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Sermons

”Lost and Found”

Sept. 11, 2022 Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 15: 1-10.

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1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.]  2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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?  5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  7 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.  8 “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?           9 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 in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Before we get into the deeper substance of what Jesus wants us to learn through the two parables he tells this morning, it might be helpful if we clear up any misunderstanding with regard to this particular statement he makes to the Pharisees; “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.”  The operative word here is “righteous”.  There are the several thesaurus definitions as well as the somewhat traditional understanding of “righteous” as having a sense of self-importance.

Synonyms include virtuous, just, upright, and honorable.  The issue is that this is not the way “righteousness” is understood when referring to the connection between God and people.  Being in a “’right’ relationship with God” is how being “righteous” is defined by Jesus.  And the opposite of the definitions just mentioned is how this relationship is expressed.  Righteousness has nothing to do with our own efforts or self-understanding; this relationship is solely God’s doing, and we are made righteous only by God’s grace.  We can’t earn it and no matter how virtuous or honorable we may think we are, righteousness is accomplished only by our faith in Christ, and through God’s favor.  I think it’s important to keep this in mind as we delve into the parables about what is lost being found.  We need to remember that the righteous ones Jesus speaks about are not thus through their own actions.  It’s all about God’s grace and mercy.

That said, another point to consider is the importance of sharing meals in Jesus’ time.  The Pharisees and scribes were said to be grumbling about who Jesus chose to dine with; tax collectors and sinners.  These religious authorities thought it unseemly to engage in meal fellowship with such unsavory characters.  Whom one shared a meal with was vitally important in the ancient Middle East and this activity tended to label you as someone who identified with a particular group; “birds of a feather” so to speak.  And virtually everyone despised tax collectors.  These were usually Jewish people who collected levies from their fellow Jews, taxes that were imposed by the Roman occupiers of Israel.  They were viewed as collaborators with the Romans who subjugated the Jewish people, and most of them overcharged their fellow citizens, keeping the excess for themselves.  And the Pharisees and others were understandably irate at the thought of Jesus sitting at table with this group of despised people.

Next we read that these same administrators of religious guidelines took great displeasure that Jesus also sat down to eat with “sinners”; a blanket term that might have had many different meanings.  But the one that is most encountered in Scripture is that these “sinners” were likely prostitutes, and the Pharisees felt that Jesus himself was somehow diminished by eating with them.

Yet we know that Jesus spent most of his ministry associating specifically with those who were declared unworthy by others, those who were deemed “lost”; the unrighteous.  And this morning’s encounter with both the leading religious authorities and sinners and tax collectors afforded Jesus the opportunity to teach one group about the value of the other to God.  And, in doing so the true meaning of righteousness is revealed, to the Pharisees and to us.

Jesus’ first parable speaks to the willingness of a shepherd to leave ninety-nine of the sheep of his flock, in order to bring back to the fold the one that has wandered off, the one that has been lost.  The shepherd represents God, who will not rest until the lost ones have been retrieved; been brought back to the community, to God’s family, to righteousness.  This demonstrates God’s absolute commitment to bringing any that have been lost back to a right relationship with God.  Notice that in the parable, Jesus confirms that the shepherd sets out to retrieve the sheep that has wandered off while leaving the balance of the flock behind in the wilderness.  The ninety-nine sheep remain righteous, in “right” relationship with God, protected and cared for even though they have not been brought into the security of the sheepfold.  God does not abandon the ones who remain behind as the lost one is searched for; but the one found and returned, brings completeness to the flock.  The family of God is restored.

Next, the Parable of the Lost Coin, as it is known.  I would suggest that the more appropriate title would be the Parable of the Found Coin; also, the Lost Sheep Parable makes more sense if known as the Parable of the Found Sheep.  First, though, why was there so much effort expended in search of a single coin?  Well, tradition tells us that it most likely was one of ten silver coins that a Jewish woman would have worn sewn into a headdress as part of her marriage dowry.  Thus, this one coin amounted to ten percent of the woman’s personal financial worth.  And the fact that it was part of her wedding trousseau would have made the loss all the more devastating.  It would be as disconcerting if a modern woman noticed that the diamond had fallen out of her engagement ring; it’s quite certain the house would be turned upside down in search of it.  Again, the message of this parable is that God will stop at nothing in his commitment to restore that which was lost, in order to bring completeness to God’s family, to restore “righteousness”.

The loss of the coin was inadvertent, it was not the fault of the woman; often items are lost for no discernable reason.  And the sheep that was separated from the flock was lost simply because that’s the nature of sheep; they tend to wander off if left to their own devices.  So, some losses are unintended while others happen because of a simple drifting away from the flock; perhaps a seeking of a greener pasture.  Either way, God isn’t concerned about the reason one of God’s children has been separated from the family.  It matters not whether the one who is lost has become disconnected from the community because they sought something they felt may be superior to a relationship with God.  God is still fully committed to bringing such a one back; to redeeming the lost one; and when they have been returned, to rejoicing.  And if another is lost unintentionally, through no fault of their own, God is no less fervent in his desire to return that one to the community of faith. 

Note that this morning’s verses begin with Jesus sitting down to a meal with those whom many feel are not worthy of Jesus’ ministry.  And in each of the two parable examples he gives, when the lost are found there is rejoicing with the whole community.  In Scripture “rejoicing” almost always refers to a banquet of celebration being held.  Our Gospel lesson starts out with Jesus sharing a meal with those whom the authorities consider to be “lost”, and ends with examples of meals being held to commemorate something “found”.  It seems to me that Jesus is implying that no one is considered “lost” by God.  We are accepted as the sinners we are, and Jesus invites us to his table.  If we stray we’re not really lost; we are only separated from the community for a time, and God will ceaselessly strive to call us back.  And, without punishment, shame, or judgement, we too are once again welcomed to the Lord’s Table. 

For we are all lost without the salvation that is granted by Christ, and through our faith in our Savior we are found; and brought home by God’s amazing grace.         

God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

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