Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 3 - 2018

17 June 2018

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord teaches us yet again in parables.  St. Luke records three of them in this one chapter, two of which are contained in this week’s Gospel: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  The third parable is the Prodigal Son, which is better entitled, the Lost Son.

Jesus gives the same lesson in three different ways – which means that this is important to understanding God and His kingdom.  The idea of being lost and then being found is crucial to Christianity.

We may be tempted to trivialize the idea of being lost.  Losing a coin and then finding it may not seem like that big of a deal to us if we see coins as annoying and worthless bits of change.  Losing a sheep may be hard for us to relate to, given that few of us are animal herders that make a living from them.  In our culture, if you lose something, it’s usually not that big of a deal.  We can always get it replaced on Amazon with two-day shipping.

But these parables are actually timely.  For our culture is drifting away from its moorings.  Younger people are increasingly finding themselves lost.  This has fueled levels of depression and angst and risk-taking and self-injury not seen since perhaps the Lost Generation of World War I a hundred years ago. 

To be lost is to be without a home.  And one can be homeless while living in a massive house surrounded by luxuries.  This is increasingly what we see today: people who have money and fame and the freedom to travel the world, and yet they commit suicide.  They are lost. 

And while the movers and shakers of our culture and society wring their hands looking for explanations, once again, the answer is here in the dusty old book that sits on the coffee table, or worse, is held up for ridicule as a silly old myth written by dead white men to oppress everyone else.  Meanwhile, Jesus will speak to anyone with ears to hear.

Interestingly, Jesus recounts the joy of the owner upon finding something that was lost.  In the first parable, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, we aren’t taught what the sheep thinks about it.  Maybe the sheep was eyeball to eyeball with a wolf and was happy to see the shepherd.  Or maybe the sheep finally felt free and saw the shepherd coming to take him back as his “oppressor.”  But at any rate, the sheep is safe, and the shepherd “calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” 

In the second story, the Parable of the Lost Coin, a woman has lost one of her ten silver pieces.  She is so motivated to find it that she doesn’t even wait for the morning light to look for it (remember, in those days, there were no bright electric lights to  turn on and off like magic with the flick of a switch).  She spends precious oil on lighting a dimly-burning oil lamp to search for it.  “And when she has found it,” says Jesus, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.’”

In these stories, God is represented by the shepherd and by the woman.  We are the lost ones.  We are the ones who need to be found.  Jesus calls being found “repentance.”  And what started this lesson of three stories was the fact that self-righteous scribes and Pharisees were grumbling that Jesus allowed some of these “found” people to join Him at the table: “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they gossip to one another.

Jesus reminds them of the joy that ought to break out among everyone when the lost are found. 

Think about when a child goes missing.  The parents become hysterical.  They call the police, who go into high gear to search the neighborhood.  Social media lights up as the story goes viral.  Amber alerts are issued.  There may be helicopters and canine teams dispatched.  Nobody can rest until the child is found safe and sound.  And when that happens, there is a huge sigh of relief and great joy.  There is no grumbling about the cost or the trouble expended to reunite a little one to his or her parents.

And think about this from the perspective of the lost one, dear friends.  A lost coin might well fall through the cracks of the floor to be buried in the dirt for the rest of time, never again to be carried and traded, treasured and saved.  It is out of place with no hope of again being useful.  A lost sheep is in grave danger of being hunted and eaten by predators.  Being lost is not freedom; it is not liberty from an “oppressor.”  Being lost is being away from the love and kindness and protection of others, from a sense of usefulness and belonging.  Being lost is to be subject to unseen dangers.  Being lost risks eternal displacement. 

Being lost is a tragedy, dear brothers and sisters.  I recently drove a passenger home from a bar.  It was on a Sunday night at midnight.  One of her friends paid for the ride and another friend came along with her to get home.  I believe that she was in her twenties.  In spite of having her whole life ahead of her, living in a nice home in one of the richest countries of the world, having the luxury to spend time and money on going out, she was utterly lost.  She had no friends other than her “bar friends.”  She had no family, and apparently nothing to look forward to except drinking every day.  She was suicidal.

This is a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost child.  This is what our Lord is talking about, dear friends.  And she is far from alone.

The problem is that she has a house, but no home.  She is free from responsibility and the demands of husband and children, but she is actually oppressed by loneliness and despair.  She knows her way around the city, but she is lost.  Hopefully, she will be found.  There is One who searches diligently for her.  There is a shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes to seek after this one lost sheep; there is a lady of the house who will burn the midnight oil to seek after her to prevent her from falling through the floor.  There is a Father who gave her freedom, and even though she has misused it, will run after her and have a feast for her when she comes back home.

So where is home?  How are the lost sheep and coins and children found?  Jesus says that they are found in repentance: a change in mind.  When we stop seeing God as a rule-maker who imposes on us and start seeing Him as our dear Father and protector, we repent and are found.  When we stop rejecting ourselves by rebelling against whom God made us to be, accepting ourselves as His creature, His creation, His design, when we submit to the reality of His will to us, we repent and are found.  When we embrace the sense of usefulness that God has given us through creation, when we willingly provide for others out of what God has given us, when we seek to serve rather than being served, we repent and are found.

Our Lord Jesus had no need of repentance, and yet He endured the cross for us.  He shed His blood for us.  He came looking for us.  He took human flesh as one of us and for all of us.  He taught us what it means to be lost and to be found.  And He, the Good Shepherd, became the sacrificial Lamb for the sake of the lost sheep that we are.  He was betrayed for us at the cost of some of those silver coins.  He rose again from death and returned to the Father, and proves to us that we can even triumph over the grave, that the end of this life is not loss to the Christian, but rather to be found to eternal glory with the Father.

And in repentance there is joy, dear friends, in heaven and on earth, to the one who is found and to the Finder.  This joy is also found among the rest of those who were formerly lost but who have been found by the unrelenting love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the calling of the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray for the lost.  Let us provide a home for those who need to hear good news.  Let us be the instruments of God in recovering the sheep that have wandered, the coins that have rolled away, and the prodigal sons and daughters who think they have found freedom, but instead are enslaved to despair.  

And in carrying out the work the Lord has given us to do, we too find ourselves at home.  Amen.

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

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