Walker, MN

19th Sunday after Pentecost “Like a Child / Going Home Forgiven”
Oct. 23, 2022 Luke 18:9-17
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

There are two parts to the Gospel reading for today in Luke 18; a parable, and an illustration involving infants. The verse just before our lesson has Jesus asking a question: (we heard it last week) “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The answer is ‘yes’, because God is the one who works faith in the heart. By His Word & Spirit, God shows us our sin, and our need for His grace & merciful Savior. By the Holy Spirit’s work, even infants can be blessed with His gift of faith – thru the Living Word & Holy Baptism.
The Good Shepherd has come to find the lost sheep; the Great Physician has come to give new life to the spiritually dead. The Son of God has come to seek & to save young & old alike, by His grace and working Spirit. As Eph. 2 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, thru faith~~ and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ~ not by works, so that no one can boast.” God gives grace to the humble, and He rejects the proud. The Law humbles us, so we come to God praying for His mercy, and He lifts us up & restores us. Those who come to Him exulting themselves, leave empty. The helpless come to God boasting of nothing, and they receive His blessing.
First, let’s talk about ‘a child’; {the 2 Greek words used are, ‘brephos’ and ‘pidia’ = small child, infant & even in the womb.} Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” *What does this mean? He did not say AS a child, but LIKE a child; & one little word makes a big difference. So, He is not speaking of age here; it does not say that you must enter the kingdom of God when you’re a baby = but LIKE a baby.
*What is a child like? An infant-child is unassuming, helpless & dependent, not competing with other infants; so, not like the Pharisee in the parable. A child is unable to offer God anything; they are just needy, like the humble & repentant tax collector, who sought mercy.
If I am like a child, I’m glad to receive something, knowing I can’t pay, or pay-back.
I come to God-the-Giver, realizing that compared to Him, I have nothing, and I know nothing; I come & I wait, because like a child, I’m not in control of so many things = but I’m trusting that God is in control of all things.
As compared to my Creator, I’m ignorant & foolish about true spiritual things. When I come to Him, I’m attentive, because I’m ready to receive whatever He’s going to give me.
When I deal with other people in the world, I have to be a responsible adult, & not behave like a child. But when I am before God, I’m a toddler; He is the almighty, all-knowing, eternal God. You & I have nothing He needs.
So *why do we dare come to Him, and ask for things? Only because He has invited us to; He is our only real source of help, /of truth, /of guidance, /of hope & peace. All other knowledge is human & limited; all other help is earthly & temporary. True help & hope comes from Him. *Why? Because He’s God, and He knows us = our history & inner-thoughts.
He knows our sin & our dirt, and -still- He invites us. Therefore, He must be truly loving, like the perfect loving Father to a child.

That’s why this is the only way to receive the Kingdom of God = like a child. Not thinking we deserve it, because we don’t; one sin disqualifies us. God shows us our sinful condition, because His Law is truthful & harsh. He loves us so much that He tells us how we are lost & condemned, because does not want us to continue in it = He has the only solution. We are sin-sick, spiritually dead, and physically dying; so without a Savior, we will be lost forever.
Lord, *what can we do? “Nothing, child,” he says. “But look at the cross; I give to you Jesus Christ, my Son, and His life; a gift. By His blood & death, I put away & cancel your sin. I give Him to you; all I have belongs to Him. Be Baptized in Him, /trust him, /listen to Him & walk with him. Now the kingdom of God is yours ~ thru Him.”
That’s the Gospel message from God to you. What belongs to Jesus is now yours, as a gift. Young or old, you have come before God as a sinner, but you will go home justified = with the Son of God as your Savior, you go home with His full-forgiveness & blessing. Like a humble child, you have given Him nothing, but He gives to you His word of promise; He has given to you His Holy Spirit to live & work in you. Now go home AS a child of heaven, living & behaving AS a child of heaven. That has nothing to do with how you compare to other people.
This is The Christian Faith, by which we enter the Kingdom of God; not AS child, but LIKE a child. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God LIKE a child, shall not enter it.

Now we can talk about the other thing = Going home. I hope ‘going home’ for you is pleasant. Home is supposed to be that place you can get away from the pressures & problems of work & school, & of the world. It’s the place of refuge with the love of your spouse & children, or of other family members or pets, or even with just the quiet comfort of familiar surroundings. ‘Going home’ should mean relief & comfort & peace. Of course, it might not mean that for some. Home can have its own special problems like: /marital strife, /rebellious children, /money troubles, /loneliness. As Jesus compares the prayers of those two men at the temple, He also compares their ‘going home’. One is blessed & strengthened to face ‘whatever’; and the other is not blessed. The parable implies a question: how do YOU want to go home?

How you go home from church today will depend on how you have come to church. Jesus is asking: *Do you come here proud or humble? In the parable, the Pharisee boasted of his own virtues. He’s thinking: ‘bless me, God, because I’m not as bad as others.’ This isn’t really a prayer. And these were good things; but if they are ‘good fruit’, then God helped him do them, & he doesn’t realize that; he just thinks he’s superior to others. His religion was just about himself, not about God. It’s true that ‘faith without works is dead’ (says James 2); & it’s also true that ‘works done without faith do not please God’ (says Heb.11). This man’s ‘faith’ was believing he’s a good person. People like this, when asked about participating in church, might say: “I’m good enough, & I’m probably better than those that go to church every Sunday.”

So, Jesus uses the Pharisee as a warning for US. *How are we coming here before the throne of God? In our thoughts, do we say, ‘thank you Lord that I’m not as bad as those thieves, &adulterers, &partiers, & atheists, & muslims & mormons, and especially those corrupt politicians.” But just because we’re not that bad, doesn’t cause the Lord to save us. Christian Faith IS to be godly; but not just a little better than other sinners.
God measures each of us by the strict standard of His Holy Law; and God’s holy justice is pass//fail. If you’re not perfect & without sin, you are guilty & condemned. So, with God, it’s not big sin vs. little sin, / or many vs. few; BUT either ‘with sin,’ or ‘without.’ In ALL other religions, a person must trust in themselves to do more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ & hope the scales of justice tips in their favor. But that idea is a false religion, & not what God says.
So, Jesus -here- wonders if we can see our real condition before God and be repentant? Tax collectors were outcasts, both socially & religiously, because most were dishonest & criminal. It was not an honorable career, and was full of temptation. In collecting taxes, they were collaborating with the Gentile Romans; so Jewish tax collectors were considered both unclean, and traitors to the Jewish nation. Their income depended on whether they collected more tax than what the person owed. It was like working by commission, but they could charge whatever they wanted. They could be honest & upright, but most were greedy, getting rich by making others poor.
Yet, Jesus chose Matthew as a disciple, a former tax collector. The tax collector Jesus pictures here, did come into God’s presence, but just barely; he slipped in the back door & fell on his face as unworthy & unwelcome. He was honest with himself; he realized that God knew all his failings. Yet, he didn’t stay away in false humility; he hungered for God’s mercy ~
for forgiveness & change; he trusted God’s promise to heal his broken life. This is faith = trust in God who has proclaimed that His mercy is equal for every person, because it is based in the work of His Son Jesus, and in the cross He bore for ALL.

WE also hear the constant invitation to come & seek the Lord’s mercy. WE come here humble; because we are guilty of sin; and it doesn’t matter what kind, or how many sins. Guilty is guilty. But Jesus has come near to us, in the flesh, to deliver the mercy of God to us. And then, even more: the grace of God has been put upon us by Water and the Word.
Baptism is a gracious washing & renewal in the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we have been reborn as children of God = loved children = who have nothing to boast of, & who need what God has so we don’t avoid him. We trust His promise to deal kindly with us. That‘s the gift of faith.
As you hear & ponder this parable, are you impenitent or penitent? The impenitent Pharisee thought he was holy & righteous enough, and had no sins to confess compared to others. He didn’t see his pride & condescending attitude toward others as the sins they are. We, too, get caught up in that. Since others look so sinful to us, we think we look pretty good; and, sometimes, we just can’t think of any ‘real bad’ sins to confess to God. We will admit we’re not perfect; we have some weaknesses, & a bad habit or two, but we think: ‘that’s just the way I am, I can’t help it.’
Often, we look down on others for their sins, but when we do the same things, we say we ‘didn’t have a choice’, or we think we had much better reasons to do those things.
The impenitent person makes excuses rather than confess their sins to God, the Judge.
If we believe God’s Word of loving mercy in Christ, then we also must believe Him when He says our sins condemn us. The tax collector penitently pleads for God’s mercy;
he feels so unworthy. He IS; just as you & I are. In Greek, his literal words are: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” = it’s like he’s the only sinner he knows. ‘I, a poor, miserable sinner.’

His life-before-God depended on him seeing his own sin, and not everyone else’s. Those churches who do not use the historic Liturgy may not be reminded enough of Jesus’ point here: every time we come into His holy presence, the cry of faith is humility: “Lord, have mercy” — kyrie eleison. Lord, I’m not comparing myself to anyone else; God, be merciful to me! I’m the worst sinner I know!
So, how do you want to go home from church today? The parable says there are two ways. The Pharisee went home still burdened by his many sins. His faith in himself did not change his condition. He felt ‘justified,’ just because he saw himself as better than those around him. But he did not go home forgiven or blessed in God’s eyes. He saw no need for a Savior, and so he remained under God’s condemnation. That’s one way to leave; unchanged, only hoping he’d done enough good works to please God = but not sure.

And then there’s the other way to go home. By a repentant faith, the tax collector trusted God’s mercy, as pictured in the temple by the sacrifices of lambs, and by the promises of God thru the coming Messiah. The tax collector went home confident of God’s mercy.

He went home changed; prepared to fight that good fight against sin; standing firm on the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. His focus was not on other people, & whatever their sins were. He had enough to do to fight against his own temptations & sins, and to believe the promises of God’s mercy to cover his many weaknesses. And each time he came to church penitent, and heard again the promise of God’s mercy, he went home forgiven, and at peace.

The promise of God is that you & I are justified by God’s grace, thru faith in Christ Jesus. Like a child, you have come to humbly receive the mercy of God, and the forgiveness that comes thru the sacrifice of Jesus Christ given thru the cross = by his death & resurrection. Your sin is paid for; the kingdom of God is yours. This mercy & forgiveness is what strengthens your life of trust in God, so that you go on your way ‘changed’; and then you can live according to His Word & good ways. It’s the Savior Jesus who keeps you coming back into God’s presence, to be strengthened again to fight the good fight of faith against your own temptations & sins.
Like a child, you keep coming here to receive Jesus’ blessing, and you keep returning home justified. This coming & going in humble, believing faith is exactly what we need for all of our earthly days. It is this coming & going with our Savior that puts aside our fear our last day, and prepares us for that final homecoming into His heavenly kingdom.
God grant us that on-going, child-like faith, that receives His mercy, and produces His good fruit of faith in our Lord Jesus.