Yesterday’s sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about Christmas, even though Hobby Lobby has been selling Christmas trees for more than a month now. I’m not even talking about Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Those things are like diabetes in a cup. No, I’m excited because it is Parable Season! As we wrap up the long Season after Pentecost, seven out of ten Sundays will feature at least one parable from Jesus. This week, we are gifted with two: the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. Certainly, these are two of my favorites.
Titles like those make Parables so easy to digest. We already know what they are about before we even read them. Of course, these parables weren’t told into a vacuum. As much as preachers would like to make them universal fables, able to tell us how to live our lives 2,000 years after they were told, this is rarely, if ever, possible. Jesus’ parables are always told in the context of a particular group of people for a very particular reason. Our two parables today are told to a hodge-podge group that included Pharisees, tax collectors, scribes, and sinners. Tax collectors and sinners, Luke tells us, were particularly drawn to Jesus. His message of repentance and forgiveness must have struck a chord with these two traditionally ostracized groups. They came from far and wide to listen to what he had to say.
Jesus’ popularity with sinners and tax collectors made him very unpopular with the Pharisees and the scribes whose life work it was to help the righteous live according to the Law. Sinners and tax collectors were considered incorrigible. It wasn’t worth the breath to try to convince them to follow the rules. The teachers of the Law had long-since given up hope. Rather than just roll their eyes at the naïve Rabbi from the boondocks who was trying to convert the heathens and ignore what Jesus was up to, the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble. They grumbled that Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors. Worse than that, he ate with them. He received them into his life. He risked being contaminated by their sinful ickiness. He touched them, hugged them, and cared for them. The content of their grumbling tells us that Jesus was in the habit of this sort of behavior. He routinely risked his own purity in order to receive into himself all sorts of people.
Truth be told, if the Pharisees had simply grumbled about these things, we might not have this story. The real problem is that they did more than grumble. The word that Luke uses here is the same word used to describe the murmuring of the Israelite’s in the wilderness. Throughout the Bible, it is clear that grumbling and murmuring are near the top of the list of things one should never do: it often ends very poorly for those who decide to try it out. Remember that time, after God had saved the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, when they murmured against God because they didn’t have enough water or enough food or even the right kind of food. They murmured and they complained all the way to the point of building a golden calf to worship instead of the God they were so accustomed to complaining about. As we heard this morning, they were a well-reasoned argument from Moses away from being utterly destroyed by God’s red hot wrath.
It is important that Luke uses this particular word to describe the complaints of the Pharisees and scribes. In Hebrew, the same word that is translated as “murmur” also means “to lodge” or “to abide.” Murmuring sets up a dwelling place of discontentment in your heart. It pushes out hope and joy and peace, and replaces it with resentment, frustration, and dis-ease. When murmuring sets up residence in your heart, there is no longer room for God, and when there is no longer room for God, you are lost. The Pharisees and the scribes in our story today were lost, and it is to these lost religious leaders – full of righteousness murmuring, yet unable to make room for God – Jesus tells a series of three parables about lostness, two of which we hear today.
“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?” I told this parable to our prEYC on Wednesday, and we decided that actually none of us would do that. Why would you risk leaving ninety-nine sheep to be eaten by wolves to track down one that was already as good as dead? That just doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what God does. He relentlessly pursues that one lost sheep until he finds it. Whether that lost sheep is a notoriously sinful person or a murmur-infected religious leader, God searches and searches and searches until he finds each and every lost soul, and each time he finds one, the celebration in heaven is like no party we have ever seen before.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” That seems reasonable Jesus. Sure, when I lose something of value, I’ll dig around until I find it, absolutely. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that I have lost.’” Well, no, Jesus, I probably wouldn’t do that. I doubt that having found my silver coin, I would then spend it and several more to throw a party over finding it. That’s just foolishness. It would be crazy to be so lavish, but this is exactly how God acts toward all of us who are lost.
God loves us like crazy. He loves us with reckless abandon, and because of that deep and abiding love, God would risk everything to find a single lost soul. In sending his Son to share our human nature and to live and die as one of us, God did risk everything, and the best part of this whole crazy story is that he risked it all to find you. These parables aren’t stories about a God who desires to save all of us in some grand cosmic scheme. They aren’t about a search for two coins or ten sheep or billions of people; these are stories about risking everything to find only one thing. God left ninety-nine righteous sheep at risk to find one solitary lost soul. God pulled out his lantern, got down on all fours, and risked what might be hiding under the couch to find you in your lostness, and he’ll do it again and again and again. Every time you find yourself lost, know that God is already looking to find you, and when he does, there will be a party in heaven like you would not believe. I can’t wait to one day see what that party is like on Sunday mornings, when millions of Christians are in church, confessing their sins, and turning toward God anew. That party must be absolutely ridiculous!
The Pharisees, even as they lived faithful lives were completely lost. They had forgotten that at the heart of God’s covenant with Abraham was the promise to bless all the people of the earth. From the very beginning, it has been God’s deepest desire to restore to right relationship every lost soul, every sinner, every tax collector, every murmuring Pharisee. From the very beginning, it has been God’s deepest desire to find you. No matter where you got lost, God is searching with love and concern, and when he finds you, there will be joy in heaven. “Rejoice with me,” God says, “for I have found my beloved who was lost.” Amen.