Sermon 9/16/07 – “Bad News for Good People”

September 17, 2007 at 9:34 pm

In the official name of this congregation,

there is a funny word,

“Evangelical.”

We are Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church.

That word is a churchy word,

and so it needs some translation before you can start to use it in everyday conversation.

It comes from Greek,

and the word it comes from is euangelion, Gospel, good news.

It’s no wonder that the word “angel” is in the middle of the word

“Evangelical.”

The word angel means a messenger of God,

a bringer of God’s news.

God’s news is good news.

It brings joy to those who hear the news.

And so we have the word “Evangelical” in the title of our church,

and now you know why it is there –

to tell ourselves and everyone else that we are about the good news.

But for whom is it good news?

It sounds kind of funny if you don’t think about it too often,

but news is bad or good depending on who you are.

For example, if you are a consumer of eggs,

then the news that the price of eggs is down is good news.

Joy and gladness!

If you are a chicken farmer,

not nearly so good.

It makes for awkward conversations at the market.

“Egg prices are down!  That’s great!”

“Yeah, I guess so, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

The news that Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners

was good news to the tax collectors and sinners,

and not so good to everyone else.

If you wanted to be with Jesus,

you had to be with tax collectors and sinners.

This presented a problem for the Pharisees,

who believed that they were righteous.

A righteous person does not associate with unrighteous people.

Not only did it seriously tax their brain that Jesus was with unrighteous people,

but it meant that they could not get close to him,

for to be with him was to be with unrighteous people,

and that was precisely what they could not do, being righteous.

Add to that they really didn’t like Jesus much anyway,

and you can see why they are grumbling.

They are grumbling because Jesus does not understand the way the world is.

There are good people and there are bad people,

and you stay with the good and avoid the bad.

This is sensible advice.

We tell our kids this all the time.

And to a certain extent it is valuable advice.

But it is not God’s perspective.

From God’s perspective,

there are no good or bad people.

There are only lost and found people.

This is not a sensible way to think,

but thank God that God is not sensible.

How do the Pharisees have it wrong?

They have it wrong because they believe that God’s Law

divides people into two groups – good and bad.

God’s Law does exist, God’s Law is holy –

but it does not divide human beings between good and bad.

Instead, God’s Law divides every human heart and sifts it,

searching out not my outward conduct, but my inward intent,

finding out the parts of my life that I keep hidden from everyone,

illuminating that which I thought was well shrouded in darkness.

When I judge my neighbor in my thoughts and words,

when I give vent to rage, anger, spite, and jealousy,

when I long for things or other people to satisfy my desires,

then God’s law confronts me, hems me in,

forces me to admit that I do not belong with the good people,

that I do the very things which ought not to be done.

If you are a good person, and you believe you are a good person,

then the news that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners

is not good news for you. 

It might be indifferent, or it might make you mad.

But if God’s Law convicts you and convinces you that you are not a good person,

but that you are lost like all the other ones,

who maybe don’t have the social graces or good standing in the community to hide it,

then you might have a new perspective

on what kind of news this news is.

Then it is news of a great joy,

for you are being received in a way that you could never have expected.

You see, it is not a matter of being good or bad,

for as Jesus reminds us in another place, “No one is good but God alone.”

It is a matter of being lost and found.

St. Luke is the Gospel of the lost and found.

He not only gives us the parables of Jesus on the lost sheep and the lost coin,

telling of the joy of the finder,

but he tells us of the joy of the found

in the parable of the lost sons.

Remember, it’s not just one prodigal son who was lost,

it was two,

because the one who stayed home believed that he was the good son,

and could not stand when the father threw a party for a bad son.

He was just as lost to the father as the one who went roaming,

and when the father begs him to come in and join the party,

it is an invitation to be found, to be found with the one who was lost,

to be found in joy!

But St. Luke doesn’t just confine his insight into Jesus’ mission

to chapter 15.

It’s right there from the beginning,

when the angels bring their Evangelical message

of the birth of a Savior –

not to the righteous and good people,

but to riffraff, trash, undesirable shepherds

who are lost and found, who become messengers themselves.

It’s there when Jesus finds a daughter of Abraham and heals her on the Sabbath

outraging the good people who would never profane the Sabbath,

but bringing joy to one who is lost.

 It’s there when Jesus picks the tax collector Lazarus out of all the citizens of Jericho

to throw him a banquet, to make him a joyful feast,

and when the good people of Jericho demand an explanation,

he says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

It’s there at the end, on the cross, when the only person who can be found with Jesus

is a bandit, a criminal, an outcast,

and this one who has lost at life is promised the joy of Paradise.

And after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension,

when he could tap anyone to bring his message to the world,

he chose not a good person,

but the sinful Paul to bring the Gospel.

Perhaps it has to be so, that only those who know themselves lost and found in Jesus

can bring the message of his love to others.

And up to the present day he continues to do so,

so that millions take up the words of the slave-trader John Newton,

“I once was lost, but now I’m found;

was blind, but now I see.”

Sisters and brothers,

the news that Jesus is hanging out with the sinners and the tax collectors

is indeed bad news for good people.

For those who know that they are lost, however,

it is good news, it is an angelic message.

And the news is that Jesus still eats with sinners,

in fact, he has become our food.

He is here to strengthen us, to comfort us, to bring us joy.

He denies himself to no one,

but can only be received by those who know their nothingness without him,

those who without him are lost,

but within him are found.


 

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