Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 19

Text: Luke 15:4-6
Jesus said, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do?  You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it.  When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!”

Seeking the lost

As we listened to the story about the woman who turned her house inside out to find her valuable coin it was easy for us to identify what this is like. At some time, we have had the same experience – car keys, remote controls, watches, rings, mobile phones – things that should be in their usual place but for some reason aren’t there.  They have vanished and defy all efforts to be found.  You search high and low, looking under cushions, under furniture, behind everything possible.  You may even backtrack to the last time you had the particular item and try to remember where you last put it.  The longer the search goes on the more frustrated, upset and even angry you get.  We call out to anyone nearby for some kind of sympathy and help.  The only reply that might come back is the not so helpful advice, “It will be right where you left it”. What a moment of relief and joy when that elusive item is finally in your hands again.

Jesus tells two stories today that are built on that common feeling that we all have when we lose something we value, the anxious persistent search for the item and the joy that is felt when it’s found again. 

The context in which Jesus tells these stories is important.  Jesus meets with some tax collectors and sinners – terms used for people who were considered the low life of Jewish society.  People who were avoided less in some way they contaminate those who were considered holy people.  Jesus, a rabbi and holy man is found in the company of these unclean people and so the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticised Jesus for being friendly with these sinners and even eating with them.  How can anyone who is godly mix with those who are so ungodly?

To understand Jesus, you need to understand the kind of love that he has.  It’s a love that looks past the ugliness of disease and sin. 
He touches social outcasts, the oh so ugly and horrible and contaminated lepers that no one else touched or came near. 
He didn’t shy away from the demon possessed.
He had no problem with the Samaritans even though they were despised by every other Jew. Jesus had no problem with the tax collectors or with those who openly showed their hatred toward him. 
Even the Pharisees weren’t beyond the reach of his love.    

We call this “grace”.  Jesus loves sinners.  He dies for them even though his love is completely undeserved.  Jesus loves the lost.

Let’s focus on what it means to be lost. 
Firstly, we note that in both the parable of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep that the coin and the sheep are completely unable to fix their lostness.  The coin is an inanimate object for a start and can’t call out, “Here I am under the table. Come and save me.” 

Likewise, the sheep, as everyone listening knew, has no sense of danger.  A sheep goes where there is green grass and will just keep following the green grass and walk through a hole in a fence and not know how to get back because it didn’t even notice that it had gone outside of any boundary.  A sheep of all animals has no way of defending itself.  It needs a shepherd to provide security and safety.  When a sheep is lost it has absolutely no idea how to find its way back again.

Secondly, to be lost in these parables can mean not only the non-Christians or the not-yet-Christians.  Lostness can also happen to those who are within the community of believers.  We get lost over and over again and God finds us over and over again. 

Lostness is not some condition that we talk about in the past tense as if once found we can never become lost again.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Becoming lost is part and parcel of our life of faith right now. 

Lostness is a condition of helplessness that we experience even in our walk as Christians and we need God to come to our rescue.  This lostness is not something from which we can rescue ourselves.  We need God’s rescue service to swing into action.  Remember Jesus was talking to Pharisees and the teachers of the law – leaders in the temple.  They had hopelessly lost their way and needed the divine rescue service to come to their aid.  We may need God’s rescue service to come to help us not once or twice but many times throughout our lives.

What does it mean for any of us here to be lost?  It can mean many things.  We can wander off away from the company of Jesus without even realizing it.
We can lose our sense of belonging. 
We lose the sense that God is present in our lives.
We lose our will to persevere when it’s tough going or when people are being difficult.
We lose sight of God and his goodness when so many bad things happen in our lives – illness overwhelms us, grief sucks the life out of us, death threatens our happiness.
We lose sight of God’s love for us when marriages fall apart, children break out hearts, when anxiety, or hatred or unforgiveness take control of our lives and become all consuming.
We get lost when our central focus becomes our gaining of wealth or outdoing everyone else in sport, business, what we wear, how we appear on social media.

We can get lost even in the church
when our prayers seem to mean nothing;
when the promises of Scripture become hollow and empty,
when a well-intentioned sermon makes God feel even more distant and even more uncaring,
when God’s Word awakens in us a sense of guilt over some past wrong and God seems so far away,
when we got lost in so much churchly doing that we forget why we are doing it.

You see even as members of the church, as followers of Christ we can become awfully lost.  That’s part of being in Christ and yet still a part of this world – we are both saint and sinner to use some theological terminology.  We are saints who belong to Jesus the shepherd but we are sinners who easily get lost as we move away from Jesus and fall into all kinds of traps and dangers. 

We are so miserably lost that the shepherd has to make his way through the craggy wilderness to find us. We get so wholly lost that the housewife has to light her lamp, pick up her broom, and sweep out every nook and cranny of her house to discover what’s become of us.  And they don’t give up.  The lost can do nothing to fix their situation.  The seeker, Jesus, comes to us in his grace and brings us home.

Can we pause for a moment and take in how astonishing this is?  God searches, God persists, God lingers, and God plods. God wanders over hills and valleys looking for his lost lamb. God turns the house upside down looking for a lost coin. Every sheep and every coin is valuable. None will be lost even if that sheep is obstinate and rebellious. And when at last God finds what he is looking for, God cannot contain the joy that wells up inside. He invites the whole neighbourhood over, shares the happy news of recovery, and throws a party to end all parties.

This is hardly the way the Jews listening to Jesus would have thought of God.  They must have been shocked.  God crawling through bushes and over hedges in search of one ditsy sheep.  God bent over a broom, poking in dusty, dark, cobwebby corners hoping to see a silvery glimmer.  God is the seeker, the dogged, determined finder.  If the parables are true, then God isn’t where I have always assumed God hangs out.  He’s not with the 99 sheep safe in the fold.  He’s not safe and sound in the coin purse.  God is where the lost things are.

That’s where we see God on Good Friday.  He left the safety of heaven and came down among the lost.  He suffered and died for us, the lost; he risked everything for the lost. He is passionate about the lost and did everything possible to make sure that the lost don’t stay lost and are safe by his side.  On Good Friday we see God in the darkness of cross where the search for the lost is the fiercest.  Jesus is fighting Satan and death to be able to carry the lost through Easter Day to eternal life.

Jesus is still passionate about the lost.  If I want to find Jesus, I will find him where I find the lost.  I find him in my own lostness – my own rebellion, my own weakness, my own frailty of body and mind, my own sinfulness and willingness to give into it.  I find Jesus in my own lostness, and I know I need to be found and all I can do is look to him for rescue from the wilderness of my own making.

It also follows that if I want to find Jesus, I will also find him in the lostness of others.  When we see others caught in their own brambles of sin or in their own wilderness of trouble, we will see Jesus who through you and me will bring his light and comfort and carry the lost back home.

That's what the kingdom of God is all about.  The coming home of the lost.  When the lost are found there is great rejoicing.  You can imagine the angels partying and celebrating every time someone who is lost is found and welcomed home by our heavenly Father. 

A question that needs to be asked in view of this parable is this, “Do I have the passion of the shepherd to leave all else behind and seek out the lost?”  “What have I done to seek out and carry on my shoulders those who are lost – lost not only in the sense of missing from the side of the Shepherd but also those lost in trouble, or sickness, or sin, or whatever else causes them to be separated from the One who truly values and loves them? 

The hymn says, “I once was lost but now am found”.  Every day Jesus seeks us out in our lostness.  When we are surrounded by nothing but loss and danger and gloom, there we find our Saviour right there loving us in the depths of our lostness.  That is grace!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

11th September 2020

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