The Scripture lessons for September 11, 2016 were Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-17; and Luke 15:1-10. Pastor Roskowic entitled his message “Much Rejoicing: Sinners Rescued.”
After a brief moment of remembrance and reflection on September 11 15 years ago, Pastor Roskowic began his message with a focus on the Epistle lesson and God’s pursuit of Saul before Saul became Paul. As I listened to Pastor Roskowic, I began picturing Paul as Saul. Paul as Saul was a very religious man with great zeal for God. His problem was he didn’t really know God. He was a scholar and knew about God from his studies of the Torah and Jewish tradition under the tutelage of Gamaliel, but he didn’t really know God. In Acts 22 and Philippians 3 Paul describes himself as Saul with these words:
Acts 22:3-5 I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
Philippians 3:4-6 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Generalizing, Jesus describes people like Paul in John’s Gospel:
John 5:39-40 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
In Romans 10 Paul writes of his kinsman and in so doing indirectly describing himself as Saul:
Romans 10:2-3 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
In the Epistle lesson for today Paul calls himself “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
All this reflection led me to some self-examination of ways I might ignorantly (hopefully unintentionally) distort the truth (2 Corinthians 13:5). This led me to reflect upon and to pray Paul’s instruction in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Pastor Roskowic then jumped to the Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel. As I reread the passage I was struck by the number of times God through Ezekiel says “I will….” I counted some 15 times in just 14 verses.
11 “…I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”
12 “…I will rescue them…”
13 “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them…I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them….”
14 “I will tend them in a good pasture….”
15 “I myself will tend my sheep….”
16 “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…. I will shepherd the flock….”
20 “…I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”
22 “I will save my flock… I will judge between one sheep and another.”
23 “I will place over them one shepherd….
24 “I the LORD will be their God….” (emphasis added)
I believe handling the Word of God correctly makes everything all about God, all about Jesus – Jesus for us (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:6-8); Jesus in us (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17), and Jesus through us for others (John 13:34-35; John 15:4-5).
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Martin Franzmann a former New Testament professor as Concordia Seminary in St Louis, now deceased, calls God’s love and grace radical. He says they are radical because: 1) they recognizes the depth of human depravity, that there is nothing in us deserving of salvation. 2) They are radical because God does it all. He doesn’t say “I’ll meet you half way.” He doesn’t say “I’ll meet you 90% or even 99.9% of the way, but you have to contribute something.” Franzmann says God’s love is radical because God meets us 100% of the way, where we contribute absolutely nothing. And 3) he says God’s love and grace are radical because they do not leave us the same. They change us. They transform us into Christ’s image.
All of this begs the question: Who are Jesus’s sheep? For whom did Jesus come?
Jesus answers that question for us. In the Gospels we read:
Matthew 9:10-13 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
John 10:16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Paul reminds us that this means Jesus came for everyone. He writes:
Romans 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
And John tells us:
1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
We, now as His new creations, (2 Corinthians 5:17) are His disciples. As His disciples, we become His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and we get to join Jesus in His rescue mission. I conclude my sermon reflections with two more Bible passages:
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
John 21:15-17 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
My parting question for you to consider is: “What does discipleship and being His ambassador look like in your life?”
Chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section!