Sinner, Do you Love My Jesus… And Could He Tell a Story, Or What!

He was in a hurry. He had important people to get to see. We were not among them, Beverly and I. 'Nameless nobodies in a state with a couple million folks. So, no big shock down at the inner harbor, witnessing a public event in which our son, Micah, had a role. The governor just blew right by us, not three feet from him. I don't say this to embarrass the man. He's surely a good guy in his personal life and (like most politicians across the ages) genuinely likes to greet folks. But not that night. He was busy, in a hurry, hassled, probably late (I know the feeling), with handlers saying, "Come on, now, you've gotta move on, keep first things first." It was like we weren't even there. HERE'S WHY I'M TELLING THE STORY. Because Jesus walks to the cross in such startling contrast.

Jesus takes time to stop. For people unknown by name to this very day. Here he is, knowing he has an appointment to keep at Jerusalem. 'With the great authorities of the day. 'The great issues of the human soul… for all time. 'The cross. God help us, he's on the way to the cross! And he clearly knows it. And yet when very ordinary, anonymous souls in his path ask a question, extend a hand, a heart, he stops. 'Listens from the deep reservoir of his own soul. And answers. O, how he answers. Not with some terse talk. Or quick quote. He's fully engaged. And with all his might (and gentleness), he tells a story. 'More than one. Messages Christ Jesus deems important enough to bring his walk to the cross to a halt. And they're unforgettable. Surely, during this Lenten walk you and I are taking to the cross, we'd to do well to hear for ourselves.

Sinner do you know: God has a passion for the lost. And a boundless joy in recovering them. On his way to the cross, Jesus will stop in his tracks… to be sure we're sure this is for sure! Heaven will take every risk; make every effort to claim every soul. Even ours! (On our down days, that's awful good to know.) Why say it again this week, much the same as last? Because it's so important to know, Jesus wouldn't continue to the cross without telling us it's so. 'Telling us repeatedly. According to Luke, three-times-over in the same conversation! Here's the context. The tax collectors and sinners are drawing near to Jesus. And the religious folks, the every-week-we're-in-worship crowd, are getting pretty upset. "Hey, what's up with this?" they want to know. "First off, we've been taught we deserve God because we're good (or at least trying to be). Second, we know God wants to keep the proper company. And the unholy (sinners) and the hated (tax collectors… some things never change) don't belong. (It's like the game we play with our kids, what's wrong with this picture?) Finally, we know the boundaries, and these folks aren't in them. They're outside the flock of heaven!" Jesus says clearly, calmly, simply, "The lost are just lost, not 'not in God's care'. Like the best of shepherds, he'll leave the secure ones in search of the lost. The 99 for the 1. You're not loved because you deserve it, but because God gives it. You're not in charge of whom God wants to love, God is. And God's cleanness can tidy up anybody's dirtiness. His holiness shines all sinfulness." (Next time you and I are either feelin' too low to be loved, or high and mighty to love… like we're better… we'd do well to remember Jesus stopped-in-his-tracks on the-way-to-the-cross to tell this story. The message is that important!)

Likely, Jesus' hearers grudgingly accept this. It goes against their grain, ours too. So Jesus tells another story. The woman with the lost coin. She sweeps her dirt floor, covered with reeds to keep down the dust. (This really is the needle in the haystack story. And with no more light than you can get, even at midday, from a single window 18" round. There were no Anderson or Pella windows back then.) The coin represents a full day's pay to a barely-feeding-my-family mom. Some of us know the feeling. Imagine the relief, the joy at finding it! Such married women have a ten-coin headdress fashioned with a silver chain. It's a lifesavings, and a wedding ring rolled in one. 'So sacred, nobody can take it, even to repay a debt. What a loss! And what a joy when found! Call in the friends to celebrate. And the neighbors. Even the cranky and the kooky ones. This kind of joy knows no bounds! Jesus stops on his way to the cross to say, "God feels like this woman, when a sinner is found and brought home for him to hold again." Folks, if you feel like you've fallen through the straw, the cracks, this is good to know. If you feel like you used to be somethin', and now you're not, why, you need to know you've never lost your preciousness with God. And when he finds you, well, there's gonna be a party. But this is not the only news on the way to the cross.

Here's the story: God has a patience with us that is winning and wise. While we're lost, God's actively at work on what we will need, once we come home. Jesus won't walk up Calvary's mountain, 'til the story's been told. Ahh, the prodigal son story. Who doesn't know it… perfectly? The young brother. The father abandoned. The loose living. The penitent walk home. The Father's acceptance. The older brother, unmoved at best. 'Not much new here. UNLESS…we take another look at the godlike father. We've long celebrated how he accepts the boy at the last. But we've missed a thing or two, fit for our learning.

Jesus lifts it. Paul repeats it. "Love is patient." (Anybody here have trouble with this besides me? Especially if you have kids? The comedian Sinbad tells a raucous story of taking his little child to the emergency room. The child can't breathe. Everybody's freakin' out for the little fella. 'Turns out, the child stuck a raisin up his nose. In fact, 35! Sinbad says, "Now I can understand the first one. But what's up with the other 34!" The audience laughs with agreement, but also familiarity. We sin, you and I, we wander from God. We do dumb, badly, sadly, selfishly, stupidly… like a little kid with a package of raisins and too much time on our hands. Parents know it's true. God does too.) But… love is patient. Holy love. It waits for us to come to our senses. Like Father God, waiting on the front porch of heaven's holy farmhouse, waiting for the prodigal son to come to his senses, pack up his sinful, sorry self and decide to come home. Jesus tells this third story of grace, in part to remind us we're not sheep, too dumb to know better than to wander off. We're not coins, without mind, will, or choice. We're errant children off on fool's errands or the devil's diversions, and there comes a time to decide to come home. (Is today your day?!)

And God knows what we're gonna need when we get there. He's getting it together for us while he waits. Patient love is not "doing nothing" love, it's "preparing love." Jesus' story reveals juicy details to sinners like us. A robe. A ring. Shoes. All at the ready. The robe restores honor, our rightful place. When God forgives, sin's really over! (Ever have somebody say it's OK, but keep dragging up your shortcoming? A spouse, parent, friend? How freeing, redeeming is that? With God, forgiveness really forgives.) God sees to it there's a-ring-at-the-ready when we come to our senses like the prodigal and decide to come home to him. We get back our full authority to act in God's name. To be his witnesses. In NT times, the ring was like power-of-attorney. That's what God gives when sinning sons and daughters come home. How'd you like to have that? Oh, shoes, too. While God waits for us, he gets ours ready, just the right kind, size, style. Slaves walk barefoot. Children of the father get shoes. (Remember the dream of the old, old spiritual, "All God's chillun 'got shoes!") Here's Jesus, a long way from the cross, saying in story what he'll promise in the night before he dies, "Let not your hearts be troubled, don't be afraid, I go to prepare a place for you…" Maybe this is what he meant: honor, authority, freedom. Saved children, forever returned to the Father.

Jesus won't go to the cross 'til we know that it's so: our choices matter… and God's matter more! If we take our share of his kingdom and go off and squander it, God will wait, watch and weep. If we go our own way, and don't work in his fields and vineyards, it will break his heart. Our decisions matter that much. But God makes decisions too. Nobody, and not any single one of us, is too far for him to look for, reach for, rescue, bring home. And he'll do that, where it's the right thing to do. But God chooses to be patient, too. To wait… actively… making ready all that's needed to restore us when we choose to come home. And if, like the elder brother, we should fret it's not fair, "Why should some rascal get so much with repentance?" God will have an answer. (Sinners and tax collectors still vex us when God offers grace where we would not.) The Father says, "You still get what is yours, dear child, all I have to give. I don't make the slice you get smaller when a brother or sister comes home, I make the pie bigger. Call it… grace!"

He was in a hurry, all right, Jesus, on his way to the cross. But with stories to tell: of passion and joy for saving grace, of patience and pardon, of choosing repentance and finding salvation.

Thank God!

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