Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin
Sermon by Charles Royden 12 September 2010 Ordinary 24 Year C
Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Jesus had that ability to make really significant points with only a short story or a memorable tale. Jesus had small stories with big meanings and that is what we have today with these two stories.
I want today to make some points about the details of these stories which are so challenging.
We have to put aside some of the examination of the rights and wrongs of a shepherd leaving 99 and going after 1. As we try to be rational we miss the points of the parable
The first point is that the lost are important.
We tend to be critical of the lost, and somewhat resentful that they can just walk back and say sorry. We have a tendency to divide ourselves. We like division and pointing the finger, we thrive on it. Look at the media frenzy over the burning of the Koran, the media went into overdrive over the pastor of a church of fifty who wanted to burn a book which was precious to the faith of millions of people. I am not making a point about whether it is right or wrong to build a Muslim mosque and community centre in New York. Not because I don’t have an opinion, I just don’t want to lose your attention when I have just started speaking. The point I am making is that there is something inside of us which responds to taking sides of, we point the finger at the lost and say that it is their own fault. We point the finger accusingly and blame the lost for being lost and we make them bad. The response of Jesus to this is to say, well if you are going to call some people bad then I am going to go and be with them. This is a problem for us, we want Jesus to stay with the good sheep and not leave them for the undeserving.
The thought of Jesus seeking the lost makes people angry
There is another important feature of the 'Lost' theme today. Whilst we like to be critical of the Pharisees, we should remember that they would not have been angry with Jesus if his only message was that people who are lost should seek forgiveness. This would be called repentance and the Pharisees would have approved of Jesus telling people to repent. The problem with Jesus telling the story of the Lost Sheep and the lost Coin was that neither the sheep or the coin repented, in fact they were not capable of doing so, the coin is an object. The emphasis is not upon the feelings of the sheep or the coin, rather upon the nature of God and how God works. The sheep and the coin don't do anything to contribute towards their being found, indeed they can’t do anything towards their being found. Sheep get lost all the time and they are oblivious, you see them by the sides of busy roads and they are just eating the grass, unaware of the danger in which they are in . So it is that Jesus in his ministry sought them out.
The Pharisees were angry at the thought that the lost should receive attention. They were resentful and bitter. We too can be resentful and bitter, but we have to recognise that God will not be happy until the lost are found and so he goes in search of them, not the other way around.
Like the Pharisees we can be resentful that Jesus goes to the lost, not to shout at them and tell them to repent but to show them compassion. When we get alongside the lost of society we want to put them on programmes, courses and rehabilitation to make them like us. Jesus doesn’t do that , Jesus went and sought the company of sinners, bad people, and when he found them he didn’t shout at them he ate with them.
That is a profound mystery to the self-righteous. Now it seems to me that this does teach us something about grace and forgiveness. It is not ours to be earned even through faith. We are sought out and saved by God.
Sermons today which speak of the lostness of the human soul and the need to be sorry and God welcoming us back when we do, rather miss the point. The story of the lost sheep is a message about God and the fact that he will become exhausted, go to any lengths to find what is his and has been lost. God is not going to give up, God is relentless and will leave no stone unturned looking for that which has gone astray. And let this be understood, the sheep and the coin have contributed nothing, didn't know they were lost.
This searching nature of God is what causes to sing about 'a love that wilt not let me go.' This is why the illustration of a shepherd is such a good one, looking for errant sheep is what shepherds do, they go and put themselves in danger looking for stupid sheep who don't even know they have gone astray. Jesus said "The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost."
The Shepherd searches because the sheep is lost ! It is the nature of God to seek out the lost, because they are valuable to him. . We need to hear this and remind ourselves that we have value, importance to God.
There are occasions when people use the expression, ‘I found Jesus.’ This is really not true is it? they should say ‘Jesus found me’. If we say, ‘I found Jesus’ then that is ridiculous. The sheep doesn’t go looking for the shepherd, the sheep doesn’t know it is lost.
The other point that Jesus is making is that we are all lost
Whilst we are trying to be rational and questioning the wisdom of leaving the 99 good sheep, we miss one of the main points of the story. It is because we are so self-righteous that we fail to recognise that there is no such thing as 99 righteous who are not lost. If we looked at ourselves honestly then we would know that. Not one of us does not need to be continually sought out and saved by God. That is the whole point of teaching of Jesus. If we are honest we have to admit that each one of us is a lost sheep, there are no self-righteous people, just people who think that they are.
The importance of unity
I want to say something about the 99 sheep who are left whilst the shepherd goes off. In one sense it is true that the 99 are very important. Let’s think about the parables again, a woman loses a coin and a shepherd loses a sheep, one is lost in each case. But in each case the one is a part of a whole.
A woman loses one coin , there are nine left, when she finds the lost coin the nine becomes ten again,
A shepherd loses one sheep, there are 99 left, when he goes in search the number of lost sheep becomes 100 again
In each case there is restoration of the whole. Is Jesus not teaching us how much God will not accept loss, division of the whole? Surely we can see that God wants unity, the completeness which is the opposite of our desire to see fragmentation and separation into good and bad.
The whole is restored, the point is that without the lost the whole cannot be made, 99 is no good they will be incomplete. God is found in unity.
The celebrations are out of proportion
I want to end with just noting the fact that Jesus appears to go over the top in the parables about the rejoicing over the finding of the lost. OK so you found the sheep, the lost coin whatever, why so much rejoicing ? You were only down 1% of the sheep why make such a big deal?
We need to remember that it is a big deal to God. God made each and every one of us and each and every one of us is important. It does not matter to God how lost we are, all are important and none shall remain lost.