Series C, proper 19: Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 timothy 1:5-17; Luke 15:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ever wonder why Jesus taught so many parables? I happen to think it’s because he likes telling stories and that all these stories point to his cross and his resurrection. But the parables aren’t meant to keep Jesus at a comfortable distance. Jesus teaches us his parables in order to draw us into the story. Jesus’ teaching is no spectator sport.
So, what’s Jesus doing in Luke 15? Jesus is seeking you out. That’s why he often takes what is known or familiar and uses it to teach us what is unknown or unfamiliar to draw you in. Today’s readings are no different.
Now, we’re probably not too familiar with sheep or shepherding. And we don’t usually spend our time sweeping the floor searching for 1 lost penny out of 10. But we’ve probably all lost something.Nothing kick starts an earthquake in your chest like the panic of losing something. Losing your keys on the way out the door with a kid in one arm, three bags in the other, and 10 minutes to get through 30 minutes of Southern California traffic. Losing your passport the morning before you head out of the country. Losing your hard drive and every last file the night before that final paper for school or presentation to the company is due. Temporarily losing that son or daughter at the park or in the store.
Today’s Gospel reading is about losing things. Luke 15 is about lostness, seeking, finding, and rejoicing – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and in the third parable which you didn’t hear this morning, a lost son.Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Even before Jesus begins his parables, there are a few shocking surprises for us. First of all, it’s wasn’t the wealthy Israel elites, the religious expert Pharisees, or high society Romans who were drawing near to Jesus, but the outcasts, the poor, and degenerate – the sinners. And this – according to the Pharisees – is precisely the sort of behavior that respectable Messiahs don’t engage in; at least if he knows what’s good for him.But social propriety matters little to Jesus. Jesus is in the business of finding the lost, going to the outcast, and rescuing sinners. And here’s the second surprise. The Pharisees are angered again. They don’t consider themselves sinners. But here’s the problem with the Pharisees and our Pharisaical sinful nature. Unless you see yourself as a sinner, as the apostle Paul says, “the chief of sinners,” you have no need for Jesus as Savior. It’s as simple as that. Those who don’t know their sin and fear the judgment of the Law have no use for Jesus’ forgiveness and the justification that comes by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. If you have no sin, if you have kept God’s law perfectly in thought, word, deed, and desire, then you have no need for Jesus.
So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And 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 before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Once again, Jesus’ parables are surprising. One thing’s for sure. He wouldn’t make a very good businessman – at least not in the way the world measures success. A wandering sheep is bad for business. And given the odds, 1 out of 99 isn’t all that bad. Most businessmen would mark it off as dead loss. After all, you’ve got 99 sheep safe in the pen. Why go mess things up and run off after the one. Well, thankfully for the Pharisees and for us, Jesus isn’t like most businessmen.The same is true for the lost coin. It’s kind of like picking up the occasional penny in the crosswalk, you spend more time and energy looking for it than it’s worth. Again, the business of the Kingdom of heaven isn’t measured by profit margins and spreadsheets, by numbers and books. That’s not how Jesus works. God’s economy is measured out in mercy, grace, and unmerited, outrageous forgiveness.
That, of course, is the whole point of these parables. Jesus won’t settle for 99 out of 100. He wants all 100. He wants all to be saved, not some, or many – All.That’s why Jesus goes to the Pharisees. In one of the most glaring ironies in Jesus’ parable – it is the Pharisees, even though they considered themselves closer to God by their works – they were actually the lost ones, just like the older son in the parable of the two sons. Jesus is calling them to repentance, to leave behind their works and religion of self and find true joy in him. Jesus came to rescue them.
And that’s good news for us too. Jesus came for sinners and Pharisees like us today too. Jesus still loves eating and drinking with sinners. He does it here every Sunday.Jesus’ parable reveals our sin. We’re the lost sheep. We’re the lost coins. The losers. The outcasts. Each of us – the chief of sinners. Isaiah was right about us, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way.” This is why confession isn’t about admitting our mistakes and promising to be on our best behavior. Confession is an admission that we are dead – and lost – in our sins and that we have no power to save ourselves or convince anyone that we’re worth saving. Confession and repentance is the recognition that our whole life is entirely out of our hands and that if we do ever find our way out of this lostness of sin it’s going to have to come from someone else.
Yes, this parable is about losing. Losing your sin. Losing your death. Losing it all in Jesus.But Jesus’ parable reveals something greater than your sin and mine– something more shocking, a joyous surprise. This parable is also about finding. About Jesus’ outrageous, undeserved grace. The Shepherd, the woman, the Father – these parables are all about Jesus saving you, raising you from the dead.
Isaiah has more to say about your sin…the Lord has laid our iniquity – all of it – on Jesus. Jesus is your finder, your searcher, your seeker, your rescuer, your deliverer. That’s how valuable you are to God. God refused to write you off as a dead asset, but instead made you the object of His seeking and saving love. God turned over every rug, He looked under every pillow and sofa cushion, He turned the world upside down in order to find you in your lostness. Our value is completely in Christ who saw something in us that we could not see in ourselves.Thank God the Pharisees were right about this: Jesus delights in sinners, real dyed in the wool wandering sheep like you and me. You are the joy set before Him that endured the cross and scorned its shame. You are the reason that Jesus ate with sinners in the first place.
This parable gives us a picture of what heaven is like: a bunch of wandering sheep and lost coins and wayward sons enjoying fellowship with God for no other reason than Jesus found you in His death.Rejoice. You are found in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus seeks you out, throws you over his crucified and risen shoulders and rejoicing, brings you home, seats you at his table, and feeds you as an honored guest.
And God loves a party. No expense spared. The finest of wine in Jesus blood. The best food in Jesus’ body. A feast of forgiveness where Jesus still delights in eating and drinking with sinners. “Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.”In the Name of Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.