Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10)... On The CrossRoad

Just to give a bit of context for this sermon. It was preached on the first Sunday in Advent... So has an advent bent. During the service I also had a children's participation thing where we looked for Scruffy the Sheep and a lost coin... both hidden in the church and then we had a bit of a celebration afterwards letting off Party poppers. There are references to this in the sermon.

I used to work at St John’s Presbyterian Church in Rotorua. One day I was walking down the main street and this teenager was walking towards me. He had his swagger on his hoodie up and was trying to look tough and mean, and cool. AS he got close we accidentally made eye contact and his face changed, he smiled and his eyes lit up he literally beamed at me. He flicked me a big Tuhoe wave (that’s a raising of the eyebrows by the way), I didn’t recognize him from our youth group or intermediate school ministry, but he said, ‘hey you’re that Church guy!’.  Yup he had me pegged, I was the church Guy, so I replied “yup! I’m the church Guy’. He started telling me that I’d spoken at his intermediate school a couple of years ago (he was in the fourth form now) and he began retelling me the story I’d used that day. Even after two years he still remembered it in vivid detail. I was amazed. I asked him if he could remember the point I was making with it. “nah” he just remembered the story, but that was hopeful.

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 Jesus wonderful series of stories about celebrating lost things that were found are like that. They are memorable stories, favourite stories, and wonderful stories. Stories we pass on to our children, that have influenced  our religious iconography and imagery and imagination.  So much so that we can forget the very profound and challenging points Jesus was making. The amazing truth of God’s big hearted grace and how far God has gone to find the lost,  and the invitation to us all to join in the search and the  celebration with all the hosts of heaven.

We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem. It’s a narrative which takes up the central third of the gospel, and focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to be a disciple. It’s  a journey that leads Jesus and us to the cross. It’s a journey following Jesus that we are invited to make not just through the pages of a book, but in our very lives. Today we start a two part advent series looking at Jesus most beloved parables in Luke 15: The lost sheep, the lost coin and next week the lost son. It is fitting we do it at advent because they are stories which show the extreme  to which God is willing to go to see the lost become found in him again.

 Luke 15 forms a discrete section in the gospel narrative. It is separate from what has gone before by place and who is with Jesus. It is a scene that is familiar however throughout the gospel. Jesus Luke tells us is surrounded by tax collectors and ‘sinners’. When they see this the Pharisees and the religious leaders are not happy. They mumble that Jesus is eating with the wrong kind of people. Tax collectors worked for the Romans, and were seen as quislings and traitors, often accused of extortion and dishonesty, and even seen as ritually unclean because of their regular contact with gentiles. ‘sinners’ was a term that covered a whole lot of different  well sins  or rather categories, they were people who in the eyes of the Pharisees did not understand or keep the law to the same standard as the Pharisees and religious leaders thought they should.  To eat with them was to risk contamination. 

While this is a separate unit from what has gone before there are connections with what has gone before. Jesus teaching at the Sabbath meal in chapter 14 had talked of God’s big hearted invitation for all to come and dine with him. Jesus had talked of welcoming and inviting those who could not pay him back and here he is living that out. He finished his teaching onthe cost of discipleship, that we looked at last week, with the words “for those who have ears let them hear” and know we are told that the tax collectors and sinners were all gathered round to hear Jesus.  It’s implicit that these are the people who are showing the sign of being disciples and listening to Jesus teaching. In the first two of Jesus parables there is the repetition in the punchline that all of heaven rejoices at one sinner who repents, we get the idea that Jesus is sitting down to table fellowship to celebrate this turning to God. In Luke chapter 5, Jesus calls Levi, the tax collector to be his disciple and as an expression of Jesus words in Luke 14 about giving up everything to follow Jesus, we are told that Levi, leaves his toll booth and follows Jesus, he leave his life behind for the sake of knowing and being known by Jesus. We see that as a result of that Levi throws a big party and invites all his friends, which just happen to be other tax collectors and other outcasts. All celebrate Levi’s new life and fresh start.

IN both instances the religious folk stand back and question whether Jesus can be a man of God, a prophet or the messiah he claims to be and eat and have fellowship with such people., and Jesus stories are directed at them.

They are stories that look at the very heart of God. In the first one we have a shepherd, who when he counts his sheep finds one is missing, and instantly he leaves the 99 to search for the lost sheep.  A bit like we interrupted the service this morning to get the kids to search for scruffy the sheep, who managed to get himself lost, stuck under the fold back speaker.  In New Zealand we are used to herds of thousands of sheep, but in Jesus day this shepherd had an average size flock, one sheep was a significant loss. The image of a shepherd for the Jews was  steeped in Old Testament images. It was a picture of God, David’s famous psalm, the Lord is my shepherd, the passage we had read out from Ezekiel 334, where Israel’s leaders were described as shepherds who did not look after their sheep and God promises to become Israel’s shepherd; A passage full of messianic expectation and hope. It is the heart of God to go and to seek the lost.

Then we find an even more challenging picture of God, an impoverished widow, who loses a silver coin, it’s a drachma, which as a person’s daily wages. In many of Luke’s telling of Jesus parables there is this pairing together of two stories that tell the same truth from a perspective that would relate to the world of men and to women in Jesus day. It shows the radical nature of Jesus teaching and how he saw people. Anyway  It’s a lot of money to her, it may have been part of her dowry and have sentimental as well as financial meaning. But she too mounts and extensive  
search to find it.

In both instances the search is successful and as a result there is a great celebration, all the neighbours are called together to celebrate with the shepherd and the widow. We are supposed to have the feeling of great joy and jubilation. Party poppers going off,  as well see next week with the lost son, the best food prepared. This Jesus says is what heaven is like when one sinner repents. When the lost is found.

In what is the most wonderful stories we see the whole of the incarnation spread before us.  Our hope is in the very character of God: That God cares for and love us. That he would send his son to come and look for us in our darkness and lostness. John puts it like this that God so loved the world he sent his only begotten son, not to condemn the world but that whosoever believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life. I don’t want to spoil the story but Luke’s narrative of Jesus journey to Jerusalem finishes with  the story of Zacchaeus another repentant tax collector, and Jesus sums up his ministry by saying ‘the son of man has come to seek and save the lost’.  Christ comes into the world to reconcile us to a God who loves us and rejoices over us when we turn to him.

It is a wonderful story of  the wonder of God’s grace  and the hope we have because of have hope because God is like this shepherd and this widow. But the challenge is that  Jesus is speaking to those who refuse to acknowledge who he is and who look down and write off the very people he had come to bring back. There is kind of a bite in the tail when he says there is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than ninety nine righteous people who did not need to repent. I don’t think Jesus is saying that there are people who simply have earned God favour by their good behaviour; the Pharisees actually believed that God would save Israel if they kept the law just that bit better. We are used to Jesus meek and mild particularly as we come to Christmas time, we may not hear the irony in Jesus words, in fact Jesus was reflecting back what the Pharisees were thinking, and mumbling. They knew the letter of the law but they missed the heart and love of God. That is challenging for us… isn’t it.

Jesus stories are an invitation to join in the celebration, to get our party clothes and our party hats and our party faces on and rejoice, because the lost are found those that have gone astray have been returned. The sinner has repented.

It’s an invitation to celebrate and rejoice because of what Christ has done for us. That once we were lost, far away from God, but now we are found and have been bought near.  I can identify with this passage because the night I became a Christian, one of the Youth leaders Geoff Sim, threw a party for me. It was strange party. We were at a family camp up at Snell's beach. Te guy who was speaking was very boring and I think I dosed off through most of what he had to say. But when he said at the end that God was calling someone to come forward and accept Christ it was as if the heavens rolled back like a curtain and I heard God say “Howard I want you to follow me”. My knees began to shake, I got all emotional, and I couldn’t stand up. The man up the front said..” You’ll probably find you knees are shaking so much that you can’t stand up, but you’ve got to come”. So I did. It was a strange party afterward as well, you see we were all teenagers and   at a church family camp. But we swigged back heaps of coke and lollies and water melon. Because I remember it ended up with us all laughing and throwing water melon skin at each other.

It’s an invitation to come and join in the rejoicing as people turn and come to know Jesus Christ. I find my eyes water up and myself become overwhelmed when I hear peoples testimonies of what God has done for them. How they became his followers. My heart is moved, by the great big hearted grace of God. God’s love, God’s care, the way in which God comes and seeks and finds people and bring change and transformation. It’s the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin worked out in real life. It’s the good stories I hope and pray for us as a church.  

Lastly, just like in our service this morning the children were invited to look for the lost sheep and coin  these stories are an invitation to join the quest, join the search… to follow Jesus as he goes to seek and save the lost. We can stand off and look on from a distance or we can join Jesus in his mission and his joy.

People the wonder of the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin is that it is our story: The story of advent and Christmas and on to Easter.  It’s our story as Christ has sort us to call us back to himself. It’s our story because the incarnation finishes with a command from Jesus to his disciples to go and make disciples in every nation. It’s our story because people of faith have done that throughout the ages and throughout our lives. It’s the wonderful story of God’s grace… I didn’t want to make it into a series of points today, but let’s finish with some poetry we’ve already sung today, those of John Newton,

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but know am found was blind but now I see. 

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