In this sermon I discuss the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin from Luke 15:1-10. I explore the notion of what it means to be lost and just what it means to be found. You can hear the sound file here:
The word file is here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do those things somehow.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
January…2009. St Paul Minnesota. The 2nd evening of my first stint on campus at Luther Seminary. Earlier in the evening, we had met with the dean of students. She had given us the normal spiel…enjoy yourselves while you are here. Enjoy the community and the school…enjoy your classmates…but make wise decisions while you are here…because if you do something stupid…I’m the one that gets the phone call…I don’t want to get that phone call…and you…DON’T WANT…me to get that phone call.
We laughed at that statement…and we were supposed to. After all…we were all adults…ranging in age from mid-twenties up to late-fifties…and not only that but we were seminary students. While the dean was serious in her warning…I doubt that she thought she was actually going to get one of “those” phone calls.
After the meeting was done with the dean, my classmates and I were all milling around…trying to decide what to do. Some were heading back to their rooms to hit the books. Others were talking about grabbing a bite to eat…and one guy…a guy that happened to be from Texas with no car on campus…was asking for a ride to Target. He needed some provisions for the 2-week stay. I heard the request and realized I needed to pick up a couple things as well…and so I volunteered to drive my truck to the store.
We made it to Target just fine…spent some time shopping…and proceeded to fill the back seat of my truck with shopping bags. Apparently my friends “provision list” was pretty extensive. As we were heading back towards campus, my friend mentioned one other type of provision that he wanted to pick up…the “cold one” variety…and so we swung through another store so he could pick up what he wanted…and a few minutes later a large case of “cold ones” went into the only available storage spot left in my truck…the back end…and we continued back towards our dorm. (pause)
Now here’s where things get a little shaky. Remember that this is my first time at school…and I was very unfamiliar with the area…and its winter…and its dark…and I don’t have a gps…you can see where this is going can’t you? I got…lost…totally. I missed the turn that would have taken me straight back to campus and so I ended up completely turned around in the midst of St Paul…just trying to spot something…anything…that looked familiar.
We drove around for a few minutes, and I was just trying to find one of the main roads so I could get some idea of where I was at, and then find my way back to campus when all of the sudden…there’s blue and red lights flashing behind me…and now I’m freaking out. I had no idea why I was being pulled over…but sure enough…I was.
I sat there, and through my mirror watched the policeman get out of his car, flashlight on…and start walking up past my truck…and as he’s walking past the back of the truck…I saw that flashlight flip over and stop on that case of beer…and I thought to myself. “I’m going to jail.” And even worse than that…when he finds out I’m from the seminary, then the dean…is gonna get “that” phone call…and I’m gonna get kicked out of school. I was stuck…under the spotlight…everything was lost…and I was about to be found out.
Sound familiar? The notion of being lost? Sounds a lot like today’s story doesn’t it? Once again, we find Jesus in the hot seat with the political bigwigs. The Pharisees and the scribes are, yet again, giving him static because of the people that he attracts…we are reminded…yet again…that these guys don’t approve of sinners and tax collectors showing up at Jesus’ party…and yet again…they’re grumbling about it.
And Jesus…in his typical fashion…tosses a story or two their direction in order to set them straight…and today we hear two, very familiar parables…the lost sheep and the lost coin. Which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 and go after the one that is lost until he finds it. Or what woman that has 10 coins and loses one, does not light a lamp and sweep the house until she find it?
Here we are…the lost…but just what does that really mean? To be lost? What is Jesus talking about with the sheep and the coin here today? We can assume that he’s being metaphorical because that’s what parable are…making a point with something a little more familiar and plain. But again, what does it mean to be lost?
Earlier this week I was doing a language study. I won’t bore you with the details, but I discovered that when Jesus uses the word “lost” in these stories, the word is normally translated as “utterly destroyed” or “to perish.” And so perhaps to say that the subject is lost is fitting. If something has been destroyed…or if someone has died than truly they are lost to us aren’t they.
But then what does that say about the sheep or the coin? If they are utterly lost…then it would seem that there is no reason whatsoever to go looking for them is there? Think about it for a moment…what’s the point of searching…its destroyed…its gone…there is no hope so why on earth would the shepherd chose to leave 99 healthy sheep to go in search for something that’s as good as dead already?
Logic alone tells us that this is foolish…it makes no sense whatsoever for the shepherd to make this choice…and you know what…its even more crazy than we first think. Look at where the story tells us that the 99 sheep are left…out in the wilderness…THE GUY LEFT 99% OF HIS FLOCK OUT IN THE DESERT…the wilderness…at the mercy of the blazing hot, dry conditions…at the mercy of whatever wild predators might be roaming around…at the mercy of any other shepherd that might be in the area just waiting to scoop up a bunch of unattended livestock. (pause) What would make this guy go out in search of the one that’s already lost? Let’s put a pin in that question for moment…we’ll come back in a sec.
Perhaps you’ve already made the metaphorical connection that Jesus implies with this story. Probably so…its pretty obvious isn’t it? Humans are the sheep…Jesus or God…is the shepherd. The human gets lost and God goes to find them. End of story right? Oh, bonus points if you recognize that the individual is lost because they are sinful. (pause) Yep, that’s it…that’s the story in the nutshell…but now let’s back up to that question from a moment ago. What would possess God to leave the 99 and go in search of the one? Concern? Love? You betcha.
God chooses to leave the 99 in the wilderness to go seeking the one that’s lost…the one that’s utterly lost…the one that has perished…the one that has perished in their sinfulness…the wages of Sin is death…we hear that from the Apostle Paul in Roman…and so if we are lost in sin…if we are dead in sin then it seems like God is going on a mission that’s impossible.
God is going in search of the one that cannot be found…and worse yet, God leaves 99 alone to do it. And let’s think about that for a second…the 99 are left in the Wilderness…Is God being careless here? It sure seems like it…but is he? Is he really? (pause) Remember someone else that went “into the wilderness?” Maybe, right after his baptism? (pause) Jesus himself went into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days…the wilderness…is the place of temptation…the wilderness…sounds an awful lot like life…and the difference between Jesus temptation and our temptation is that Jesus could beat it…but we can’t. Try as we might…we CANNOT do it.
So maybe what this story is telling us here is that the 99…alone in the wilderness…are actually the one…the one that is lost…each and every member of humanity is the one at one time or another…lost…perished…destroyed by our own sinful natures…we are stuck…alone…with no hope…
But despite all that…the shepherd goes in search of the lost…in search of the lost cause…in search of that which has no way of being found on their own. (pause)
Look at the stories again…both the sheep and the coin do nothing…absolutely nothing…to be found. They are completely passive in this situation…just sitting there…doing nothing…but the shepherd and women both…look, and look, and look. They seek and never cease…until the lost is found. (pause)
And that my friends, is the reality that we find ourselves in. Utterly lost…dead in sin…utterly destroyed with no capability of getting ourselves found. We need another…we need help…we need the salvation from certain death and destruction…and that’s what God chooses to do for each and every single one of us. (pause)
But when we stop and think about it…that can be pretty tough to accept. That God…even God…would love me so much that He would seek for me in my own wilderness…the wilderness of my reality…in the darkness of my life…in the muck and mire that bogs me down…that sinful, horrible, awful reality that is my life…If God really knew…and really saw me…he wouldn’t…I’m too far gone…I am utterly destroyed…I am utterly lost…and if God really knew…he wouldn’t want to find me…I don’t want be found…I don’t want to be found out… (pause) I don’t want to be found out.
Maybe…deep down…that’s the fear that many of us face…that fear that if God really knew…or if the people at church…REALLY knew the truth about me…then I wouldn’t be accepted…I’d be cast out…or worse yet…left out to die…
But you know what…that’s exactly the lost cause that Jesus came to earth to solve. God truly loves each and every one of us so much, that he was willing to get into it…head first…no holding back…Jesus lived it…he lived the darkness…he lived the temptation…he died for it…but then…he came back…and you know what…he chooses to bring each and every one of us back with him.
Friends in Christ you are that sheep…utterly lost…utterly destroyed…but Jesus waded into the darkness…and kept on searching until he found you…you didn’t do it on your own…but he kept looking until he found you…and that my friends is a reality worth celebrating… (pause)
Maybe you’ve heard this before…and maybe this strikes you as good news…and maybe you hear this and you find joy in remembering that moment when Jesus found you in the wilderness…and if you praise God…but maybe…just maybe…this is new for some of you sitting out there…maybe you’ve never heard this before…or maybe its never really sunk in for you before…this idea that God is willing to do the impossible with no help from you…FOR you…and if you are hearing this…and I mean really hearing it for the first time today then PRAISE GOD because he’s seeking you out right now….and HE WILL FIND YOU. (pause)
Remember where we left our story before? I was pulled over in St Paul, seconds away from a police officer coming to my window…shaking like a leaf because I was afraid that I was about to be found out.
When the officer came to the window, he asked me the normal question. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” I answered no, and he said “Well, you pulled a little past a stop sign back there before you stopped, and I saw your Iowa license plates, and I saw you looking around…I could tell you were lost. Where are you trying to get to?”
I told him Luther Seminary…and he snickered…and he then he laughed…and then he got me where I couldn’t get on my own…I once was lost, but now, am found…may we all find the joy…in truly knowing that God, found us. Amen.