Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 15, 2013
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Welcome sinners. Welcome. “By grace you have been saved.” (Confession and Forgiveness, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 96)
Welcome to Christ and welcome to Christ’s table.

I simply take the liberty to greet you in this way today, sisters and brothers, because of the gospel we just heard:“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fell-uh welcomes sinners and eats with them!’”

You all came today to hear God’s word and have fellowship with Jesus, our Lord, Christ, – in, with and under the bread and wine, in the communion of all gathered here. So you must be sinners; or those at least those who heard and came; or those who were lost and found.

In each of the little stories Jesus tells, what was lost is found. What was separated has been reunited with the whole – the sheep with the flock, the coin with the collection, so now there are again 100 sheep, all 10 coins.

Whoever is here today helps to make up the whole. Makes the whole work, make sense, breathe and weave. In the whole relationship is restored. And that prompts a party; the return of the one to the whole is worth a party, celebration and table fellowship. One of our confirmation students remarked this week in class, that throwing a party when you found one little coin and you had only ten, seems like a real waste of money. Yup, in Jesus’ eyes making whole what was broken is worth a party with neighbors and friends and food and all. Because God rejoices in heaven, and the angels too.

Dear friends, return/repentance on the one hand and table fellowship on the other, these two are deeply intertwined in the Christian faith and life, according to Jesus, and according to Luke.

Luke wrote in a time when the church in Jerusalem und Judea had to struggle to survive the loss of many of its members after the destruction of temple and city and the demise of the people. Reluctant at first, the church did open her table fellowship to the Gentiles, people with whom Jews would not eat because they were unclean. We have to ask, who repented in this case: the church or the Gentiles? And from there on the church grew. Repentance, table fellowship and rejoicing go hand in hand.

In church, we have several places where acts of confession and forgiveness actually take place:
In worship, often at the beginning of the service as an act of preparation.
On Maundy Thursday as a chief part of the liturgy.
There is also individual confession and absolution as requested.
Forgiveness is received and experienced in the remembrance of baptism, in the hearing of the Word, in the singing of hymns, in prayer, and of course chiefly in the hearing and receiving of Jesus in, with and under the bread and the wine in Holy Communion. Forgiveness and rejoicing come together in the holy meal shared at the table.
Therefore -, welcome sinners. By grace you have been saved.

Before we continue in our liturgy, I do need to point out the first story we heard today, which sheds a new light on God’s grace and mercy so freely bestowed on us.

The conversation between Moses and God is breathtaking.  I don’t think there is any other place in the Bible where God is portrayed in this way. Here God is the one who needs to repent, return to the relationship, and Moses calls God out. It is scandalous and not without consequences. (see Exodus 32:15 ff)

Moses is on Mount Sinai, covered in smoke and fire. He is in a meeting with God who has given him the Ten Commandments to give to the people as a guideline for their new life after being saved from slavery in Egypt. Moses already has the two stone tablets in hand but the meeting keeps going on. More statutes and ordinances are being laid down and twelve chapters later, the people get tired of waiting for Moses whom they cannot see, unable to worship God whom they also cannot see. So they ask Aaron, Moses’ brother, to build them a golden calf, a young bull, whom they can worship, just like other cultures in the Ancient Near East. And so it happens.

God sees what is going on at the foot of the mountain. And then it starts.
God talks to Moses like parents sometimes do when kids misbehave. Suddenly the child becomes “that son of yours” or “that daughter of yours.” God says to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; … I have seen these people, how stiff necked they are.”

Abhorred by the people’s worship and sacrifice to the golden calf, God quickly disowns the people by pointing the finger, “your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt. … Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

God wants to be left alone. Alone. Bowing out of the relationship with the people, annulling the covenant that was just made. Is that not, – the separating, the bowing out of the relationship – sin?! God sins? Lost to consuming wrath?

Now it is Moses’ turn. He who first felt so inapt at leadership, now turns out to be an exquisite diplomat and a strong leader. In our days while we are watching with anxious suspense the diplomatic tug of war between world leaders, it is breathtaking to read this short passage.

Moses will not allow it. He will not let God alone, so that the wrath will not begin to burn, but instead he reminds God: These people are your people. You heard their cries. You brought them out. You led them through the water. You made that precious first covenant with Abraham. He, Abraham, shall remain the one of whom you make a great nation, not me. And, by the way, do you want the Egyptians to deride you when they see your people go to the pit?

Moses succeeds. Reminded of their history together, the promises made, and pushed a little on the point of honor, God almighty and all powerful changes direction, repents, turns around, entering back into relationship with the people and does not commit the evil intended. Disaster averted.

Instead God will be remembered and worshiped as the “Lord, a God slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

This, dear sisters and brothers, is the God whom we worship and to whom we pray, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity, one God, who forgives all our sin, whose mercy endures forever.”

Welcome sinners, welcome to the table of the Lord. Return, eat and rejoice.