Sunday Sermon - The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
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."
Stained glass window in St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church, Anna, Ohio
Lost Coin, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54794 [retrieved September 19, 2013]. Original source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_-vNTK6_ARcE/Sdk3zixxN2I/AAAAAAAAUUw/doHrJs_lEvs/s1600/IMG_1895.jpg.
The Pope has been causing quite a stir recently. I was asked what on earth was going has he taken leave of his senses saying that even atheists would know God salvation. I decided to read a translation of Popes letter to La Repubblica" an Italian newspaper and it does make really interesting reading. He speaks about the
‘Incredible love that God has for every man, the priceless value that he acknowledges.’
So he goes on to think of
‘how the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that - and this is fundamental - God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behaviour depends on this decision.'
It is difficult, the Pope has said more than I would want to say, but let’s face it ,if he is the successor of Peter he might be standing at the pearly gates and who knows who he might let in?
But it is very appropriate to think about this today because we come in the lectionary to parables speaking about lostness. To many people atheists are lost people to God. In our story Jesus is with lost people, and people who were not just atheists but sinners.
Today we look at stories/ parables which Jesus told about God’s reaction towards lost people. Jesus had a unique and special relationship with God and Jesus is teaching what he knows about what God is like.
The setting is spelled out for us in the reading
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."
The Pharisees are angry because Jesus is spending time with the wrong sorts of people. He is with the lost - the sinners. They are resentful and jealous and they dislike the fact that Jesus is mixing with the unclean ones. Table fellowship was a great way to exclude people, it very clearly distinguished the good from the riff raff. Now Jesus is letting the Riff Raff inside.
The response of Jesus is to tell stories. Jesus tells stories which are about God.
- First of all God is like a Shepherd.
- Secondly God is a like a woman
These were not suitable characters to choose to illustrate God!
Shepherding was a despised trade.
- (Midr PS. 23:2 “R. Jose bar Hanina taught ‘In the whole world you find no occupation more despised than that of the shepherd, who all his days walks about with his staff and his pouch
- M. Quiddusin 4:14 assumes that shepherds are robbers because they lead sheep onto other people’s lands.
- b. Sanhedrin lists herdsmen among those ineligible to be witnesses and associates them with tax collectors.
So when Jesus asks
‘What man of you having one hundred sheep,’
it would have caused the Pharisees and religious elders to imagine themselves in an unclean trade !
First of all about lost sheep, well not exactly about lost sheep, it is about what we do when we lose a sheep. We spend time looking for the sheep. Jesus is telling a story about God and how God acts towards the lost
"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.'
The important thing here is that God really cares, but God places huge value on even the least deserving people. This is what the nature of God is like. Moreover God is not an impassive God, God has feelings. When God finds the lost it makes God very happy .
'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'
We learn from this parable that God is a seeking God and a joyful God.
Then Jesus tells the story about the lost coin, again the importance is not about the coin, it is Jesus trying to help us to understand that God does not let ones get lost forever.
"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."
Here Jesus is taking the illustration of God being like a woman ! First a shepherd and now a woman. Bad to worse !
There is a picture shown of the woman searching for the lost coin. The thing that I notice is the impassive facial feature of the woman searching. When Jesus teaches in parable he encourages us to enter into an experience, where are we in the parables? When he speaks about loosing something, he asks us to imagine how we would feel if we lost something. Loss is a powerful emotion. Not too long ago we lost Annie our Rottweiller puppy. It was a traumatic experience. We were all going out early in the morning and the puppy got out the gate and next thing we knew she was missing. We searched all over, we called the vets, the dog warden. In a very short time we had posters printed and in the shops. When you lose even an animal you feel responsible. I shouldn’t have left the gate open, I should have made sure that she had a collar on with her name and address. I was supposed to be in St Albans at Bishop Alans house for the day, I had to call and cancel. We were out looking for Annie when I took a call on the mobile, we have your dog in Baldock. It was confusing, how could my dog in a matter of a couple of hours have got half way down the A1 to London.? But it was too great a coincidence and when we got the description it was obviously our dog and the microchip had revealed all. They later told us that the police had seen Annie in the street, arrested her and taken her in a van to the dog pound in Baldock where we had to go and pay a £60 fine for her not having her name on the collar.
Now we were searching high and low for Annie and I have to say that we were pretty anxious. Surely Jesus is asking us to enter into the feelings in the heart of God about his loss, trying to convey to us that God has equally and more concern over that which is lost as we do when we lose something or someone important. The face of the woman in the picture does not show a great enough level of anxiety. See a parent when they lose a child, they switch gear when they go off in search. That is why there is Joy when that which is lost is found. There is huge relief. The message of scriptures is that God is frantic about the lostness of humanity. God is so frantic that he puts on human flesh and goes in search of the lost.
The Pope in his letter understands this and says
Jesus rose from the dead: not to be triumphant over those who refused him, but to certify that the love of God is stronger than death, the forgiveness of God is stronger than any sin and that it is worthwhile to give one's life, to the end, to witness this great gift. Christian faith believes in this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open the way to love for everyone.
The Pope reminds the reader of these words from Tertullian
"caro cardo salutis",
the flesh (of Christ) is the pivot of salvation. Because the incarnation, that is the fact that the Son of God has come into our flesh and has shared joy and pain, victories and defeat of our existence, up to the cry of the cross, living each event with love and in the faith of Abbà, shows the incredible love that God has for every man, the priceless value that he acknowledges.
This is really important God places huge value on that which is lost, so much so that he will seek with all that he has, risking even his own Son Jesus.
What God has lost is dear and there is rejoicing when found.