The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 15:1-10

THE EXPERIENCE OF LOSING SOMETHING YOU REALLY NEED OR REALLY VALUE IS NOT ONE ANY OF US WOULD LIKE TO REPEAT. ON OUR LAST TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY WITH OUR GRANDSONS, WE ARRIVED LATE BECAUSE OF AIRPLANE DELAYS AND FLIGHT CHANGES, SO, FOR OUR FIRST NIGHT, WE JUST WENT TO DINNER AT A DINER ACROSS THE STREET FROM WHERE I USED TO LIVE. IT WAS GREAT FUN, BECAUSE LIKE ALL NEW YORK DINERS THERE WERE SOME THREE HUNDRED ITEMS ON THE MENU, AND OUR GRANDSONS’ CONFUSION OVER MAKING A CHOICE WAS THE SOURCE OF LAUGHTER FOR ALL. WE ENDED THE NIGHT BY GOING TO A RENOWNED BAKERY IN THE BUILDING IN WHICH I GREW UP. LATER, AS WE WERE GETTING READY FOR BED, JOYCE CRIED, “I CAN’T FIND MY CANE!” SINCE THE NEXT DAY WAS THE STATUE OF LIBERTY, ELLIS ISLAND, 9/11 MEMORIAL, WALL STREET, AND GRAND CENTRAL, SHE REALLY NEEDED HER CANE. A FRUITLESS SEARCH OF THE ROOM LED TO CALLS TO THE DINER AND THE BAKERY, WITH NO LUCK. SO OUT I WENT INTO THE NIGHT TO FIND A PHARMACY TO BUY ANOTHER CANE. AFTER FOUR DAYS, AS WE WERE CLEARING THE ROOM TO DEPART, I FELT SOMETHING AGAINST MY TOE AS I STOOD NEXT TO THE BED. LOOKING UNDER THE BED, THERE WAS HER CANE. JOYCE WAS SO HAPPY TO BE REUNITED WITH HER FAVORITE CANE, THE ONE THAT MAKES HER FEEL LIKE THE DOWAGER DUTCHESS OF DOWNTON ABBY, THAT SHE CARRIED TWO CANES ALL THE WAY BACK TO TOPEKA.

THE THEME OF LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT WAS LOST, AND THE JOY OVER FINDING IT AGAIN, IS THE CRUX OF THE TWO LITTLE PARABLES JESUS TELLS IN TODAY’S GOSPEL. WHILE APPARENTLY SIMPLE LITTLE STORIES, EASY ENOUGH TO GRASP ON THE SURFACE, THERE ARE DEPTHS HERE THAT NEED TO BE EXPLORED. AS YOU HOPEFULLY RECALL, A PHARISEE INVITED JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES TO A DINNER IN ORDER TO TEST HIM, BUT INSULTED HIM BY NOT HAVING RESERVED A PLACE OF HONOR FOR HIM. HIS SARCASM ABOUT HOW TO TAKE A PLACE AT THE TABLE, AS WELL AS HIS ADMONITION TO INVITE THE POOR, THE LAME, THE CRIPPLED, AND THE BLIND WAS A REJECTION OF THEIR WHOLE CULT OF HONOR. NOW, AS THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES SEE THE TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS FLOCKING TO JESUS, THEY ARE ANGRY AT HOW JESUS NOT ONLY WELCOMES THEM, BUT ACTUALLY SITS DOWN TO EAT WITH THEM. TO EAT WITH SOMEONE IS NOT LIKE GRABBING A SANDWICH AT THE COFFEE SHOP, BUT IMPLIED AN ACCEPTANCE AND RECOGNITION OF THE OTHER, IF NOT AS AN EQUAL, AT LEAST AS WORTHY IN HIS OWN PERSON. TAX COLLECTORS AND THOSE KNOWN TO BE SINNERS BY THEIR BEHAVIOR WERE NOT CONSIDERED TO BE WORTHY TO DINE AT THE TABLE OF THE RELIGIOUSLY RIGHTEOUS. THE ANGER OF THE PHARISEES AND THE SCRIBES IS BECAUSE JESUS APPARENTLY PREFERS THE COMPANY OF SINNERS OVER THAT OF THE RIGHTEOUS, AND CASTS DOUBT ON THEIR WISDOM IN HAVING INVITED HIM TO EAT WITH THEM.

SO HE TOLD THEM THIS PARABLE ABOUT GOING TO LOOK FOR A LOST SHEEP; “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?” HIS INITIAL QUESTION IS A TRICK ONE, BECAUSE THIS IS A WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE THAT NO RATIONAL PERSON, ESPECIALLY THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES, WOULD DO. THE RATIONAL ANSWER TO JESUS’ QUESTION WOULD BE, “NO ONE WOULD LEAVE 99 SHEEP ALONE AND UNPROTECTED TO LOOK FOR ONE LOST SHEEP.” IT IS A TRICK QUESTION ON ANOTHER LEVEL, AS JESUS PUTS THOSE HE ADDRESSES IN THE ROLE OF SHEPHERDS. WHILE GOD IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS THE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, AS IN “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD,” AND THE KINGS AND PRIESTS WERE CONSIDERED THE SHEPHERDS OF THE PEOPLE, ACTUAL SHEPHERDS WERE DESPISED AND REJECTED BECAUSE THEY LIVED OUTDOORS, WERE DIRTY, AND COULD NOT KEEP THE RITUAL LAWS OF PURITY. WITH ONE QUESTION, JESUS EQUATES THE RELIGIOUSLY RIGHTEOUS WITH THE DESPISED AND REJECTED, AND ALSO AS BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WELFARE OF THE PEOPLE.

JESUS CONTINUES HIS PARABLE WITH THE SHEPHERD FINDING THE LOST SHEEP, CARRYING IT HOME ON HIS SHOULDERS AND REJOICING. WHEN THE SHEPHERD COMES HOME, HE CALLS ALL HIS FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS TO CELEBRATE AND SHARE HIS JOY. AGAIN, THIS IS NOT SOMETHING A RATIONAL PERSON WOULD DO, FOR THE COST OF SUCH A CELEBRATION WOULD BE MORE THAN THE WORTH OF ONE SHEEP. MORE SO, IT IS NOT EVEN THE SHEPHERD’S SHEEP, BUT BELONGS TO THE ONE WHO CHARGED THE SHEPHERD WITH THE CARE OF HIS FLOCK. “JUST SO, I TELL YOU,” JESUS SAYS, “THERE WILL BE MORE JOY IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS THAN OVER NINETY-NINE RIGHTEOUS PERSONS WHO HAVE NO NEED OF REPENTANCE.”

SO TOO, IN THE PARABLE OF THE WOMAN WITH 10 SILVER COINS, WHO, IN LOSING ONE, TURNS HER HOUSE UPSIDE DOWN UNTIL SHE FINDS IT, AND, IN FINDING IT, CALLS HER FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS TO CELEBRATE WITH HER. THAT A WOMAN HAD NO INTRINSIC WORTH IN THE EYES OF THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES IS NOT TO BE MISSED, AND THAT JESUS WOULD DARE TO COMPARE GOD TO A WOMAN, ADDS ANOTHER LEVEL OF DEPTH TO THE PARABLE. JESUS DEFIES SOCIAL CONVENTION, AND USES THE FIGURE OF A WOMAN FOR THE ONE WHO ACTIVELY SEEKS THAT WHICH WAS LOST. “JUST SO, I TELL YOU,” JESUS SAYS, “THERE IS JOY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS.”

WHEN I TAUGHT CONFIRMATION CLASSES FOR THE YOUTH OF THE CHURCH I SERVED, I WOULD OFTEN MAKE THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN FAITH AND ALL THE OTHER RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD. IN ALL THE OTHER MAJOR RELIGIONS, PEOPLE SEEK OUT GOD, AND TRY TO FIND HIM BY LIVING A CERTAIN WAY, FOLLOWING PRESCRIBED BEHAVIORS, OR OFFERING SACRIFICES AND PRAYERS TO GET GOD’S ATTENTION. IT IS ONLY IN JUDEO-CHRISTIANITY THAT WE DISCOVER GOD IS SEARCHING FOR US. I CALLED THIS THE DOWNWARD FOCUSED GRACE OF OUR LOVING GOD. WE DON’T FIND GOD IN SOME GLORIOUS TEMPLE, OR IN THE STRICT OBEDIENCE TO A SYSTEM OF LAWS, OR IN THE SACRIFICES WE MAKE TO CALL OR APPEASE HIM. WE DON’T FIND GOD AT ALL; HE SEEKS US OUT AND FINDS US. HE SEEKS US OUT WITHOUT REGARD TO OUR WEALTH OR STATION IN LIFE; EVEN WITHOUT REGARD TO HOW GOOD OR BAD WE MIGHT BE, HOWEVER ONE DEFINES GOOD OR BAD. THIS IS THE POINT OF THE TWO LITTLE PARABLES, AND THE POINT OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS; GOD IS ACTIVELY SEARCHING FOR THOSE WHO ARE LOST, AND GREAT IS HIS JOY WHEN HE FINDS ANOTHER CHILD TO CALL HIS OWN.

WHEN LIVING IN THE SOUTH, I USED TO GET A KICK OUT OF THE BILLBOARDS ASKING, “HAVE YOU FOUND JESUS?” I COULDN’T HELP ASKING MYSELF, “IS HE LOST?” WE ARE THE ONES WHO WERE LOST, AND GOD SENT HIS SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, TO SEEK US OUT, AND TO CALL US TO HIM. GREAT, INDEED, MAY BE THE JOY IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER, HAVING BEEN FOUND BY GOD AND MOVED TO TURN BACK TO HIM; FOR THAT IS WHAT REPENTANCE MEANS – TO TURN AROUND AND TURN BACK TO GOD. GREAT MAY BE THE JOY IN HEAVEN, BUT HOW GREAT THE JOY HERE ON EARTH WHEN WE HEAR THE WONDROUS NEWS OF OUR EXTRAVAGANT GOD WHO WILL RISK EVERYTHING, EVEN THE LIFE OF HIS SON, TO FIND EACH OF US, INDIVIDUALLY AND PERSONALLY, AND CALL US INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. IN THAT RESTORED RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR GOD AND FATHER THOUGH HIS SON, JESUS, WE ARE MADE ONE WITH EACH OTHER, AND ARE CALLED TO LIVE WITH AND SHARE THE BREAD OF LIFE TOGETHER; WHICH IS THE LIFE OF THOSE WHO WERE LOST AND NOW FOUND BY GOD. THAT’S YOU AND ME.
AMEN

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