Messes made clean by Christ
People always want to talk about stewardship. People never want to talk about stewardship.
A Pharisee named Simon didn’t realize he was going to get a stewardship talk when he invited Jesus for supper. While eating, a notorious woman from town crashed the party. Not to nosh on Simon’s buffet, but to weep at Jesus’ feet, wash them with her tears, kiss them, and anoint them.
Simon thought to himself, “I can’t believe Jesus is letting her do this. Doesn’t he know what kind of a person she is, what kind of a can of worms he’s opening, what kind of mess this is?” He no doubt also looked for someone to escort the lady out pronto.
That’s when Jesus began his stewardship talk. He talked about two debtors. One owed more than a year’s pay; the other a couple months. Neither had the money, yet their creditor canceled their debts. Jesus asked, “Which of them will love him more?”
Simon knew. “The one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus nodded in agreement. Then he looked to the woman at his feet and back to Simon. “You didn’t clean my feet from the road, kiss me in greeting, or have any oil ready to clean me up from my travels. She washed me with tears, dried me with her hair, anointed me with perfume, and has been continuously kissing my feet. Which one of you has had a debt paid? I look at this woman and see that her many sins have been forgiven, ‘for she loved much.’ But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Jesus didn’t care about the messiness. “Oh, man, now I’ve got to deal with her past. She’s going to be awkward to have around. Just go away. Do this to someone else. Or at least not here with people around.” He just said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Not only didn’t Jesus care about the “mess” at his feet, he craved it. He told Zacchaeus, “I came to seek and to save the lost.” The Pharisees yelling at him for eating with tax collector Matthew heard, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus well-known “lost” parables in Luke 15 defy expectation. Leaving 99 perfectly decent and locatable sheep alone to find one stupid lost sheep? Wasting a whole day and night to find one coin, and then throwing a party that probably cost more than the coin? Looking for, waiting for, and then celebrating the drug-addled, booze-swilling jerk of a son who wasted your inheritance when there’s a perfectly good son right here at home?
Jeez, when will God get his priorities right? This is why we love to talk about stewardship. We’ve got all kinds of ideas. We know the best way to use this, that, or the other thing. Gosh, God’s lucky to have us, isn’t he? Left to him, we’d be stuck with Lady Liberty’s crowd. “Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
No, not for us. We want no messes here. Let us comfortably build up our accounts, amass our wealth, and keep the dirt out and away. We throw garbage away; we don’t collect it and rejoice in it, ask it to come in. We don’t have room for huddled masses, that would disturb things too much. The tempest-tost and homeless have so much in their past, that’s why their tempest-tost, we don’t have time for that. Our resources are better spent on someone or something less troublesome, more worthy. More Jesus-like.
That’s at least a case we might make, right? I’m looking for Jesus. Show me Jesus. I’ll pay for that. I’ll help him. It sounds so noble, so pure, so holy, so righteous.
But the truth is, Jesus is more in line with Lady Liberty, than us. This is why we hate to talk about stewardship, because we keep getting corrected. Our Lord gives us a vision of judgment day in Matthew 25. He points out the love of the righteous, and notice where it’s directed: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” And he says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Or, as is really more likely in the context, “You did TO me.”
That sounds messy and uncomfortable. How much room is there in our budget for that? “Well, I’ve got this, this, and this to take care of first. We have to do all these things, maintain these things, take care of these things, then, if anything’s left, maybe we can think about possibly, but quietly, and as sanitized as possible, doing something like that.” Yet Jesus’ Father blessed these sheep on his right, he eulogized them, he spoke well of them, and thus Jesus said, “Come…take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
I’m not trying to pit one ministry against another here. I’m not saying it’s sinful to build a building or have this or that policy or procedure. I’m just asking you to listen more carefully to Jesus’ actual words about stewardship and the new obedience of our faith in Christ. Ministry, service, serving in Christ’s Church is messy. And messy means you’re doing it right, because it means you’re dealing with and working with sinners. And that’s the Church’s job.
These righteous sheep weren’t righteous because they did these things. Did you notice they didn’t even realize it: “When did we do any of this? We never saw you, Jesus, like this?” These righteous sheep did these things because they were righteous sheep. They were once goats, foolish virgins, wicked and lazy servants, messes. Until the Son who seeks the lost and the sick found them, washed up their bodies, bandaged their wounds and brought them into the inn we call the Holy Christian Church.
The Holy Christian Church made them sheep, made them the righteous workers they showed themselves to be. Because that’s what the Church does. The Christian Church is the Holy Spirit’s house. Here he proclaims through Word and Sacrament the forgiveness of sins; here He cleans up messes, our messes. Our sins. Your parents brought you to a font, not because you were a sheep, but because you were a goat. And God washed you in the blood of His Son, making you a sheep. The Lamb of God was slain for a mess like you, poured out his blood for a mess like you. The Spirit preaches a Word not to the perfect and holy, but to the still sick like us, the saints who sin and still make messes. Jesus comes with rest not for the confident and proud, but for the weary and burdened, saying, “Here is rest, for you, my body and blood, poured out to keep you going and help you out of your mess, your sins!”
When Jesus announces the blessings of the Father on judgment day, and, conversely, the eternal curses of hell, it won’t be based on what a wonderfully clean and neat and tidy and un-messy person you were and are. It will be because Jesus, the Son of Man, didn’t just come to gather all the nations and judge the living and the dead; he offered his life as a ransom for many. When the court sits and opens the books, the Son of Man, Jesus will stand before the Ancient of Days and say, “I paid the price. I cleaned up these messes. I fed them. I clothed them. I nursed them. I welcomed them. I went to prison and visited them, and more, I freed them from sin and death!” By faith in Christ, the Spirit’s gift, a Christian can say, “That’s mine!” Because God promised it: clothed in Christ by Baptism, fed by the body and blood of Christ in the Supper, nursed by the Word through mess after mess, day after day. In other words, forgiven much!
And forgiven much, like that woman, we love much, the new life of resurrection with Jesus, as the catechism teaches, “Baptism means…a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” And Jesus assures us that he surrounds us, even in the least of these brothers, perhaps even especially in the least of these brothers. We get to, through them, do it to Jesus and for Jesus!
We don’t escape the eternal fire and eternal punishment of hell because we’re so good and righteous, so neat and unmessy. We are messes. Goaty as goaty can be. But as we think on and prepare for that final judgment that’s coming – and coming soon – we rejoice in the promise of our Lord, who says that on account of Christ, our Father eulogizes us, speaks well of us, has already in the past done so, and, more, has prepared for us a kingdom, “since the creation of the world,” not because he saw how good and righteous and faithful we would be, but because he saw how good and righteous and faithful his Son, Jesus, is, the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” That Lamb gives us new life in His blood, the new life of forgiveness, declared saints, which means a resurrection of the body to life everlasting!
That title isn’t some sinecure, some no-show job, it’s what we are, living it, breathing it. It’s our beating heart, pumping daily, pumped by the Spirit repeating the mantra, “Forgiven in Christ,” so that we don’t think about neatness or messiness first, we simply see Jesus everywhere, Jesus our Savior, the Son of Man who ransomed and redeemed us, Jesus preparing a place for us, the Father’s place, our inheritance, in Christ. And in Christ, the inheritance of all those who believe in Him, all those called by the Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, which we have in our hands to use, with the promise that all those who believe in Christ, regardless of how messy they look, “will go away to…eternal life.” Amen.