The lectionary texts this Sunday were very moving as I took time to read them. The texts offers a window into God’s heart of grace, compassion and mercy. From God’s dealings with Israel’s idolatry and Moses’ bold intercession to David’s prayer of forgiveness to Jesus clash with the religious leaders over his habit of celebrating with the wrong people and his clear response through two illustrative stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep to Paul’s doxology as a result God’s grace making him an example of both violation and redemption. I decided to name it “God’s mercy and grace triumphs over judgment. When it is all said and done, it is about God and the joy and celebration that comes about when God acts.
God delivered Israel out of bondage and initiated a covenant relationship founded on God’s grace. Obedience on the part of Israel was expected as well as faithfulness on the part of God. However, while Moses was a way with God on the mountain, Israel returned the favor and created god in their own image and attributed God’s historic deliverance to an idol. God was not impressed, in fact God’s displeasure could be seen in God’s distance from the people referring to them as Moses’ people. Israel sinned against God and God determined to bring judgement on her for idolatry and God would have been justified to do so. However, Moses interceeded reminding God of his acts in history and how devastating a testimony to his name such an act of judgement would have among the nations. God relented and the judgement was averted. Moses believed that God would be true to character and appealed to that belief and succeeded in averting the catastrophe of God’s judgement. God’s grace overrode God’s judgement through Moses’ intercession. It might me easier for us today to read this story and judge Israel for idolatry, but how might we be doing the same thing today? What idols might we be worship and attributing our success in life to?
The Psalmist seemed to have comprehended God’s capacity for steadfast love and mercy and saw it as stronger than his own action of transgression. The psalmist seem to be aware of the breach but trusts God’s capacity overcome his breach. He recognized his sin and the need of forgiveness from God. He cried to God to, ‘’have mercy”, “blot out”, “wash me thoroughly,” “cleanse me.” The psalmist recognized that the primary offense was against God (v.4). Any injustice is primarily an affront to God. David had sinned against God when he committed adultery with Uriah’s wife and sought to cover his adultery though murder. God through the prophet Nathan confronted the king for his double offense and the king fessed up and asked for God’s forgiveness and prayed for a clean heart and a right spirit. What an example for God’s people? What do we need to acknowledge and confess to God today?
In the Gospel story, Jesus responds to the grumbling by the religious leaders by telling them two illustrative stories. The stories are perhaps meant to move the people from grumbling to celebrating like Jesus and the people were. Jesus wanted to make it abundantly clear that he had not lost his ways, in fact he was living into his purpose and hence the celebrations! The two parables makes it clear, “this is why we are celebrating, Would you not do the same”? as N.T Wright puts it. The woman’s lost coin was precious. Growing up in East Africa with no electricity in the village, I have a very clear picture of the reality of looking for a coin in the dark room with a little lamp. Imagine, this was an engagement ring and this woman had posted the picture of her ring all over social media and had received hundreds of “like” on facebook and then lost the ring. It would be a disaster! That is the intensity of the moment here I supose.
Obviously upon retrieving this treasure, one can see why the celebration. Although the dynamics in the lost sheep are different, the result is the same. As someone who grew up in the village as a shepherd, I can testify to the behavior of sheep vs goats. When our goats went missing we knew they would show up at dusk but we knew we were in deep trouble when the sheep went missing especially when it rained. Obviously you would be elated and you would celebrate upon finding the lost sheep. That was exactly what Jesus was doing. In both of these parables, something precious was missing and someone went all out to find it and this was the basis for the parties. The tax collectors were a hated class more so because they were considered traitors working for either Herod or the Romans none of which was acceptable to the Jews and “sinners” is a general term that might describe a variety of situations related to the law. In Jesus, God’s will as in heaven was being actualized but church folk so to speak were not impressed. What might be the equivalent of Jesus’ action in the text today that might draw a reaction from the society when God’s people embody?
Finally, Paul is an example of God’s grace and he knew it. That was why he burst out in doxology. He recounted his own experiences; including zeal of the law that led him to persecute and destroy followers of Jesus. But Jesus judged him faithful, Strengthened and appointed him to the service of the Lord. He had been received by mercy and the grace and the love of the Lord overflowed to him and from him. The reason for all this is because Christ came into the world to save sinners Paul asserts and he sees himself as an example of what God is about. Surely, no one is outside of God’s grace. This is why Paul bursts into the praise; to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever A men. This is why we are engaged in mission. May we be compelled by this transforming love to reach out to all peoples!
Sermon preached at North Baltimore Mennonite Church, sept 11, 2016.