Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
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Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-10
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
- Luke 15:8 Gk drachmas, each worth about a day’s wage for a laborer
Sermon: “Dust Bunnies and Salvation”
When Cathy and I are on vacation, we like to get off the interstates and see things most folks either fly over or drive around.
A case in point is the Duncan Cedar in Washington state. It’s the world’s largest Western Red Cedar tree, 178 feet tall and just over 19 feet in diameter.
We saw a sign for it and turned off the highway, finally ending up one a one lane logging road that had a generous strip of grass and weeds growing in the middle. Still, good old Google Maps led us right to the tree.
When we got ready to leave, we fired up our GPS again. This time it told us to go back a different way. Thinking it was a shortcut to the highway, we turned as it told us.
I noticed the grass and weeds in the road getting taller, but kept on driving. Then we crested the top of a rise and saw the road dead end at the bottom of a clear-cut hill. About then, our GPS said, “Turn right.” There was no “right.” To make things even better, Google Maps then helpfully added, “GPS signal lost.”
We carefully turned and went back the way we came. It would have been nice, though, if someone had been there to tell us we were going the wrong way.
One of the things about Jesus’ ministry that all the Gospels mention is that he ate and drank with those whom polite society called “sinners.”
For Jesus, that kind of table companionship was a sign of the kingdom of God, a way of living out in real time what it meant.
The scribes and Pharisees thought otherwise. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was going the wrong way.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
Little did the Pharisees know that they were the ones on a collision course with God’s spiritual Mac trucks of inclusion and grace. Jesus tried to warn them. The stories he told aren’t about who’s a sinner and who’s not. Instead, they’re about things we lose and how happy we are when we find them again.
A survey by Pixie, a location app for iPhones, found that Americans spend $2.7 billion every year replacing things they lost.
Here, in reverse order, are the top six things that go missing in the average home at least once a week.
- Twenty percent of us lose our wallets or purses at least once a week.
- Twenty-four percent of us can’t find our shoes.
- Twenty-seven percent of us wonder, “Now where did I put my glasses?”
- Twenty-eight percent of us tear the house upside down looking for our car or house keys, and thirty-three percent do the same looking for our phones.
- Coming in at number one, though: forty-five percent of us lose the remote control to our TV at least once a week.
A 2017 article in The New York Times gave several hints for finding lost objects, using advice from Michael Solomon, author of the book, How to Find Lost Objects.
- Solomon’s first hint is to stay calm. “There are no missing objects,” he said, “only unsystematic searchers.”
- Once you’ve thoroughly searched an area and ruled it out, Solomon says, don’t waste time going back to it.
- Retrace your steps, forming a mental image of what you were doing or feeling when you last saw the missing item.
- Put things that you lose a lot back in the same place. We often lose things because we put them someplace “safe,” and then promptly forgot where that safe place is.
The folks in today’s parables had other ideas when it came to finding what they’d lost. Jesus acts as though what they did made perfect sense. Any shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep behind to find one who’d gone missing, he said. Any woman would tear her home upside down looking for a single lost coin, he added.
Ummm…no, they wouldn’t. That was Jesus’ point. We wouldn’t, but God would. God would also throw a party more extravagant than the value of any sheep or coin to celebrate that what had been lost is now found.
The sheep rejoins the flock. The single lost coin finds its place again. These are parables about restoration and inclusion, not judgment.
If we want to join God’s party, we must first admit that we’re as lost as any wayward sheep or dust bunny hugging coin. Misled by our spiritual GPS, we wander lost.
Then, unbelievably, joyfully, God finds us, reaching out through the care and the love of others. Let me show you a couple of examples of what that looks like.
This second clip takes a bit of setting up. Carissa Bonacci shared a video on Facebook of her sons, Aidan and Isaac, performing with the Oñate, New Mexico High School Marching Band. “What’s the big deal?” you might wonder. I’ll let Carissa explain.
My middle son, Isaac, is severely intellectually disabled and rarely gets to participate in the same activities as his siblings. When Isaac started high school this year, my older son, Aidan, convinced me to let Isaac join the marching band. Isaac cannot play an instrument and needs constant supervision, so I was extremely skeptical….I caved, and I’ve been blindly sending the two of them off to band camp and rehearsals for the last six weeks. I figured Isaac was helping set up equipment or run water bottles, and he came home every day very happy and chatty. What more could I want?
Here’s the video Carissa posted of the marching band’s first performance of the season.
“Isaac did not set up equipment or run water bottles,” Carissa wrote. “He PLAYED.”
He played percussion just like his big brother. He stood front and center in the percussion pit and totally jammed on a drum pad. The pad muted his playing, which was pretty off-beat and completely out of sync with the rest of the band, but he had the time of his life. I bawled.
The band director has thanked me for allowing Isaac to be part of the band, and Aidan has told me many times how much everyone loves having Isaac there, but I don’t think I really got it until last night.
I’m so used to Isaac being treated like a burden (with varying degrees of patience and tolerance), even by relatives. Seeing him be so thoroughly appreciated for who he is (and not judged for what he isn’t) is something I never expected outside our family. I just had to share. I couldn’t be prouder of both my boys.
Jesus sought out and restored people at life’s edges. He calls on us to do the same. Some wandered there on their own, led by the wrong spiritual or emotional GPS. Many were forced there by others, excluded and discriminated against.
How they got there, how we get there, doesn’t matter. God, the searching shepherd, won’t stop until every lost stray is home. God, the sweeping, searching woman, won’t rest until every lost coin is found.
Jesus won’t stop eating with and welcoming the lost and excluded of every sort, including us, until that great and grand banquet when all sit down at God’s table together. That, friends, is the good news Christ asks us to live and share.