Lutheranlady's Weblog


Welcome, Lost Sinners: A sermon on Luke 15, 1 Timothy 1
September 16, 2013, 9:11 am
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Sometime last year, Jeff and Laila and I were headed back to Wisconsin, but on our way, we stopped at the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. One of the children in our congregation was having a difficult surgery. While Jeff went up to visit this child, Laila and I stayed in the entry waiting area. There was this very large circular couch, and we were playing in the middle of it. Laila’s idea of playing at that age was to empty her diaper bag. So, she took everyone out, one by one, and then laughed at Mommy trying to clean up her mess. After a few rounds of this game, she must have been getting bored. So she started climbing around on the couch, or walking alongside it. I bent down to collect another item from the diaper bag game, and when I straightened up, I couldn’t see her. One moment she was right there, and the next, she was gone. And in that moment, everything from my perspective froze, and I began to frantically search for my lost child.

This is the kind of desperate search I hear Jesus talking about today.

We meet Jesus, talking to the Pharisees and Scribes, the religious people, in parables. The image Jesus uses in our reading is that of two lost things: a sheep and a coin. The thing that is so striking about these lost items is that they don’t even realize they are lost.

That seems a little strange when I think about Jesus’ application, when he says, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Can a sheep repent? Can a coin repent? Does either have the capacity to realize they are lost and do something to return themselves to their proper place?

When it comes to me and God, I’m not so sure I’d recognize if I was lost. Maybe you have, or maybe you haven’t. It seems like Christians find it a lot easier to point out who else is lost, but find it a lot harder to see the state they are in themselves. I don’t know if words like lost or sinner or disconnected really make sense to people today. Repent is maybe even more of a foreign word.

I tend to explain repenting as being reoriented, brought back into right relationship with God and the world. Sometimes we think of repenting as saying we’re sorry, or realizing we’ve done something wrong.

But through these parables, Jesus isn’t asking us to examine our hearts to evaluate just how lost we are: Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God: the very nature of who God is- who God is for us. These parables are about the one searching, the one who works to reorient us.

In those moments when my heart stopped, searching for Laila, she had no clue she was lost. I was the one who felt the lack. I was the one ready to tear apart the couch, call the security guards, and run out into the street, calling her name. She was completely oblivious, standing on the opposite side of the couch, just out of my angle of sight.

In Jesus’ parable, the coin has settled on the floor, somewhere just out of sight and out of reach. Somewhere really, really far out of sight and reach, since it takes sweeping the floor and adding the light of a lamp to find it. In our world, where coins aren’t worth much, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that this woman is so distraught about her lost coin. Would you or I even notice if one rolled under the couch?

But she knows. She isn’t complete without this coin. It is special to her, a part of her.

If you always wear a ring, or a watch, you might understand this feeling. Your finger has become used to having that ring: you have a indentation or a tan line where it always sits. If you can’t find your watch and go without, your wrist feels oddly light, and you’re constantly checking the time, and feeling at each check its loss.

God notices when something isn’t right, when the connection is strained between creator and created. Consider this word that God speaks through Isaiah to all God’s people: God says to you: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” You will never be forgotten and your loss will never go unnoticed.

God knows and loves each one of you. When you think of all the people that have ever been and ever will be- and of yourself in the midst of these many people, maybe you can think- who am I among so many, that God would be able to know and care for me?

That’s part of the wonder I hold for God.

A few year ago, I read The Shack. Some of you may have read it and have your own opinions about it, but there is one part, one phrase, that reflects what I’m getting at. The character representing God the Father would often say about the particular person she was talking about: “I am especially fond of…” It confused the main character- how could this person talk about being uniquely fond of so many people- if everyone was so particularly liked- wouldn’t that be a contradiction? Here’s a bit of their dialog:  “You seem to be especially fond of a lot of people,” Mack observed with a suspicious look. “Are

there any who you are not especially fond of?”

She [Papa] lifted her head and rolled her eyes as if she were mentally going through the catalogue of every being ever created. “Nope, I haven’t been able to find any. (118)

These parables, and this excerpt from the Shack, remark on God’s almost ridiculous attention to each person, even and especially to those who don’t seem to care for God at all. Why leave 99 sheep unprotected and unwatched to chase after that one stupid sheep who managed to get himself lost? If five twenty dollar bills fell out of your pocket along with a one dollar bill, and the one began blowing down the road, would you really chase after it before collecting the twenties?

Jesus’ parables tell of God’s extraordinary attention and love for those who don’t seem to be worth the effort. Remember the comments that have led Jesus to tell these parables. The righteous, law-abiding Pharisees and scribes are commenting on who Jesus keeps as company. Jesus has been eating with tax-collectors and sinners. He’s been hanging out with people whose lives show they hold no interest in being good citizens or people of faith.

We, who can become used to phrases like “sinners and tax collectors” as we read the Bible, can sometimes whitewash those characters. We might think, oh, they were greedy, or just not very nice, or they didn’t attend worship. But when we hear Paul’s letter to Timothy, his explanation of himself, it really drives home how great of sinners these sinners really were.

Paul, one of the major founders of our understanding of the faith, a great apostle, who spread the news about Jesus throughout the nations, was a sinner. And not just a little one. He killed people – lots of people- and had others kill for him. He did this because he thought they were teaching wrong things about God. He killed people who believed in Jesus.

Yet Jesus chose this man, this sinner, to be the one to carry his message to many, many people! Jesus not only hangs out with sinners, he works in their lives and gives them responsibilities in the kingdom of God.

There is never a point at which we become too lost for God to give up searching for us. Never a line we can cross that when God brings us home there will be grumbling at our presence rather than rejoicing. God has the power and desire to find you and turn you back towards a loving and life-receiving relationship with God.

May you know the joy of God’s finding you, and be so filled with that joy that you join God in welcoming the lost into your community.