Posts Tagged ‘Luke 15’

Celebrate 3-31-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, I explore the parable commonly known as the Prodigal Son, along with the two short parables partnered with it, that reveal a call to celebration over the lost being found.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/celebrate-3-31-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Many of you have heard me share that Spring is my favorite season of the year…after the slog of winter, the warm fresh air, the beautiful sunshine…the birds singing and the signs of all the plant life perking up…all of that is just wonderful…and I always get a little charge out of the first time that these wonderful spring conditions allow me to walk over to the post office to get the mail.

Its an odd thing to notice and appreciate…but admittedly I do it…and I had that joy for the first time about a week and a half ago…and in the days since, I’ve had several more opportunities to repeat the process…including a couple of absolutely gorgeous days earlier this past week… and each time I made that brief excursion across town, it was wonderful and all was right and good in the world.

But then…as you may recall…the weather took a bit of a dip…getting cloudy and cooler, not to mention a little windy and drizzly here and there…and while it was still typical spring weather…it wasn’t QUITE as nice.  That, as you may recall…was the case on Friday…and yet…about 11 o’clock, I threw on my jacket and set out for the post office anyway.

Now when I stepped outside, I noticed it was cool and there a breeze…and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it…until I left the post office and turned myself back towards the church…and it was only then that I realized that our gorgeous spring weather from earlier in the week, had in fact given way to 40 degrees, cloudy and nice blustery north wind slamming in the face. In that uncomfortable instant I said to myself…maybe this wasn’t too well thought out…You might say that I woke up…or that I came to myself….about the truth of my current situation.

Now granted…this wasn’t the end world…5 minutes later I was back in the church office none the worse for wear…but that moment of sudden realization of reality put me in mind of our gospel story today…and this parable that Jesus shares.

Now its worth noting that the setting of this whole deal is part of a bigger moment from Jesus, through the parable itself is long enough.  But Jesus, in a moment of interaction with the religious authorities of the time, is catching some flack…he’s being criticized for the company he keeps…for the fact that he is often found sharing a meal, or simply spending time in the company of “sinful folk.”

When Jesus hears their remarks…he responds with a series of parables…three to be exact…all of which fall under a pretty similar theme…We’ve got the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves behind the flock of 99 in order to search out and find 1 lost sheep…and once the lost sheep is found, he calls together his community so they can celebrate together…because the lost has been found.

Following that, Jesus tells a story of women with 10 coins, who suddenly realizes that one is missing and she searches HIGH and LOW, until finally finding it…and likewise, she calls together her neighbors, probably spending one if not more of her coins in order to celebrate that the lost has been found.

And then, in the story that we heard, Jesus shares a rather extensive narrative about a father and two sons…a parable that is pretty well-known…arguably one of the two most familiar parables in the gospels…and one that’s even become synonymous with individuals who wander off in one way or another before finding their way back home…the prodigal son.

This oddball idea that a younger son would demand his inheritance so he can traipse off and live out a crazy lifestyle, only to run out of money and face the consequences…then coming to his senses…and realizing the prosperity and even generosity of his father to the entire household…and with that, its time to go home…but he’s not without shame, and he plans to reveal himself, not as a wayward son, but simply as an individual willing to become a servant in order to be taken care of.

But that’s not what happens…and this amazing father, who has stood there day after day, looking for his son, when he finally sees him approaching…he runs to him in joy, for what was lost to him has now been found…and the son is restored…the fattened calf is slaughtered and prepared so that the entire community can celebrate, for what was lost and was as good as dead, has been found and is alive again. (pause)
But the story doesn’t stop there does it? And that’s why I’ve often thought that calling this the parable of the prodigal son does a disservice…because we’ve got the older brother too don’t we? The dutiful one…the one who stayed home, and to hear him talk, he has slaved away for all this time…doing what was expected of him…all without fanfare or recognition.

And when big brother learns about the celebration going on in the house…and discovers the reason…he’s angry…he’s upset…and he refuses to go in and participate…and so that same loving father, who looked every day for his wayward son, goes out in search of the other, because now, this older son, too…is missing.

We know how it ends…they go back and forth…the entitlement and perhaps victim complex of the older brother comes out in his complaint against the younger and against the father…and yet the assurance is there…you are always with me…all I have is yours…but we MUST CELEBRATE…for he who was lost is now found.

That’s how the parable ends…and in fact that’s how the whole passage ends…we don’t know if the older son comes in to join in the celebration…to join in the festivities…the party which is ongoing throughout this entire exchange over what’s right or wrong…over who’s deserving or not. (pause)

One long parable, part of a larger batch of three which all reveal the same thing…when someone or something of value is lost and then found…its worth celebrating…and not just by the one who found them…but with the whole community…everyone is invited.

And as I thought about all that…I went back to the setting in the first place…Jesus, like the father, has been criticized for how he responds to certain people…and then, there are those who seem to put their stock in appearances…in following the rules…have been blinded to the invitation into fellowship and celebration.

Is that’s what going on here in the big picture…that whatever it is that God is accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…that it is worth celebrating…and that the invitation is universal…that somehow we are all part of the party whether we chose to act like it or not?

Is that’s what’s happening? Like the community that surrounded the father and the younger son and all the rest of the household who joined in the celebration…they lived that moment accepting that they are a part…or like the older brother, who is always with the father…and therefore is a part of the celebration as well…but chooses to act as if the opposite is true…is that what’s happening…as Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal and joyful fellowship with so-called “sinners?” Are they the ones accepting in the invitation and living out this moment as part of the celebration…and are the ones being so critical missing out on the fact that they are included too…and living out this moment in a way that reflects it? (pause)

I often wonder if that’s what’s going on with this whole Kingdom of Heaven thing that Jesus has assured us has come near.  We often talk about how the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that we catch little glimpses of it in this life…and how we are invited to live our lives as if the kingdom DOES exist now…and that maybe, just maybe that’s how God is at work to bring it into existence in the life to come…that Heavenly banquet…that heavenly celebration that God has promised us.

That’s the good news of this passage…that the invitation to join in the party has already been extended to all of us…for we are ALL a part of the community…and what joy to celebrate together all that has been lost, which is now found…to celebrate all that was dead and is now alive. (pause)
Now that being said…something had to happen in order for the celebration to begin within this parable…anyone catch it?  Before the party could start…the calf had to be killed…something had to die in order for this particular celebration to occur…and maybe, just maybe, that is a sober reminder of where we look for Jesus…because it was in the death and then subsequent resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom celebration became possible…that’s a sobering thought…but a timely one as we inch ever closer to Good Friday and the cross.

But thanks be to God that the cross isn’t the last word in this story…and that on Easter Christ rose from the grave…and somehow, someway, we have also been promised the same…that we have been made heirs of the same promise…and that we have each been claimed as beloved children…and that is what we are celebrating today…as Cameran and Dilyn will be brought to this font…where they will be washed in the waters of baptism…and the claim of God upon their lives…the invitation into the celebration, which has already been offered through Christ…will be made manifest in a physical way for them.

And what a joy it is for us…the community who surrounds them…to be here today, to join in THIS particular celebration…a celebration which has already begun…and a celebration which God has promised us will carry on in the life to come. Amen.

I Once Was Lost

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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-once-was-lost-9-15-13

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.