Luke 15: 1-10
11 September 2016
“Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
Last week we heard that nothing, absolutely nothing, should come between us and God.
But it was a hard lesson. There was that notion that we are to “hate” even our families. I want to say just a bit more about that. You see, the original word, the one translated as “hate” doesn’t quite mean exactly what we do when we say we hate something. Certainly that sense that we need to put God first in our lives is still there. But there’s also the strong sense that we can’t allow our past, or our genetics to define who we are today in God’s eyes. To know God through Jesus Christ is to change whatever identity we have built up over time. It is to be renewed completely, made a new being, to find new life.
That being said, let’s turn to today’s lesson. It starts with “tax collectors and sinners” crowding around to listen to Jesus. That set the “scribes and Pharisees to grumbling about Jesus’ willingness to welcome those deemed unacceptable to those good religious people who lived in such a way that their lives would please God. In addition, we heard those two familiar parables about lost sheep and lost coins and how someone looked long and hard for them. It’s fair to say that we heard something of how God pursues us and rejoices over us when we turn back to God. I am going to ask you to step into that lesson for a few minutes. What role do you play? Do you count yourself among good religious folk or among the ones so clearly labeled as sinners? I don’t know how it has been for most of you but, like those scribes and Pharisees I have spent much, but I’ll confess not all, of my life trying hard to please God, and failing miserably for the most part. Within the two parables are you the lost sheep or the lost coin, somehow separated from where you really belong? Or are you more like one of the ninety-nine sheep who stayed together, one of the nine coins resting safely in the jar where that woman kept them? One thing for sure, no matter where we stand in relation to the parables, the collect of the day tells us an important truth when it admits that without God we are not able to please God. How is it for you? Talking about the lesson with some other clergy this week generated some interesting thoughts. We started with the first parable. Someone observed that, in fact, no shepherd in her or his right mind would leave 99 sheep untended in the wilderness to go look for the one. That is simply a recipe for disaster. Someone else reflected, in regard to the second parable, that the housewife was pretty careless to lose that coin in the first place. To be honest sheep nibble their way into trouble with disturbing regularity and that valuable coin could not possible get lost on its own. Maybe we could usefully rethink the story. We are all probably a lot like both the shepherd and the housewife, misguided sometimes and careless at others. But there’s two sides to the images of shepherd and housewife. Consider what we hear at the end of the reading. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And, “rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.” What we have is a picture of God who loves all humanity. This is a good starting place in our understanding of God, it is at the very heart of the Gospel message. God loves each one of us, and all those people we don’t love so much as well. To me that’s a humbling thought. It occurs to me that maybe it’s worth focusing on those two groups that open the lesson, the sinners and the righteous folk. It seems straight forward but, in light of the human side of that shepherd or that housewife it looks like the lines between those two groups blur. The sinners and tax collectors, unacceptable as they might be in Jesus’ world are ready to listen to him. The righteous scribes and Pharisees who work so hard to live according to what they believe God asks of them, well, they grumble at Jesus and question what he’s up to. Neither group is purely sinner or purely saint. All of them, and all of us, are purely human. That is to say we all manage to get lost, we are all sinners. But that’s not the end of the story. Recall the very last line of the lesson: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Here’s the thing. Those parables, which we call parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, are about all of us. And they are about God too, God who cares deeply about all 100 sheep, all 10 coins. That, all by itself, shows us the heart of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. But there’s more. The images within these parables show us that our lostness points to both our separation from God and our separation from one another. And God cares deeply about our lostness, both from one another and from God’s self. God seeks out the lost, actively looks for sinners, to use another word. The point is that sin can be described as life lived out of touch with and contrary to, God’s will. Think back to last week. We are lost to God when we put our own goals or agendas or desires first. We are sinners when we define ourselves by other priorities, even other relationships. At the same time being found by God means being shown the way into transformed life, metanoia to use the fancy Greek word for repentance. The meditation on grace that we heard from First Timothy tells us much about that. That reading hold a powerful thanksgiving to Jesus Christ particularly for the transformation of life that the experience of grace leads us into. In the light of grace our sinful lives are reformed into active lives of service to God. We are called into lives of active ministry, lives that show forth God’s love. Lives of restored relationship with one another And with God. Certainly we are all lost sheep in God’s eyes. We are all tarnished coins, hiding in some forgotten corner. And still we are all beloved of G-d, transformed by the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God Think a minute: How has God found and held you at some point in your life? How have you been transformed? Then I wonder: having recognized both your sinfulness and God’s love for you how will you allow God to use you this week to hold some other lost sheep, to find some other lost and tarnished coin, this week? Amen.