Tuesday, September 11, 2007

2nd Sabbatical Sermon

Luke 15:1-10

Second Sabbatical Sunday

September 9, 2007

Parable of the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Coin

It is a fact of life that some of us are more fugal than others. A nicer way of saying that: some of us are better stewards of our resources. A less nice way: some of us are cheap. The following story is such a tale. I have a friend, some of you might know her, her name is Dee (for those of you reading who don't know our congregation- I'm referring to our Senior Pastor who is on sabbatical!). Well, awhile ago when gas prices were sky high my friend decided that it would be a good idea if we tried to walk to do as many of our errands as possible. Besides saving on gas, we would get our exercise in as we walked. One day she decided that we should walk from the church all the way down to her local bank (about 4 miles round trip)- it sounded like an unreasonable distance to me, but we forged ahead. Along the way, as we walked in the scorching heat, Dee was on the lookout for coins. She found several along the way and picked them up to take with her, she even made me pick some up- yes, Dee is one of our more frugal friends. Maybe that is why I think of her every time I hear the short parable of the woman with the lost coin.

This week in our scripture we find Jesus back at the dinner table. He is eating with that those that the world would label sinners, as the Pharisees and Scribes look on with concern. During the course of the meal, Jesus tells a trilogy of parables. We are only looking at the first two this morning, the lost sheep, and the lost coin. The third parable is the familiar story of the prodigal son. As we sit listening to these parables this morning, the simple fact is that we are overhearing a conversation. I think it is important that we as listeners figure out what position we are in as we listen this morning.

As we hear these stories from Jesus, are we standing at his shoulder, saying “Amen,” and “that’s right Jesus,” having no idea that this parable might be trying to teach us something? “Surely this story is meant for someone else- the lost, the self-righteous, but not for me- I’m close enough to Jesus that I don’t need this lesson.” Is that your position at the table?

Or maybe you can see yourselves as one of the Scribes or Pharisees in this situation. “I’ve been coming to church all my life, I’ve never strayed from the path and wandered too far into the land of sin. That Jesus shouldn’t be wasting his time- not to mention his ritual cleanliness eating with those sinners. It’s good for us to reach out and all- but Jesus’ attention is meant for those of us who are church-going folks who try to live by God’s rules.”

Or maybe you see yourself in the place of one of Jesus’ dinner guests. Perhaps you feel down-trodden, and unworthy and far away from God, and yet you’ve been invited in, to sit with Jesus and share a meal. Well friends I can assure you, these parables are for all of us, and each one teaches us a little more about what God is like. So regardless of where you are in this story- let’s open our ears to what Jesus has to teach each of us through these parables.

Sinners are of great value to God. Each one of us is of importance to God. In fact, God cares for us to much, that when we are lost, the parables say, we are sought out and found because we are so precious. Jesus gives two examples of finding something precious that was lost. The first is about finding a lost sheep. Jesus asks which one among them, having lost a sheep would not leave the other 99 in the wilderness to look for the one? Well, the honest answer would be that not many of us would look for the one sheep. Sure, if the other 99 were safe in a pen or feeding on a grassy hillside- but to leave 99 sheep, abandon them to search for one lost one? That seems pretty unlikely.

Going after the one sheep while leaving the other 99, sounds almost as unlikely as me bending down in the heat of the day on a walk with Dee to pick up a coin. Of course, the woman with the lost coin is a different situation. Jesus says that the woman is missing one of her 10 silver coins. This would not be the equivalent of ten pennies, carelessly discarded on the ground. The woman’s coins would be equal to 10 days wages, or an entire month’s worth of savings. So like the woman Jesus talks about, I would probably turn on a light, sweep the house, and search high and low until I found the coin.

Just as the shepherd searches for a lost sheep, and a woman for her lost coin, or a father waits for a prodigal son, our God searches for us when we are lost and out of relationship. God waits patiently for our return. God seeks us out when we hit rock bottom, and is waiting for us to repent and return. For us as humans, we have limited patience. We tend to get frustrated and are even tempted to give up at times with friends or family members who stray from us. When they get lost in a world of bad choices, sometimes it’s easier to close the door and get on with our lives than to seek them out. But the good news is that God is above our human limitations. God loves each one of us, each person on earth that God has created. When we are distant in relationship from God, when we are lost in sin- God seeks us out. God loves sinners and that is good news.

If God seeks us out and is standing there at the doorway so willing to forgive, then what is our part? I think these parables remind us that repentance is part of the Christian life. One thing that we can do to bring ourselves into closer relationship with God is to seek God’s forgiveness. After Jesus tells his audience about searching for lost sheep, he says, “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.” Jesus welcomed and shared meals with sinners so that they could understand that God forgives. Restoring our relationship with God is as simple as asking for God’s forgiveness. We are more precious to God than a lost sheep, or even 10 lost coins- each of us is a precious child that God wants to be in relationship with. All we need to do is ask for forgiveness from God when we stray.

If God is so quick to forgive, and it brings such joy in heaven when one person repents, it makes me wonder if we shouldn’t be a little quicker to forgive one another. I remember going to the General Assembly of our church in Seattle a couple of summers ago when our new General Minister and President Sharon Watkins was installed. In her opening sermon I remember that she said one of the things we should do for each other as we live in Christian community is to “cut each other a little slack.” If we are kind to one another, and offer forgiveness wherever possible then I think we will experience a little piece of that joy that God feels when a sinner repents.

Did you pick up on the JOY part of this scripture? What does the shepherd do when he finds his lost sheep? He comes home and calls together his friends and neighbors and asks them to rejoice with him, for his sheep has been found. And what about the woman who found her coin? When she found it, she called her friends and neighbors and rejoiced with them! Remember the return of the prodigal son? The father put his finest robe on the son and had a lavish party to celebrate his return. God rejoices when we return after we have strayed. God delights in us.

Life with God is our reward for returning. When we ask for forgiveness when we have strayed, we are led gently back into the fold. We all know well the words of the 23rd Psalm that describes God as our shepherd. “I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul… Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What a comforting and peaceful image of the joy we can find in following God.

There is joy when we restore relationships with each other as well. When we are willing to accept an apology and renew a friendship or a family relationship- its party time! A time to rejoice, and celebrate that what was lost has been restored. God rejoices when we repent, and we should rejoice when an opportunity to forgive someone arises.

We are each blessed abundantly by a God who waits for us at the door, and runs down the path to meet us when we head home. We have a God who considers each one of us precious. May we never hesitate to ask for forgiveness from God, and may we be quick to give that same forgiveness to each other. Amen and Amen.

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