by The Rev. Mark Buetow
At our house, we enjoy watching that show on Discovery Channel called "Dirty Jobs." Maybe you've seen it. The guy who hosts the show joins people doing all sorts of stinky, nasty, gross jobs such as cleaning out the inside of septic tanks or pig farming or sifting through garbage. No matter what the job, the guy always tries it out. No matter how dirty or smelly or disgusting, there he is with his camera crew experiencing some "dirty job."
The prophet Micah asks "Who is a God like our God, who pardons iniquities and passes over transgressions?" Most gods you hear about won't have anything to do with this earth and its people. Most religions are all about trying to figure out how to get out of the septic tank and back to a holy and perfect God. But not our God! Not the true God! God is not afraid to come down here Himself, in the flesh, into the filth of our sins and transgressions and iniquities. Jesus doesn't shy away from the filth of our sins but comes right into the midst of it. Far worse than cleaning a septic tank or working in a sewage plant, the "dirty job" that Jesus does is to come into a world covered over in the filth and stench and slime of sin to save the very sinners who've made this disgusting mess! Jesus, true God and man, comes into this world uninvited, unasked for, to glop around in the filth of our sin and to be covered in our sins and then wash it all away by the blood of the cross. Jesus comes into the world of sin to saves us from our sins by dying on the bitter cross to which our stinky, sinful world nails him! There's no other God or human being who does that. Buddha didn't do it. Mohamed didn't do it. Moses doesn't do it. Only the true Son of God comes in the flesh to this dirty world to save us from our sins.
Just as the shepherd goes mucking around in the wilderness looking for that lost sheep, so Jesus comes to save sinners. But He's not here to save those who aren't sinners. He's only looking for sinners. After all, those who aren't sinners don't need a Savior. Jesus comes for the lost sheep of sinners and heaven rejoices over that one repentant sinner more than the 99 who need no repentance. Wait a second! Aren't all people sinners? Well, the Bible says so. But people don't think so. Those who are sinners are those who know that they don't fear, love and trust in God as they should. Those who are sinners know that they despise their neighbor and are always trying to put themselves first. Those who are sinners recognize and believe that they've got nothing coming except the wrath and punishment of God because of their sins unless God is merciful to them. Those who are sinners know that they have nothing going for them but God's own mercy in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, those who have no need of repentance are those who don't think they're such bad people. Those who have no need of repentance are pretty sure they've got God all figured out and are pretty good and doing what He says. Those who have no need of repentance are those who look around and do good to impress others with how holy they are and are quick to condemn those who aren't as holy as they are. Those who have no need of repentance are those who confess, "Well, I'm not perfect, but I try to live a good life." Those who have no need of repentance are those who don't really believe that their sins are really bad enough that the Son of God has to die for them. Those who are sinners have nothing to cling to but Jesus. Those who have no need of repentance have no need to cling to anything but themselves. Jesus can't help those who have no need of repentance. They'll be on their own on the Last Day.
Those who are sinners crowd around Jesus to hear Him and His Word. Those who have no need of repentance complain that Jesus receives and eats with such people. In one of the other Gospels, the Pharisees complained of this same thing, that Jesus eats with sinners. His reply: "It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I didn't come to call righteous people but sinners to repentance." When the sinners come to Jesus, what does He tell them? "Eww, gross! Sinners! Get away from Me, you sinners!" No, that's why He came. To save sinners. To call them to repentance. And what is repentance? Repentance means doing a one eighty. It means that the Spirit, by the preaching of the Word turns you away from your sins to faith and trust in Christ. Repentance is all the Lord's work. You can't repent on your own. You can't decide to turn away from your sins. Rather, Christ Himself calls you away from your sins by His Word and Sacraments. What does the sheep do? He wanders away. What does the coin do? It rolls under the cabinet and lays there. In both cases it takes the shepherd or the woman to find that sheep or coin. Just so, it is the Lord who must come to us in our sins and die for them on the cross. It is the Lord who must come to us through the water and Word of the font. It is Christ who seeks us out by the preaching of the Gospel and the speaking of holy absolution. It is Christ who draws us to Him to eat and drink His body and blood. These things are His gifts for sinners. Those who have no need of repentance have no need to be baptized or absolved or fed with Jesus' body and blood. They may as well stay away. But you, sinners, if you have nothing going for you but Jesus, do like those tax collectors and sinners: come to hear Jesus. Live in your baptism and feast at His Supper. That's what Jesus has for sinners. All of which declare to us that our sins are forgiven and put away and tossed into the ocean as Micah preached.
And this teaches us what these two parables are NOT about. The story of the lost sheep and the lost coin are NOT about us, who go to church and those who stop coming to church and we don't know what happened to them so the pastor has to go figure out where they went. I'll tell you where they went. They stopped being sinners. At some point, those who leave the church behind have come to the realization that they're pretty good people and they don't need what Jesus has for them. They have no need of repentance. Oh, some might claim they don't come because they feel TOO sinful. But that's just talk in the opposite direction. That's just saying their sins can be bigger than Jesus. And you can't think that unless you really aren't concerned about your sins after all. No, brothers and sisters, the lost sheep and lost coin aren't about people who stop coming to church. They're about us. They teach us that the church is really only truly those who are sinners. Those who think they're doing OK and don't have any need of repentance, well, Jesus won't do any good for them! They're on their own.
So now listen carefully. If you don't have need of repentance; if you think you've got God all figured out; if you're convinced you're not perfect but you try hard; if you think your good works are really so good and you're better, at least, than most other people; if you think God must be happy that such a person like you goes to church; then repent! Weep and despair of yourself! Or at least recognize that Jesus didn't come to help you because you must not need any help. And good luck with fending for yourself on the Last Day! But if you are a sinner, then rejoice! If you are one who doesn't love God as He commands, who doesn't love your neighbor like you should; if you are one who has nothing going for you with which to persuade God how great you are; if you know that your life and sins deserve nothing from God but His eternal wrath and condemnation; if you are pretty sure that your life is the septic tank God should plug His nose and avoid, then rejoice! Rejoice because it is for such sinners that Jesus has come into this world. It is for such sinners that Jesus slogged through the filth of sin and was nailed to the cross. It is for YOU that Jesus has given His life and rescued you by His Word and Sacraments.
There are lots of "dirty jobs" in this world. But there is no job as dirty and disgusting as saving sinners. But that's what Jesus does. No other "god" would do that. But the true God does. He comes down into our muck to save us. No wonder when they heard such a thing that the tax collectors and sinners ran to Jesus to hear Him. There was nothing else to hear that would save them. The world told them they weren't holy. The Law condemned them for their sins. But Jesus spoke words of life. Jesus spoke pardon from their sins. Jesus spoke peace to their hearts. Just as He rescues you from sin and death. Just as He washes and absolves you sinners. Just as He now receives you and eats with you as you eat His Supper. With such a Jesus as that, it's a good day to be a sinner! Amen.
The Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL, and the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things. He edits the Daily Reflections. He is married and father of three.
Created: June 10th, 2008