The Joy that Comes from Looking Beyond Yourself

Third Sunday after Trinity

June 17, 2018

Luke 15:1–10

The Gospel reading today presents you with paradox. It directs you to look deep within yourself and not to anyone else to see what is in you. It also directs you to get over yourself and look beyond yourself to others and see their need.

What are you to make of this paradox? How do these opposite exhortations fit together? How are you see to yourself for who you really are, without coming up with reasons why others are to blame and also to look beyond yourself and instead of concentrating on yourself to focus on others and what they need?

Here’s what ties them together: repentance. And here’s how you do both of them: repent. True joy does not come through your own imaginations of how good you are or how better of a Christian you are than others or how you don’t do those sins that others apparently have no problem doing. True joy comes when you are lifted up by your Lord and brought back into His care. Being forgiven, you then join in in greater joy over those who repent and likewise are brought back home. 

The great irony is that Jesus wants you to get off yourself and love others, but you can’t do this until you face the reckoning what is in here (your heart). You simply cannot do this if you are concerned about how your failures and faults are the result of others’ failures and faults. You must acknowledge that you are sinful and it is the result of your own turning from God. This is why when you come to individual Confession and Absolution it is individual. It is between you and God alone. You confess your sins to Him and acknowledge that it is your own lack of trust in Him that is why you commit the sins you do. When you hear the words of Absolution from the pastor, forgiveness of your sin, it is forgiveness of your sin. You are forgiven. 

How many times have you seen people in conflict and you see that if only each of them were to look to themselves and what they need to change in themselves, not what they see that the other person needs to change, they would be going a long way toward revolving their conflict. Instead, each of them detail the ways that our own sins are not entirely their own fault. If only the other person wouldn’t do certain things they do, then they themselves wouldn’t have committed certain sins. It’s true that often others are to blame when it comes to conflict. But what Jesus wants you to know is that you can’t save someone else. If you have sinned, you need to repent. If you compare yourself to others and find them lacking, you need to look deeper into your heart. And if you still don’t see the corruption of your heart then at the very least take Jesus at His word that you are sinful to your core. 

This looking within is painful. It’s much easier to recognize all the good things you do and how good of a person you are. It’s more reasonable to see your sins as light compared with the sins of others. But repentance is turning away from sin. It doesn’t matter the sin, big or small, every sin you commit is first and foremost sin against the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. Yes, you are an unbeliever in your sin. You do not look to God alone for the good you need in life. You look to other things, including yourself and how good of a Christian you are. 

This prevents you from true joy. The Pharisees received their joy from their own righteousness. Because they were so caught up in themselves they grumbled that those who were not worthy, those who were obvious sinners, were the ones Jesus was befriending. If the Pharisees could have just looked beyond themselves they would have seen that there is no true joy in being enamored with yourself but in looking beyond yourself and seeing that God’s love is for the very people who are not worthy and the very people who are the obvious sinners.

But they couldn’t do that because they looked at themselves but not within themselves. They looked at what was on the outside. All the good they did. All the ways they were a blessing to the world. All that others should appreciate about themselves. They didn’t look deep inside and see that the corruption in their heart equaled that of those unworthy people Jesus was befriending. At the end of the day they saw no need for repentance. And in perhaps a more stunning fashion, they did not seek for the others to repent either! They were fine to let them go to hell.

Not Jesus. He came to seek and save that which is lost. He came to save sinners. He came for those who repent, not for those who see no need for repentance. That is why He was at home with those who were obvious sinners. He welcomed them and taught them and forgave them. He didn’t diminish their sin. He didn’t rationalize it away. He called them to repentance and forgave them of their sin. This is what brought about joy, as He says, in heaven. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance. 

The Pharisees missed out on all this joy. They didn’t see that true joy is not in looking in the mirror but in looking out at all those lost souls out there who need a Savior. When you get off yourself you can see that others need salvation just as much as you do. And when you look deep inside and repent you see that you need salvation just as much as they do. 

The great irony, the great paradox Jesus presents to you is then is comprehended not in yourself but in Him. He is true God, without sin, and yet looked out beyond Himself. He looked out upon all the sinners of the world and it was His joy to save them and forgive them. It was His joy to seek them out and find them. Sinners do not find their way to God, God sends His Shepherd to them to find them. Those unworthy, obvious sinners were lost, but Jesus sought them out. The Pharisees were so consumed with their own righteousness they didn’t see that they were lost.

So what should you do? In the Epistle reading the apostle Peter says to humble yourself.  Repent of your sin. Repent of your self-righteousness, where you compare yourself with others and find them lacking. Confess yoursin, seek forgiveness for yourself, resist the devil, as Peter also says. Instead of congratulating yourself on how good of a Christian you are, seek to do better as a Christian. Work on those areas where you are weak, where you are enticed to sins. 

But how do you do this? When you are tempted, pray. Pray your Lord for strength in time of temptation. Go to the Word of God. Daily devotions are a refuge each day and a strength and power for you for the rest of the day. Seek out help from a brother or sister in Christ. Ask them to pray for you. 

But there is also something else. All this has to do with looking within yourself. God has called you also to live and the life He gives to you is for others. When you look beyond yourself and serve others, pray for others, help them in their need, befriend them, your focus is outward and not on your own selfish and sinful desires. Not that they’ll disappear. But when you are active in love toward others you join in in the joy of heaven. You will see yourself more and more as unworthy, lost on your own. 

And you will see that your Lord has no greater joy than finding you and forgiving you. Amen.