CH (CPT) Malcolm A. Rios
26 January 2014
Prichard Chapel, Fort Knox, KY
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people – even eating with them!” ~ Luke 15:1-2 NLT.
Heavenly Father … I thank you for this day. I thank you for providing us the opportunity to join together in corporate worship. We thank you for your abundant grace and unfailing mercy in our lives. You are the Alpha and Omega. You are the author and perfector of our faiths. You never stop looking for the lost. The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. Your love endures forever. Lord, May the words of my mouth and all the thoughts and meditations in our hearts be holy and pleasing to you. Amen.
Last Sunday, Chaplain Brian Harki shared from Ephesians 4. He spoke to us of unity in the body. Of particular interest to me were verses 2 – 6 because they tell us exactly what we need to do to live in unity:
· Always be humble
· Always be gentle
· Always be patient with each other
· Always make allowance for each other’s faults … because of your love.
· Always make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit
· Always bind yourselves together with peace.
“For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Everybody got that? Do you need me to repeat those again? Let me repeat them anyway …
FEEL GOOD #1
One of the things Chaplains get the privilege of doing as pastors is preaching. We get the opportunity to preach life-changing sermons to eager audiences … yeah! One of the most effective ways to engage the audience as quickly as possible is with a heart wrenching, “feel good” story or engross them with a humorous anecdote that will set up the impending sermon. Well … I have neither. I did find an interesting list of "Cards You'll Never See at Hallmark" though:
· "Looking back over the years that we've been together, I can't help but wonder ... what was I thinking?!"
· "I've always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love ... after having met you, I've changed my mind."
· "As the days go by, I think of how lucky I am ... that you're not here to ruin it for me."
· "As you grow older, Mom, I think of all the gifts you've given me ... like the need for therapy."
· "You look great for your age … almost life-like!"
· "When we were together, you always said you'd die for me … now that we've broken up, I think it's time you kept your promise."
· "We have been friends for a very long time... what do you say we call it quits?"
· "I'm so miserable without you … it's almost like you're here."
· "You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket … I'd miss you heaps and think of you often."
You laugh now but I bet some of you were thinking some of those exact things about the person sitting right beside you! Am I right? It’s real easy to laugh at those statements because we’ve all felt that way. We all want to say what we really feel but we don’t because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or we look at our own lives are realize the depths of our hypocrisy …
All right … let’s get serious … back to Luke - Tax collectors and notorious sinners! Luke 15 starts out by telling us that Jesus spent time with what society deemed as the unwanted and unworthy. He hung out with people who Merriam-Webster would call “well-known or famous especially for something bad.” He hung out with the people who made synagogue leadership – church leadership – uncomfortable. He hung out with people who other people were afraid to talk about. He hung out with the people who other people warned people about. Let me break that down for you in relation to our day and age: Jesus hung out with hopeless, the hurting, and the hungry. He hung out with the atheists and agnostics, the heathen and the homosexual, the separated and the strange. He didn’t care because He came with one purpose: to save the lost.
Do you remember the story of Levi / Matthew in Luke 5:27-32?
“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth.
“Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him.
So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”
He didn’t come for the righteous! He definitely didn’t come for the proud! He came for those of us who know we are sinners!
Now I don’t know about you, but I was that scum the Pharisees were talking about when I was growing up. I didn’t start that way, of course. I was a good kid up until about the age of 12. But it was about that time when I realized a few things:
Ø One … doing “the wrong thing” sure was a lot of fun.
Ø Two … you’re not always going to get caught nor or you going to get in trouble.
Ø Three … I didn’t need anybody telling me anything because I already knew it all.
Some folks I ran with really enjoyed that I understood these “truisms” about life but some probably thought I was going to split hell wide open. The fact that I liked to throw down as often as possible – and for any occasion – didn’t help the matter. I didn’t need a reason – I just needed an opportunity! In fact, I had a high school teacher who went so far as saying that she believed I worshiped Satan. My Mom & Dad thought I’d be in jail by the time I was 19. They were wrong! It took two more years before I spent the night in a jail cell.
How’s that for encouragement! I guess if I think about it now, I probably more than deserved all the odd stares, accusatory claims, and lack of belief thrown my way. At the time, though, it fueled my rebellion. The point being – the passion of Jesus – the work He did on the cross – is for people like me!
My story isn’t unique. You hear ones similar to it all the time if you’ve been around the Church for any amount of time. Some of you may have had a past like mine. Some of you may be living it right now … who knows? My story – your story’s been told millions of times through other people’s lives and it will continue to be told over and over again because people are people and, believe it or not, we have made it abundantly clear throughout history that we have a hard time learning from the past.
Speaking of learning from the past, go back to Luke 15. Luke 15 is unique in that it explains pretty clearly the depths to which God will go to seek and save the lost. Why do you really think God wants us to understand this? Luke 15 tells us three parables about the lost and found. Why does God need to use three stories to get the point across? A sheep? A coin? A son?
I want to focus on the third story – the one called, “The Parable of the Lost Son” or “The Prodigal Son.” Does anyone know what prodigal means? Prodigal is defined by Merriam-Webster as “characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure.” Three main characters are in this story: a father, an older son, and a younger son.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:11-31).
First off … which one were you? As I thought about it, I see myself in all three. Obviously I was the young son. I ran for a long time and squandered my inheritance in faraway places. I’ve been the older son. After I’d known Christ for some time I got complacent – even to the point of feeling entitled because I have the credentials and the lost started to burden me. I’ve been the father too – when I’ve come to a place of real maturity in my walk. Sometimes I’m fortunate and in that place for a long time and it’s really good. Sometimes – not so long – and I fall back into either one of the brothers.
But I hope you know that even if this story has a title describing the son … the real focus of the story is the Father and the depths of his love for us … depths that go way beyond the things we’ve done … or have had done to us … or the sin in which we find ourselves. Does that mean even the tax collectors and the notorious sinners? Even the scum … and what about the righteous?
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23)
“As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous - not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one” (Rom. 3:10-12; Pss 14:1-3; 53:1-3).
And that’s that beauty of the Father passionately waiting for his son to repent and come home. You’ve heard the team, “Waiting on the Lord,” right? The “waiting” that is talked about is an active role. It’s not passively sitting there waiting for something to happen. The father was actively waiting for his son to return. He was on point and on guard for that far off approach so he could run to him and embrace him.
Luke says, “When he finally came to his senses …” It was an “A-ha! Moment” … or maybe it was simply a, “Man, I’m a freakin’ idiot Moment.” He had to come to a place – like we all do – where it wasn’t about him anymore. Have you been to that point yet? The point where you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired? The son knew what kind of man his father was so in utter humility he returned to his father. And what did his father do? He lavished all kinds of lovin’ on him.
Paul pleads with the Church in Ephesus to understand this, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Eph. 3:18). Paul says it this way to the Romans:
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).
And folks … we know that the Father’s love is acted out through one thing: forgiveness. You know … the more I reflected on the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, I felt like God was telling me to look closer at what was happening leading up to that point where the parable was shared. In the chapter before, Jesus had eaten at a Pharisee’s house and had apparently gotten up and had just been with the crowds who were following him. Jesus always had crowds following him. Luke 15 opens with Jesus hanging out with the counter-culture. In that entire multitude of people – Jesus wanted his listeners to know – to understand – how important just one of them was. He spoke of going after one lost sheep. He spoke of finding one lost coin. He spoke of one son who was lost but now if found.
Luke 15:7 says, “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” But doesn’t God care about the 99 others who are righteous? Of course He does … older brother in the Prodigal story … but they have done the right thing already. Luke 17:10 says it like this: “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” Army-speak: drink water and drive on.
God’s love is all about sinners knowing they need to repent. God’s love is all about forgiveness. Just like we are expected to do, God, even if that person wrongs him seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, He forgives.
The younger son came to his senses because he finally understood this: “If I confess my sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive my sins and to cleanse me from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). Whether you’re a notorious sinner or whether you’re an inglorious saint; whether you’re a tax collector or a tax evader; whether you’re a Pharisee or a teacher of the religious law or someone who dances, drinks, smokes, or chews or simply hangs with those who do ... we all need forgiveness. And we all need to forgive.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes
“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.” ~ Thomas Fuller
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14).
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach … because his words meant hope and forgiveness.
Oh God – you are my God.
I will always praise you.
Help me seek you this morning.
Give me grace, wisdom, and strength to walk in your ways – every day in every way. Lead me every step. My heart is to follow you all the days of my life.
Lord, bless me so that I may bless others.
Reveal the areas of my heart that are dark and corrupted by un-forgiveness and bitterness. Father, take those burdens from me in the name of Jesus! I no longer want to be bound by my pride.
Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.
In all my ways, I acknowledge you, Abba. Amen.
 All Scripture referenced in this Sermon was taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).
 Perry Green, http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/humorous-illustrations-about-christian-witness.asp (accessed January 22, 2014).
 “Notorious,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/notorious?show=0&t=1390529665 (accessed January 23, 2014).
 “Prodigal,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prodigal (accessed January 23, 2014).