Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sermon: Thursday of Trinity 16

23 September 2004 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

You might be shocked to find out that the Bible contains fiction.

In fact, the best-selling short-story writer of all time is not Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King, but rather Jesus of Nazareth. There are 40 short stories credited to our Lord that appear in the Bible – and the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. Jesus’s fiction has been translated into every imaginable language.

Jesus’s works of fiction, though brilliant from a literary standpoint, are much more than good writing. These stories reveal great truths to us about ourselves and about God. These stories are worded so that oftentimes the “wise” of the world miss the point, but the so-called “foolish” of the world understand.

These stories are called “parables,” and they are filled with symbolism.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading contains two such short shories: The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. St. Luke is careful to tell us to whom Jesus tells the stories. There are two groups of listeners in his audience: the tax collectors and sinners group, and the Pharisees and scribes group.

The second group are the religious people. They were the oh-so-pious folks who would never be seen with the “wrong” kind of people (such as the “sinners” in the first group). These religious folks are shocked because Jesus behaves differently: “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they grumble.

Aware of the two groups listening to him, Jesus tells two stories. The second of the two is the story of the Lost Coin. The Christian life (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven) is like a woman who loses a coin. This coin is valuable to her, so she seeks after it. She makes use of the flashlight, takes up the carpets, pulls up the seat-cushions of the couch, drags a coat-hanger under the refrigerator, and even runs the vacuum cleaner and sifts through the dusty sweeper-bag. After all that work, you can just imagine her joy to see the glittering silver amid all of the filth. She rescues her coin, washes it off, wipes it with a clean cloth, and gently places it back in the box, and calls up all her friends to announce her good fortune.

Now we might be tempted to think that we are like the woman seeking the coin – the coin being the Kingdom of God. Maybe it’s up to us to rearrange our lives, go over every dirty spot, and work as hard as possible in order to find God. We seek and seek, and only after much striving, do we find him and are rewarded for our labors. But this is not what Jesus means. Rather we are the lost coin. We are the glittering and precious piece of silver that has rolled under the sofa, covered in dirt and dust. And God seeks after us relentlessly, lighting the lamp (as Christ is indeed the Light of the World), and sweeping away the dust in order to pull us safely from the dirt. He smiles at recovering his beloved possession, and rejoices with all of the angels at this, our repentance, our being found and made clean by God himself.

This same conclusion rings true in the first story in our reading. The Good Shepherd discovers one of his flock has wandered away. The lost sheep is in danger. There are wolves waiting to devour him. The shepherd loves his sheep, and is so devoted to them, that he leaves the rest of his flock to seek out and save the lost one, the one who needs him the most. He places the sheep on his shoulders, carries him home, and rejoices with his friends. This is really the same story of God doing whatever he must do to save the lost, to defend every one of us from the Evil One. Even if it means becoming a slaughtered Sheep himself, our Good Shepherd rescues us. And when he finds us, when he brings us back repentant, washed in our baptismal waters, he rejoices with his friends. Jesus invites all of us sinners to a grand feast, an eternal celebration joined by all of the saints and martyrs of all time – all other such lost coins and lost sheep – where they feast with the Good Shepherd for eternity.

And the two groups listening to Jesus’s tales hear very different things. Sinners who hear these parables of Jesus rejoice. For we know that as far away from the flock we have wandered, our Good Shepherd brings us safely home. And no matter how far we have rolled away from the rest of the coins, we know that our Lord will sweep and sweep until he finds us, and puts us back where we belong.

This Jesus who eats with sinners continues to eat with us. He invites us to his table every Sunday to join in the eternal feast, the glorious banquet of the Eucharist. At this banquet, we sing hymns with all the saints, we joyfully pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we join Jesus at a Holy Table where we will dine with him and with all the angels, rejoicing for eternity.

So, dear sinners, take heart. You are not lost forever, you wandering sheep and hidden coins. For we “poor, miserable sinners” are just the kind of folks Jesus hangs out with. If you’re not a sinner, you don’t need Jesus. If you’re perfect, you can ignore Christ. If you don’t need rescued, than Jesus’s stories make no sense. But like the old Billy Joel song says: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” For Jesus came for us sinners – not for the so-called righteous. He came for the wandering sheep and the misplaced coin – people who know they are hopeless without their Lord. And we will have an eternity to thank him for all that he has done for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thank you for sharing a good sermon!
Yes - Jesus came for us sinners.