"Are You Seeking God?"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon September 13, 1998
In September 1961, I entered the eighth grade. I also started a two year confirmation class. I remember pastor John Schramm teaching us the Lord's prayer on the petition "lead us not into temptation." He said to us, "each morning you get up and get ready for doing something. During the course of any day, is there any sin that you have to commit?" At the end of the day we were to reflect on the day and be conscious of any sins that we had committed and how we might have avoided sinning. "To avoid sinning", Pastor Schramm commented, "you have to know Jesus loves you." We thought we were going to have to make a list of all our sins, day by day and turn in a paper on how to avoid sinning. Instead, pastor Schramm simply taught us to know that we are loved by our creator and that Jesus seeks us when we go astray, when we are sinful.
The story in Luke is another in the continuing drama of episodes between Jesus and the Pharisees. In this story the Pharisees are lurking, watching Jesus, and murmuring. This "murmuring" (diagogguzw) is like the murmuring of the Israelites who murmur against Moses and begin to make the golden calf. It's like they are up to no good, but they choose to make Moses look like the bad guy, just as the Pharisees want to make Jesus out to be the bad guy.
Remember when Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation (John 16:33) \par ... and also declared, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt 11:30). The Christian life is going to engage us in doing things that show God's abiding love and will take us into the company of those who God is seeking to love. But the Pharisees are murmuring.
Have you ever felt that you were truly doing what God wanted you to do, but someone around you was murmuring against you. You knew the right thing to do, but you might get in trouble with your friends or even your family if you acted on it. "There are those who wantonly, selfishly, and destructively attack others" [Kenneth C. Haugk Antagonists in the Church Augsburg Press, 1988. p.21). This attack is not based upon healthy criticism but rather is antagonistic in nature. You just don't like what someone is doing so you find a way to attack them and seek the support of others who will be like minded. The Pharisees don't like what Jesus is doing and they are seeking his demise.
So what is Jesus doing that they don't like? Jesus is receiving tax collectors and sinners who want to hear him. "But the Pharisees and the scribes murmured saying, "this man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Couldn't we argue that these tax collectors and sinners came on their own? Jesus didn't call to them, pointing them out, saying come here you lousy tax collectors and sinners, I going to give you a lecture. Instead, Jesus is talking about God's love and he welcomes all who come to hear him. It's just that the Pharisees identify who is in the audience. But even thoughthe tax collectors and sinners are around Jesus, so it is that the Pharisees are there too, lurking and murmuring ... but still they're also in the company of tax collectors and sinners but not owning it. They want to hear too, but ... not to be blessed but to curse.
So what does Jesus say? What is attracting this despicable crowd? This morning we won't listen to all of what he said, we listen to two parables of three parables Jesus told. The first is about the lost sheep and the second is about the lost coin. The third parable, which is not a part of this morning's text is the parable of the prodigal (lost) son. I think we all get the message of the parables. There is joy in finding the lost! Heaven rejoices when Jesus can find a lost soul. We are precious in God's sight, all of heaven celebrates when a precious child of God is found.
If you notice the sermon title this morning is "Are You Seeking God?" You might think, I've missed the point of this text. The text is about God seeking the lost. It is about the sinner being sought out by God. It's about Saul on the road to Damascus, who Jesus seeks out and calls back to life. It's not about us doing anything, it's not about us seeking God. On the other hand, it is about us seeking God. Jesus is telling a parable, but who is the audience. Who's listening? Who are the ones gathered about Jesus. What is all this murmuring about on the part of the Pharisees? It is folks like you and me seeking to hear God speak! It is the sinnerseeking to be healed, seeking to be found.
There is a wonderful chorus in Handel's Messiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray." The music has a light and wondering melody. The word astray is filled with many notes that go all over the place. Sin leads us away from God and God does seek after us, but is there a point in our "astrayness" that we seek God, that we know that we are lost and we need tor find our way back. Is there some sense within us that we are not just sheep who don't know where we are going? Or that we are like a coin that has no sense of what it is or it's own value, a coin that goes where ever it is carried? But we have the capacity to the awareness of our own sinfulness and we can be aware that we are lost. In a sense this is the message of the third parable not included in this morning's text. The father waits and waits with love for the son to come to his senses and return home.
Jesus is speaking to a group of tax collectors and sinners who come to hear him. They have sought him out so that he may teach him. This morning, we begin our Sunday School. Imagine what it would be like it everyone came to learn more about God's love. The more we learn how God is loving us, the more we will respond in loving God in return. When we don't seek God's love, we get separated from the flock of faith. Jesus love is \par empowering. He gives the power for us to overcome sin through grace, through our awareness that God loves us and welcomes us. Barbara Havens and I attended a retreat this past week at Wildwood. It was \par a retreat about seeking God and listening for God's word to us. When we sit in the presence of God and listen, we will feel God's love and hear God speaking.
God's divine word to us this morning is, Welcome! Amen!