Friday, September 16, 2016

Let's Party!

This is the sermon I preached On Sunday, 9/11 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches. The gospel text was Luke 15:1-10.

There are all kinds of ways of being lost. Any of you that know me very well, know that I have a poor sense of direction. Maps don’t help me. I easily get lost. To me, one of the greatest inventions ever is the GPS. I know that if I mess up and miss a turn, Garmin will still get me where I need to go…at least most of the time.

There is a song that wonderfully describes our life at times. It's called "This is the Stuff."

I lost my keys in the great unknown
And call me please 'cause I can't find my phone

This is the stuff that drives me crazy
This is the stuff that's getting to me lately
In the middle of my little mess
I forget how big I'm blessed
This is the stuff that gets under my skin
But I've gotta trust You know exactly what You're doing
Might not be what I would choose
But this the stuff You use.
(Francesca Battistelli)

Losing our keys, phone or other objects happens to the best of us. When we are distracted, this happens all too easily. Getting lost when one is going somewhere is not something sinful. Neither is losing an object like a coin or your wallet or your keys. In fact, the thought is laughable. The sheep and the coin are not guilty of wrongdoing. They’re just lost. If there is any guilt, the shepherd and widow might be considered careless.

At the time of Jesus, shepherds were considered undesirable members of society. They had acquired a bad reputation of being shiftless, thieving, trespassing hirelings. Shepherding was listed as a despised trade by rabbis along with camel drivers, sailors, gamblers with dice, fabric dyers and yes, tax collectors.

These words of Jesus sound innocent enough, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep…” (v. 4). His listeners would have thought, “Wow. A hundred sheep! I’d like to own a hundred sheep.”  

Now Jesus creates a problem, "And losing one of them ..." The owner would not be watching a hundred sheep. He would have hired a shepherd, so … HAVING a hundred sheep did NOT mean OWNING a hundred sheep; it meant LOOKING AFTER someone else's hundred sheep - it meant being a shepherd. Jesus had set them up.    

It would be like one of us asking, "Which one of you, having a hundred dumpsters (not to own and make money from, but to dive into searching for garbage to live on)..." (David Ewart). Jesus was accused of associating with unclean nobodies, now Jesus is asking his accusers to imagine themselves as part of an unclean profession.

At first it may seem normal for the shepherd to go look for the lost sheep. After all, it is his responsibility. But think about the 99 sheep. The story doesn’t say they were left with another shepherd. They may have been left alone in the wilderness with no protection or shelter. They were possibly at risk. What was the shepherd thinking? He was risking a lot for the sake of one silly sheep who wandered off.

Then when the shepherd finds the sheep he gathers the flock, heads home, calls his friends and has a celebration because he found the 1 sheep. This is hardly normal, ordinary behavior.

In essence, the point of the first parable is that Jesus is telling us that God is like a despised shepherd who is extravagant about the well-being of every single one of his charges. God is a shepherd who will risk losing everything for the sake of finding one. That is cause for celebration!

The two parables share a number of similarities. The story line moves from what the main character has, to its loss, recovery and restoration and the party that follows. God is represented in the first parable as a shepherd and in the second as a widow.
The widow had 10 coins instead of 100 sheep and she lost one of the coins. Each coin was worth a day’s wage. Her coins may have been her meager savings or could have been her dowry. One coin may not have been that much for someone who was rich. But for someone who was poor, that one coin meant everything.  The point is the widow’s search was for the seemingly insignificant. One like the poor widow would tirelessly search for the smallest amount she may have lost. Like the shepherd, when she recovered the coin, she threw a party.

Both parables end with a statement about repentance, which cannot be the point of the parables. Neither sheep nor coins are capable of repentance. Rather than calling sinners to repentance, the parables are calling the righteous to join the party.

Where do we see ourselves in these stories? It may vary. Even as followers of Jesus, we may feel lost at times. Do our problems seem too insignificant for us to bother God? Church is the place for all of us who feel lost. All we have to do is acknowledge our being lost to God. Remember any time anyone turns toward God for any reason, God throws one heck of a party.

God has been so merciful to us. Can we extend this mercy to others? Often we want mercy for ourselves and justice for others. However, this is not the way God expects us to act. God expects us to be as merciful and welcoming to others as He has been to us. And then he wants us to throw a party when we welcome someone new in our midst. The key to this entire passage is the phrase, “Rejoice with me!” The words rejoice and joy are sprinkled throughout these parables.

God is inviting us to a party. Let’s rejoice with God for everyone he finds and brings our way. The party and feasting continue after our service. All are welcome!

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