Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Sermon: Ears of a Sinner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

When I read today’s gospel lesson (Luke 5:27-39), I had a hard time figuring out a contemporary analogy for Jesus calling a tax collector to be his disciple. Although there are IRS agents in our culture and we might not like them very much, they don’t carry the kind of anti-religious, traitorous, extortionary behavior that tax collectors had back then. Loan sharks get a little closer to it, but they’re not hated enough to make a good comparison. I’m still trying to figure out what it really means that Jesus chose Levi to be his follower and that he frequently ate with other tax collectors and sinners. Whom does society define by their sin—the kind of people we wouldn’t dream of our minister having dinner with? Strippers? Prostitutes? Human traffickers? Child molesters?

The point of this gospel lesson isn’t that Jesus made enough room at his table for a generic, still-ok-to-talk-about-at-supper-club sinner. Instead, he’s spending an inordinate amount of time with the worst sinners in his community. He’s doing the kind of thing that would make anyone—not just the religious goody two-shoes of his day—blush. The Pharisees question really is our question: “What in the heck is Jesus doing with those people?”

Well, it seems that Jesus knew something that most of us forget. It’s hard to find God if you think you’re holy. The only way you can find him is if you know you’re not.

Now, I’m a sinner, and you’re a sinner. We’re all sinners. We know that. We get the whole all-have-sinned-and-fall-short-of-the-glory-of-God thing. But we’re not tax collectors and prostitutes. We’re not human traffickers and child molesters. We’re better than that (or so we think). Even though we’re far less than perfect, our instincts tell us that God loves us because we’re relatively good people. We go to church (even on a Wednesday afternoon). We’re nice to strangers. We give money to charity. We’re the kind of men and women that would make our mommas proud. And that’s the kind of person that would make God happy, too, right? No. Actually, not at all. If you think God loves you because you’re a pretty good person, you’re wrong. He loves you because you are a wretched, miserable, terrible sinner who is totally and completely lost without him. He loves you because you need his love. And the only way you can see that is if you start with a really hard, honest look at how sinful you really are.

Jesus spent his time with the most wicked people of his day because those were the people who knew that they needed God. When society defines you by your sin, your sin is pretty hard to escape. These were the kind of people who woke up every morning and went to bed every night conscious of how they had missed the mark. And Jesus came to say to them, “God loves you anyway.” In fact, he came to say it to everyone, but only those who were listening for a message of redemption heard it. The same is true today. Jesus’ message is meant for sinners like you and me, but the only way we can hear it is if we’re listening with the ears of a sinner. 

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