The Lost and the Found
In the parables of Luke 15: 1-10, Jesus shares with us one of the great truths of God's mercy; only those who celebrate God's grace with others can receive it themselves. Grace is the rule in God's house, and this unmerited grace and mercy extends to everyone. In looking at the parable of the lost sheep, it is interesting to note that in the Old Testament, the shepherd was a mostly positive symbol signifying a leader who was a protector and provider for the flock. The shepherd-king David is a good example of this. But by the time of Jesus, no longer were shepherds thought of as "good shepherds." In fact, shepherds were despised as fringe members of society. Shepherding was among the forbidden occupations in Israel, and shepherds were actually equated with robbers of that time. So here we are, at the beginning of chapter fifteen of Luke, with Jesus in the midst of the Pharisees and scribes. Right away, we see that tax gatherers and "sinners" come to hear what Jesus has to say. But the Pharisees and scribes began to "grumble," saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." The Pharisees expected that Jesus would want to eat with them, and stay away from the people, food, and life-style that they, the Pharisees, judged to be unclean. So, I ask: when our God shows up in your life, seeking you out to bring you to the mercy and grace of God as shepherd, how do you respond? Do you grumble, mutter, and complain; or do you embrace and love the God who fervently seeks you out? And God is not just any shepherd, but this is a shepherd who is willing to risk everything, including the other ninety-nine sheep, for the one who has gone astray in the desert. And you, as the sought-after sheep, are no bleating little lamb. This sheep; you metaphorically, is probably the largest lamb or ram in the herd, who is in no hurry to be led back to the flock by the shepherd. In fact, the shepherd has to carry the sheep back to the flock. But he does so happily, rejoicing, and on his return invites his friends and neighbors, possibly the friends he left in charge of the other ninety-nine, to join him in celebration. Jesus then concludes the story by saying that "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." This unmerited grace moves each of us forward into the life that the spilled blood of our Savior bought for us. We are moved forward by the Holy Spirit, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the everlasting life that we look for, because Jesus won't give up until we are found and returned. Not only does the shepherd rejoice at having found us, but our God, as shepherd, throws the most outrageously bombastic blowout of a party in the history of all of creation in our honor, to celebrate our being found. God rejoices at finding us, and invites us, our neighbors and friends, to be at the party. Will you join in this celebration? Will you come to God's party? Are you one of the lost, or one of the found?
The same is true of the woman and the lost coin. In order to find us, God is willing to radically turn over whatever it takes to find us, even if it means overturning everything that we might think of as sacred. God is always willing to upset anybody’s applecart if the result will be to save a sinner. And when that happens; when we come to our senses and realize that God actually cares and loves us; that’s when the real party, the real rejoicing, starts. And nothing can stand in the way of God’s redemption; in fact, who would dare to even try? Because, if God is for us, who can stand against us?
Blessings, Pastor Jan