Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 Psalm 14 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10
If you came to church to feel better about things, it is doubtful you found comfort in our Old Testament readings. Jeremiah begins with God declaring, “it is I who speaks in judgement against [the people and Jerusalem].” God says the people are foolish and do not know him, then says, “they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” Our reading from Jeremiah concludes with, “Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.”
Next the Psalm says, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. Everyone has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one.” Both scriptures address times when the people of God are living for themselves rather than living for “the other,” as Paul Young would say.
Living for the “other” means living not for ourselves but for God and one another. It means considering the needs of others and making sacrifices. In First Timothy, Paul says he was “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and man of violence.” He is using himself as an example of what can happen if we open our eyes to the Other, meaning here Jesus. Paul writes:
I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
Paul was ever bit as sinful as the people of Israel were before the fall of Israel foretold in Jeremiah, but he speaks here of how Christ changed him.
Our readings today, help us to see what has happened throughout history and maybe even to us at times in our lives. People become self-centered and greedy. We become foolish and do not know God, skilled in doing evil, and forget how to do good. Whereas this may be used to describe the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s time or us, there is hope.
In today’s gospel, we hear that Jesus draws sinners into his presence, people like us. Why is it that people are attacked to Jesus? I believe it is because we are not inherently bad; we are created in God’s image and there is a place inside each of that yearns for a relationship with Christ. We were created in love, and we are created for love. Thus, we are drawn to people who are sharing the love of God. We can, however, become obsessed with things – money, power, and control. These obsessions can blind us from experiencing Christ’s love. But without Christ’s love, our successes are empty. Nothing can fill that void that exists within us when we are living for ourselves alone.
I remember being told that love and hate are in essence, two sides of the same coin. Love and hate are intensely deep feelings that can alter our lives. Look at Paul. He was persecuting the followers of Jesus with zeal until his life was turned around by meeting the resurrected Christ. His hate for those who followed Jesus was turned to love and he shared the good news of Christ with as much zeal and he had persecuted Christ’s followers.
Jesus uses a couple of parables to explain why he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” One is of the shepherd who leaves the flock in search of one lost sheep. The shepherd rejoices when he finds the sheep and Jesus then says, “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.” And, the second is of a woman who loses a silver coin. She searches her home for it, then rejoices when she finds it. Again, Jesus speaks of the joy in heaven when a sinner repents.
Our lessons today do offer us hope and comfort when we understand that God’s desire is for each of us to be found. No matter what we’ve done, no matter how we’ve sinned, God rejoices when we turn back to the way of love. Yes, our Old Testament readings are about sin and the consequences of sin, but Paul changed and so can we. Jesus, comes, not to reward the just, but to find those of us who are lost and bring us back into the fold. Every one of us matters to God, even when we do not know how to do good – we matter to God.
God’s love is not earned, and even if we reject it – God still loves us. There are no strings attached to God’s love and this is why the heavens rejoice when any one of us repents.
Let us pray.
Lord, you came teaching love when others were teaching obedience and faithfulness. Give to us the gift of faith, that we might live for others – sharing your love with people who do not feel love, who need to experience your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.