

In Exodus 32, we are confronted with the strength of God’s desire for us to be faithful. Believers are called to have one God, before whom we place no other gods. God will not tolerate it when we elevate any other entity to a place higher than God on our personal priority list. “I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” [Exodus 20:5]

Related to this desire for our faithfulness is the depth of God’s wrath when we disobey. This is clearly revealed in the Exodus text. When the people of Israel make a golden calf and begin to worship it (praising it for leading them out of their slavery in Egypt), God’s wrath burns hot against Israel, and the decision is made to destroy every Israelite except Moses and start all over again with him. Moses talks God out of it, but the point is made: when we are unfaithful to God, God is deeply troubled, and responds with a furious anger.

Yet wrath and anger are not the last word. Luke 15 reveals to us the amazing extent of God’s joy when one who is lost is reunited with God. God abhors disobedience; this is most certainly true. Yet even more profound is God’s joy when one who is disobedient returns. God searches and searches (even “recklessly” abandoning the 99 sheep in the wilderness to seek the lost), and celebrates with abandon when the lost one is found.

Some see these two aspects of God’s nature as inconsistent, but the truth is: one is not possible without the other. God experiences such joy at our return precisely because God experiences such pain when we wander away. When we absent ourselves from God, God’s wrath is stirred. Yet God aches in longing for our return, and celebrates with abandon — is filled with joy — when it happens.

God’s delight is not in burnt offerings, not in pious sacrifices, not in public religiosity, not in ecclesiastical prestige… God’s delight is in a contrite heart, in a desire to return to grace, in welcoming home any who have wandered astray.

So let us be a source of delight for God. Let us hear the call to return. Let us become aware of our own wandering hearts. Let us return and worship the one true God, who is our source of hope and joy and peace.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were the Pharisees and Scribes upset with Jesus?
  2. Why did he continue to meet with “tax collectors and sinners?”
  3. What do his parables have to do with the conflict between him and those religious officials?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I longed for something I had lost, and how did I feel when it was returned?
  2. When has my own life cried out for God’s redeeming and transforming power; cried out to be reunited with God?
  3. How can I be instrumental in leading those who are lost back to God? In creating the occasion for God’s joy?