by Pastor Cherie Dearth
This week we are continuing our Lenten series, Outcasts: The Friends of Jesus. Last week we looked as Jesus was cast out into the desert. We learned that he knows what it is to be alone and lonely. What it is like to be plagued by those taunting and accusatory voices. He was able to resist them, but it doesn’t mean that it was easy. He did it by being totally dependent on God, knowing that it was the MOST important thing beyond any skill, trick, personal strength, or gift.
Today, we start looking at the Outcasts that Jesus spent time with through his tours of Galilee and Judea. He was traveling to Jerusalem, and he was eating in the house of a Pharisee. A Pharisee? You’ve got to be kidding? No, we don’t hear about these dinner parties as often, but Jesus ate with everyone. He was willing to teach everyone if they were willing to listen. However, he was also willing to say things that he knew they wouldn’t like, despite that he was their guest.
Jesus came to the part of the evening where he was teaching. It might have been in a courtyard or other kind of open air dining room, and people outside and around the house could hear. They were drawn to this teacher. They weren’t invited guests. In fact, most Pharisees wouldn’t even want to come in contact with their shadow … the Outcast.
And this is where our Scripture passage for today begins.
Luke 15:1-32 NIV
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
[Spent a couple of minutes looking for my glasses, which were on top of my head.]
How often have you done that? The very thing that you were looking for was right in front of you the whole time, or in this case over you. We have our favorite things that seem to wander away, a favorite pen, that tool that you need in the kitchen, hiking boots, even pets. And pets do wander, while the other things may have really been misplaced or dropped without our realizing it. But, with things like my glasses, I might be able to get by in a lot of ways, but I quite literally would be lost without them. The idea of losing them is difficult. Not to mention, that because I can’t see properly during the search, it makes them much more difficult to find. Then there is the joy of finding them. Again, literally, I was blind, but now I see. I know people who experienced similar joy on finding hearing aids.
What about losing a cell phone? Fewer and fewer have landline telephones. Even if we do, they are often cordless, so there is still the problem of misplacing the handset. With cell phones there is so much more information there. Even the most basic includes an address book. If we lose it, we lose the contact information for our loved ones. If it’s a smart phone, it’s our camera, our photo album. We may have our banking information on it. Access to the weather forecast, the news. And, they’re expensive. It could be a catastrophic loss. Now, there is a service through the internet that will “call” your cellphone. The idea of me trying to find my cell phone while my glasses are “missing” on top of my head? It could be an Abbott and Costello move or at least one of those Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road” movies. And if you’re too young to be familiar with those, think of something fairly ridiculous with Adam Sandler in it.
When Jesus tells us these stories of being in search of lost things, it’s not being ridiculous, or is it? We have the shepherd abandoning 99 sheep in the wilderness with no protection to retrieve one lost sheep? The woman spending all the money she’s looking for through the oil she used in the lamp to search in the night. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait until the morning when there would be plenty of light. No, she can’t wait. It has to be now! Then, she spends more for the celebration party when she finds the coin. Doesn’t it seem like they’re going a bit overboard here?
And then there is the father that runs to his son. These days, we could see it. It would be the climax of the movie. Father running to the humiliated son who is basically afraid to come home. It would be in slow motion. The music would be building. We could see the smile of great pleasure on dad’s face.
Not so in first century Palestine. There would be no running. Children ran. Maybe you would run from the onslaught of a natural disaster, but even that might be too much for a dignified man. But again, dad goes way overboard, even running to this son who had betrayed him.
When I was trying to come up with a title for this sermon weeks ago, I decided on “God’s Love for the Lost.” It’s accurately descriptive, but it’s a bit sedate. I had to change it to “God’s Crazy Love” because that’s the kind of fervent almost fanatical behavior here. And yes, all of the celebrations described in today’s Scripture are way overboard. Jesus is telling all those gathered, invited or not, this is the way heaven celebrates when lost souls are found and recovered.
When we look at these parables, what or who are they about, really? Are they about what was lost or who is doing the searching? We have the shepherd who is willing to risk everything to find the wandering sheep, the woman who will spend more to find what is lost than what someone else might think is worth it. She will sweep all night if she has to in order to find it as soon as possible. She is not willing to wait until morning light.
There was a man who moved to Minnesota with his young family. If you live anywhere near Minneapolis, as a new person to the area, you go to the Mall of America. This is mall that is so large that there is an amusement park at the center. So, this man, David, takes his four year old son. They tour this spectacle, and as you can imagine, four year old Jack is drawn to the amusement park. Jack is a bit young for most of the rides, but he is fascinated by this track with remote controlled cars. Dad was holding Jack’s hand, of course, but as it looked like they would be watching the cars for a while, so he let it go. Jack stayed right by dad, but you can guess what happened. All of a sudden, Jack was gone!
Dad is looking frantically all over the area, but no Jack. That panicky feeling starts to set in as dad starts expanding his search wider and wider, but still nothing. So, dad talks to a security guard and admits that his son is … LOST.
So, dad is waiting, and you know, seconds seem like hours. What felt like an eternity to find Jack was more like three minutes. It turned out that he had wondered over to the next attraction, which captured his attention, and was hidden by all the people around him.
Dad could have been mad, mad at himself, mad at Jack, but all he felt was the relief and joy, the pure joy that his lost son had been found, and he was safe. Jack and dad reunited, pure joy. (David Lose, “Joy”)
And, that is just a fraction of the kind of joy in heaven when someone who has been lost is reunited with God. Pure Joy!
Question: Can you be “righteous” and still be lost? Another way to ask the question is … Do you ever feel lost? We know that we are all sinners. We make mistakes on a daily basis. Some we may consider bigger or smaller than others, but we all do it. We continually need God’s forgiveness and grace. But that is not what Luke is talking about when he is referring to sinners, these sinners that Jesus is welcoming at this gathering. These are people who have a reputation for the things they do on a regular basis, and that reputation isn’t good.
In the same way, when Luke talks about the righteous here, he doesn’t mean people who are perfect in every way or self-righteous (and lording it over people). He means people who are actively trying to do the right thing, trying to live by the law. In other words, honest, hard-working, people who try to play by the rules as they understand them. They are like the older son from our Scripture passage, the most familiar of the three parables we have for today.
The older son is the one who stayed with dad, continued to do his work, and took care of business. Where was he when his younger brother came home? Why did he miss the warm welcome his dad gave? He was out working in the field. He’s not happy with all this celebrating. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Can you be righteous and still be lost? Do you feel like you are doing the best that you can and still feel lost? Or, a variation of the question, can you be lost and not realize it? The answer to all of these questions for many of us is YES.
Even in that condition God will come looking for us. When the older son won’t come into the party because he just can’t bear the seeming unfairness of it all, his father comes out to talk to him. He is going after that lost sheep that drifted off without even realizing it.
Part of the problem is that we can view our need of God as our failure. If we do everything correctly, we won’t need God. We go along doing it on our own, and like the sheep we drift. We forget that we were created to be in relationship with God. We were not created to be self-sufficient. The moment that we start depending on ourselves instead of God, we become lost, no matter how “good” we think we may be. We are lost, and God goes searching for us. God will go to such extraordinary lengths to bring us back. When we are found, there is such rejoicing … It is a crazy love.
And now, let’s sing about this crazy love … Amazing Grace …