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Dr. David Evans
September 12, 2016
I had some options today you know. When you preach from the lectionary, you’re given the opportunity to explore the scriptures in all its fullness. You have the opportunity to look at Old Testament texts, and Epistles and Gospels each week. The lectionary texts provided me with some rich themes to explore with you on this, my first Sunday back as your Acting Head of Staff and as we all know, on this 15th anniversary of 9-11.
The Old Testament text from the prophet Jeremiah was rich. It includes the sentences: “For my people are foolish…they are stupid children…they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil.”And I thought, “I can do a lot with that!” But maybe not on my first Sunday back.
Then there is the text from the Epistles. I Timothy that includes the famous confession from the Apostle Paul that: “I am the foremost of sinners.” Or as Eugene Peterson translates it:“I am ‘Public Sinner Number One’.” And I thought, “That’s pointing the finger at me, now.” And this may be true, but I am not quite ready to be that transparent with you at this point.
So I finally went to the Gospel. And there I found what I thought would be the “safe” choice for this first Sunday back. But after wrestling with it for the past few days I am not so sure. In the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells three parables about being lost. The parable of the lost sheep which has been so ably enriched by Krystal’s children’s sermon, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of two lost sons. Today’s Gospel lectionary focuses on the first two parables. Hear the Word of God from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
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.’
So he told them this parable: ‘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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘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? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that grass will wither, flowers will fade, but this, the Word of the Lord, endures forever.
All three of the parables that make up the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke are essentially about this whole idea of what it means to be LOST. Here in one chapter, we discover lost sheep, lost coins and lost sons. As I reflected on the whole idea of being LOST, it struck me that there are all kinds of being LOST.
Being LOST can simply be “irritating, ” can’t it? If it means you are driving around an unfamiliar city and you’re looking for an address, and you’re wandering around in circles. It’s simply irritating. Even Google Maps makes mistakes and misdirects you sometimes.
Being LOST can be more than irritating, it can be “unsettling” if perhaps, you’re hypothetically hiking with a friend on the East Fork Trail near the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. You are faithfully following the blue trail markers the Forest Service has put there to keep you on the right path. But at some point you realize that for the last hour and a half, and then two hours, you are going in circles and the fresh bear scat you saw on the trail an hour ago is the same bear scat you just saw again.
Being LOST can be “irritating.” Being LOST can be “unsettling.” And then being LOST can be “terrifying.” Being LOST can be terrifying when you take your five year old son and two year old daughter to a huge festival called “Six Flags Over Zilker.” You are having a splendid time that Sunday afternoon with thousands and thousands of people milling around. You are holding tightly the hand of your two year old and keeping your five year old close by because you and you alone are responsible for their well being in this crowd. But there comes a moment when your son sees a plastic stegosaurus he wants to buy and for a moment, you let go of your daughter’s hand while you reach into your back pocket and pull out your billfold and pay the woman. And when you reach back down for your daughter’s hand, and she’s not there. You’re puzzled at first because she’s not there. Then as you survey the milling crowd and she is nowhere to be seen you begin to panic and after ten minutes have passed and you have searched this way and that way and the realization that you have no idea where she is begins to sink in, you experience a sheer and unadulterated terror that leaves you gasping and wondering whether you will ever again see your precious daughter. Many years later, you still find that your stomach goes into a knot each time you think about or tell this story. And your daughter confesses to you recently that she never understood that terror until she became a parent.
We really have no way of knowing whether the shepherd and the woman in Jesus’ parables were just irritated or whether they were unsettled or whether they were in sheer and unadulterated terror as they realized they had lost a sheep and a coin. And I suppose we could debate the ethics or the wisdom of the shepherd who made the decision that he would leave 99 obedient, righteous sheep in order to go after the one who was lost. We could debate the ethics of this until the cows come home, if I can mix my metaphors this morning. He leaves 99 sheep vulnerable to all the threats of the wild wolves and bears and sheep rustlers and storms in order to search for one recalcitrant rebel who decides to go out on his own. Maybe this is the shepherd’s favorite sheep. Who knows. All we know is that he risks the well being of the whole flock for the sake of this one.
And then there’s the woman. She has lost a coin. We know from studying the commentaries that it is a whole day’s wages. And she tears the house upside down looking for that coin. She rips the cushions off the couch and moves the chairs and sweeps under the refrigerator and empties all the drawers and pulls all the dishes out of her china cabinet and rolls up the carpets, all in a frantic effort to find this lost coin. There must have been a sense of dread…maybe even terror…over losing something so incredibly precious to her. You would think that her whole life depends on finding this coin. And maybe it does.
There is an irony in these two parables that makes it possible for us to miss the real point. Because it is so easy for us to to find ourselves in the place of one who has lost something very precious. It is so easy to ask ourselves: would we be willing to risk the lives of 99 sheep in order to save just one sheep? Would we be willing to spend so much time and effort searching for just one coin, when we know we’ve got nine others? Because of course every parable and every text of scripture for that matter is about us. About you or me. Isn’t it? Aren’t we the central characters in this text?
Here is the thing that is easy to miss about these two parables. We are just minor characters in these parables. We are standing there with the Pharisees and scribes who are murmuring that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus is telling this parable to us.
The Pharisees and the scribes get the point of the two parables immediately. For the Pharisees and the scribes understand that the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep and the woman who frantically searches for the lost coin…well…they are really just one and the same person. In these parables Jesus is painting a vivid portrait of none other than God. A portrait of a God who has a passionate love for every single soul on earth, that has a special place in God’s heart of hearts for those who are LOST. For those who have run out of hope. For those who cannot find their place in the world. For those who somehow cannot seem to find the purpose for which God has put them on this earth.
So here we are on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and as I wandered this morning to the various classes, it was interesting that the theme was how LOST we all were on that day. How LOST we were not understanding how the world could be so completely different from the way we imagined it to be. How the presumed safety that we felt had been suddenly ripped out from under us. Because that’s a kind of being LOST, too, you see. If you are old enough to remember 9/11, it is one of those events, like Pearl Harbor or Kennedy’s assassination, in which you could tell me exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. It’s that momentous a moment in the life of our nation that we can remember the sense of being unmoored, set adrift, LOST in a world that we no longer recognized. What that tells us is that being LOST is not just a physical event. There is a profound spiritual dimension to being LOST in this world.
Each of us is LOST in some profound way. There are LOST areas in our life…areas in which God is not allowed. God hurts when we are not living the purpose for which God created us. Jesus’ point in telling this parable is to tell us something about this God we have gathered to worship this morning.
It is to tell us this: God is absolutely passionate about each one of you. God will go to any lengths in this world to leave all of the righteous and to come find you where are. God loves the LOST. God cares about the LOST, God rejoices like a shepherd when God finds those who are LOST. God rejoices like a woman who has found her lost coin. God rejoices like a desperate father who sees his precious daughter walking up the hill at Zilker Park, holding the hand of a woman who realizes she had gotten away from someone who loves her more than life itself.
Oh yes.That’s exactly it. God loves us just like that. More than life itself. Every time we enter this sanctuary and look up at this cross we are reminded again. God loves us more than life itself.
Thanks be to God.