The Text for the day: Luke 15:1-32
When I first read today’s gospel while preparing for this sermon, I started writing down things that stood out to me, questions that I might want to find answers to and different things that seemed important the first time through. This is something I very often do even though, very often, I never end up using any of what I come up with. But this time I was reading through the Gospel and something very interesting occurred to me, I thought of this question, and actually it’s a pretty simple question, the same question that I’ve asked about many Gospel texts, though usually it just doesn’t spark all that much interest for me. But this time… this time was different. This time I asked this question and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week. It has trickled down into all the reading and writing I’ve done about today’s lesson. It turns out that this one single, simple little question was the key to uncovering the whole message of this Gospel lesson. It marked the path that took me into the heart of what this scripture has to say to us today. And that question is:….. wait… you didn’t think I was going to give it away that easily did you? What kind of preacher would I be if I clued you in to the hook of my whole sermon in the first 2 minutes. “a good one” Some of you might be thinking…, or maybe some of you got excited that I was going to give you the answer right away so then you could skip out and catch NFL opening day (yeah I’m sad to be missing it too… Go Broncos!) But anyway… this question… this key to understanding what this text is about… what could it be? Well let’s see if we can work towards it? Maybe we’ll figure some things out as we go along….
So, I realize that perhaps maybe we should start by going backwards because maybe this Gospel seems pretty straightforward to you. Maybe it seems like a simple message and you’re wondering why I would have any trouble with it. Well… either they’re doing a really poor job of teaching in the seminaries these days… or… this is a transformers text… you know (more than meets the eye) Well… since I’m dedicating 4 years of my life and a small fortune to studying at the seminary I’m going to go ahead with the second option, that this text is not as simple and straightforward as it may first seem.
Now, initially it seems as though the message of this text is a message about sheep. Sheep and coins. Well okay I think we can all agree that the sheep and coins are just metaphors, but to be fair the use of metaphor is one way that this gospel has some indirect meaning. So then, the gospel today is not just about sheep and coins. It is also about what those sheep and coins have to say about the nature of God.
Okay… now we’re getting somewhere. This might be more what you all were thinking right? This is a Gospel about who God is and the way that God treats those people that are lost; The way that God looks after the sinners and outcasts, the lost sheep of the flock. So then we can look at this text and see that our God is a gracious God that looks after the unrighteous…. Okay so this is it…. This is the big moment… Did you catch it? This is point where that question comes up…. This is where we figure out what this is all about….
Ready? Okay…? ……..
I would love to know what you think this question is going to be… I’ll bet some of you have a pretty good idea…
“Who?” that’s it…. “who?” okay I’ll give you a little more than that…. “who are we?”
So the question that I’m asking is: “Who are we in this story?”
I’ll tell you that when I first read through this story this week and when I first heard it as a kid I didn’t really even think about it… it was very clear to me exactly who I was and who everyone else in church with me was,
it was clear that I was one of the 99 sheep still in the herd, or one of the 9 coins still in the woman’s purse…
I was taken care of, it was all good, I didn’t need God to come find me.
So the question than before us is who are we in this story? Was I right in my initial assumption or was I wrong.
Well… if I was right then that means I’ve got it all figured out. If I was right it means that you’ve got it all figured out too because I sure didn’t think I was better than everyone else at church. No if I was right, and we really are the sheep that don’t need finding than we would get up every morning with an idea of how we wanted our day to look and we would go to bed every night with a memory of a day that looked exactly like that idea, we would achieve everything we set out to achieve, we would love everyone unconditionally, … wouldn’t that be great, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where everyone just loved each other and never got hurt, if we all loved and were loved without fail or question, that’s what life would be like if we were really the 99. So do you still think we are?... did you ever?
Well we’re not the 99. You and I, we don’t have it all figured out, if you did you wouldn’t need me standing up here talking to you, and if I had it all figured out I wouldn’t have had my head buried in a Bible at midnight last night…
The fact is that we don’t have it figured out… and we’re not alone…. There’s a popular book series by a British Author named Douglas Adams called the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, you may have heard of it … yeah? Well, in the first book of the series there’s a giant supercomputer that has been built with one purpose in mind, one singular task, this computer has been built to give its designers the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything” and the answer it gives…. Anyone know it? 42…. 42
It’s a meaningless answer, and the reason it’s meaningless is given by the computer itself something along the line of: “You need to know the right question”
So, with the dryness of British Humor aside, the truth of the matter is that we’re so far from knowing how the world works that we don’t even know the right questions to ask. Adams, in his comedic absurdity, has nailed a fundamental truth of the human condition… we really don’t know what we’re doing down here. We’re trying our darndest to figure things out and most of us are trying to do our best but we just can’t get it all straight.
And the real bummer of it is that we are tempted to think that we’ve got it all figured out…
Maybe we play the comparison game and look at one of those sinners or tax collectors and think: “well I’m not as bad off as he is, I must be doing pretty well, I must have this figured out”
Maybe we just think to ourselves I’m doing okay… I’ve got a pretty good handle on things, and we might be a little bit right about that. We might be okay, not so bad…
But we can’t ever get too far from the reality that Martin Luther will be quick to remind us of, that we are utterly mired in our sinful nature that ‘here we stand because we can do no other’ We cannot stop ourselves from being people of sin. It is in our nature. And the part that’s so hard about this is that even if we manage to scrape together some good deeds and generosity, our desire for recognition, thanks, and praise will betray us and reveal our sinful nature in the end.
Now I’m not meaning to stand up here and tell you all that you need to feel guilty or even that you do bad things. The nature of sin is not that we necessarily do bad things and, even if it was and you did them, guilt is not something the God would wish for you to feel. What I’m trying to do is to talk about how we all, everyone of us, are the lost sheep. And we’re lost for a million different reasons and almost none of them have anything to do with something bad that any of us did. Look at the sheep in the story imagine how that sheep got lost, he think to himself that it would be really fun to do some bad things and go run off to wreak havoc with the neighborhood goat, she didn’t decide to see how far away from the flock she could get, NO… that sheep just did what sheep do and ate, he ate a little tuft of grass from here, and then there was this really nice one over there, and after that well then there was a stream that looked like it would be good for a drink of water, and then up on the top of that hill there was some clover, and then over the hill…. And before you know it we’ve got one lost sheep. I read from someone who wrote “Sheep don’t intend to get lost…. They just nibble their way to lostness” And This is how it is for us too, we don’t mean to get lost, we don’t mean to screw up… it just happens… a little bit at a time, and it happens because our nature, who we are, pulls us away from God and creates distance, that is the definition of sin and it is a fundamental characteristic of every human being… So… back to that question… who are we? We are the Lost sheep and we are the lost coin? So now what?
Well, this the part that I know you know…. This is the easy part. What happens next is the Good news. The shepherd comes looking for the lost sheep. The promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is that God loves us as much as the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep out in the wilderness by themselves while he searches for the one who is lost. God loves you as recklessly as that, and intensely as the woman who after searching so desperately for her lost coin, and rejoicing upon its return to her, spends at least double its value in the ensuing celebration. God’s love for you, the lost sheep, the sinner, is deep, powerful, desperate and reckless. God loves you with all the power and might of the creator and will search for, and find you.
Now… what does this mean for you today? How is this going to impact your life as you leave here and go on about your lives? Well…. I don’t know exactly… I don’t know exactly what it means to be found because I’m only a sheep and I can’t really understand it, but I do know this: I know that if you weren’t found, you would absolutely know what it felt like to be Lost. Imagine what it would feel like to be in a constant struggle to have to do the right things and knowing that your rightness with God depended on your good choices. If you had to cope with the wolves yourself and had to worry about your salvation and whether or not you had ‘done enough’ how much more awful, and stressful, and impossible would your life be?
No, you don’t have to worry about those things, God has lifted you up on his shoulders and is carrying you home. And because of that you can Let it all go, you don’t need to worry about all the pushing and pulling of the world that tries to tell you you’re not good enough, or you need more, or tries to tell you who you are and who you are not. You are the lost sheep whose return to the flock brings joy to heaven. You know that you can’t do it alone, and you that this world is too much for you, and you also know that whenever you stray, whenever you screwup, whenever you get even a little bit lost, God is right there lifting you up on his shoulders before you even really noticed you were lost. So take heart, do not fear, stand and face the world because you are loved and somehow, in someway, everything is going to be alright.