1 Timothy 1:12-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[a]Amen.
Luke 15:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Please pray with me: Dear God, May the words that I speak reach the hearts that need to hear them, May the thoughts that I share inspire others to think on you. And, may all of us experience your light together in this space, Amen.
Who among you has children?
Do your children ever fight?
Who among you have children that have had an actual physical altercation? …I promise I won’t ask the details – they may be 3 or 30!
Sometimes our children can be downright nasty to one another…but as good parents we are called to love them, right? Even when they can’t seem to get along, even when they actually hurt each other? As their parents, it is our job to help them find a way to reconcile!
I know there may be situations that keep us from being in relationship with our children, but is there anything that would stop you from loving them (even if you had to let them go)?
I imagine that is what God is like.
Let’s see if our two scriptures today might help us wrap our head’s around that idea even more:
Through his letter to Timothy, the writer (who we think of as Paul), reminds us of his life before becoming a follower of Jesus – when he persecuted Christians, denied Jesus Christ, and even acted in great violence towards other humans. He did all of these things in the name of God. Everything that he did, he did because he thought that was what God wanted. In the eyes of his religion, he was a good man. Paul, like many of us, mistook what he wanted, or what culture and tradition tells us God wants, with what God actually wants. Jesus taught us what God wants. God wants us to love God and love one another… if we are doing that all the rest falls into place.
Jesus role-modelled what it means to follow what God wants, the will of God. Jesus taught us that that kind of life is dedicated to loving God and loving each other. Let’s be clear – the lesson was never about liking one another. I’ve even said this to my own children and maybe you have too, “I will always love you, but I don’t like you very much right now.” I cannot imagine that Jesus liked the Scribes and Pharisees who challenged him at every turn, but he didn’t hate them. He found a way to love them and always forgave them… even when they helped the Romans kill him.
Jesus also forgave Paul, who many say was the Pharisee of all Pharisees! After he rose from the dead, Jesus found Paul on the road to Damascus and taught Paul about Divine Grace – A grace and forgiveness so powerful that it teaches us that there is NOTHING that separates us from the love of God. Nothing. Even when we lose our way and can’t find a way to get along with one another. We are never so lost that we can’t be found by the God who created us. Sometimes the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep are read to mean that when we are lost God will find us… and I don’t think that is untrue, but today I want us to think about these parables in a new way… instead of as a comfort to us, I think we can look at it as a challenge to follow God… Let’s take a look:
(type in bold on screen only) “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.”
As some of you might recall from a lesson this summer, tax-collectors were not your friendly neighbourhood Canadian Revenue Agents – they were something more like mobsters who take protection money from the businesses in their neighbourhood, or like the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood stories who stole from the poor to give to the rich King.
“And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
The religious leaders were not happy with this Jesus guy who claimed to be teaching the people about God. For them, all they needed to know about God was already written in the law and they weren’t happy that he was shaking up the way that they had always thought about God. They didn’t necessarily say that his teaching was wrong, but they were quick to point out when his practices did go against the way they interpreted the laws of Moses.
“So, he told them this parable: “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?”
Let’s remember what I taught you this summer about parables… those of us with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand are compelled to look for the part that doesn’t make sense in the story. Until this time around, I never noticed this part: The shepherd lost the sheep. So often we have thought of the sheep wandering off and the shepherd having to go chase it, but a shepherd who is doing their job does not lose a sheep. Only scattered sheep will wander.
“When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
If I’m looking for the part that doesn’t make sense, I might wonder would the people listening to this story have said, “yeah sure, I’d leave all the other sheep I’m hired to watch to go look for the one I can’t find. I’ll go search for them in the dangerous rocky hillside among the jackals and wildcats! And then, when I do find it, I’ll risk the owner uncovering that I failed at my job and lost a sheep for a while by telling everyone about it!”I have to question if those listening would have been so quick to affirm what we assume they did? But, even if that story doesn’t jive, most of us can relate to this next story. Not all of us are shepherds, but all of us value money to some degree even if just out of necessity.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
Some scholars suggest that a silver coin in that time would have been worth a half-day to a day’s wage. It makes sense to us that she would go looking for the lost coin.
But, unlike the sheep, the remaining nine coins aren’t going to wander away, so it makes sense to go look. But, like the shepherd, the woman is responsible for losing what she then seeks to find. And she does… here is where it gets weird.
“When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”
Actually, maybe this one isn’t so weird in this day in age. Thanks to social media, it’s common to share stuff like this with our online friends. Before this age though, how many of us would call all our friends and neighbours and ask them to celebrate this with us? I’m pretty sure I’d keep this to myself!
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. ” and“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus says that this is exactly what would happen in heaven when what was lost is found. I ask you though, who is the sinner represented by in these parables? The sheep? The coin? Does that make sense?
This word sinner has such a negative connotation that we often gloss over it in churches like ours. One of my passions is to reclaim religious language that has been twisted to mean something other than what it means. The Greek words that translate as sin means to make a mistake, to miss the mark, and if this is the case then who among us has not sinned? To sin is not to be unloved by God. When our children make mistakes, are they unloved by us? I hope not.
The child who has makes a mistake and knows it might worry and avoid facing up to where they have missed the mark… think of the kid that hides the jeans in the garbage that they cut a hole in or keeps their parents from seeing the broken iPhone screen or worse. The guilt and shame we carry keeps us from being in relationship with the one who loves us.
So, I ask you again, in these parables, who really has really sinned? Although the sheep wandered off and became lost, did the sheep miss the mark or were they just being sheep? Did the coin make a mistake? Do these things need to “repent” in order to be celebrated when they are found?
Remember, it is the shepherd and the woman who LOST what was found. They made the mistake. They missed the mark.
In the parables they are the ones that make a mistake and turn around to seek and reconcile what they lost! The part that doesn’t make sense to our reading is that there is no shame in their stories. The shepherd is not ashamed that he failed at his job. The woman doesn’t feel ashamed for being irresponsible with her money. They don’t dwell on their missteps. No, they did something to make it right and called everyone to celebrate their return to wholeness!
And that’s what sin is. Sin is brokenness. Reconciliation is wholeness. When we are in broken relationship with one another we are in broken relationship with God.
Like a mother or father torn and tired between warring children, when we are so caught up in hating each other there is very little room to love God. As the shepherd was responsible for the sheep and the woman was responsible for her money, we are responsible for one another. As individuals and as church we must claim responsibility when we lose one another. There are more reasons for that than we can name, but like Paul confusing his wants with the will of God, we often put our own pride and need to be right in front of God’s call to love.
And, I’ll say it again, we are called to love: to seek those that we have lost, to collect the scattered, to heal the hurt, to find a way to get along, to reconcile broken relationships in the places where we are called to work together.
These parables tell us how to do that in Jesus’ upside-down way. When we lose one another, we are called to do the difficult work of navigating the rocky terrain of confrontation and the wildcats and jackals of ego and pride. We are called to light the lamps and bring the light of the truth to the dark corners of fear and scarcity. We are called to clean out the clutter of our scattered minds until we can focus and remember where we left each other.
It’s easy to love those we like. Jesus calls us to the radical ways of unconditional love that doesn’t rely on our preferences or opinions. Radical love is merciful, forgiving, accepting. It takes time, but it is worth the effort and patience because it is transformational for the individual and the community that it is offered to. This love changes everything. Just ask Paul.
So, who have we lost? Who are we lost to? How can we find a way to practice radical love even when it is difficult? These are the things I want us to think about this week… how can we love one another better and eventually rejoice together!?