When you read something or hear someone tell you a story, can you see it play out in your head?
Today’s text includes two familiar stories. I want to take a closer look at parts of them, but with a twist. This morning, I would like you to find that switch in your brain that allows your imagination to run like a TV or movie screen, and flip it “on”.
For me, I find that when I can envision something, almost as if I am seeing it on a screen, or as if I am in the room with the actual people, that’s when it impacts me the most.
By locating ourselves in today’s stories, it will help us to understand more about the story. Maybe even have new insights into those who disagree with Jesus, maybe why they disagree (Craddock, p184), as well as some other aspects of the story. So, let’s try it.
I’m going to read the 1st story of our Luke text again and this time, as you listen, I want you to join the story. I want you to think about, imagine where you see yourself in it. Where are you sitting, and who do you associate with the most?
(READ Luke 15:1-7 again)
So…. where do you fit in this story? Let’s think about what it’s like to be with each of the main characters/groups. What would it be like to be…
I think we all have been “lost” before – geographically speaking, anyways. Maybe you’ve even been lost mentally – unable to learn or grasp something, or at least struggling to have it make sense for you.
But have you ever felt like you were emotionally and/or spiritually lost?
Going back to the previous comment, that the “good news” is we are sought – and found by God on a daily basis. These parables show us exactly that, and they can bring us comfort and the assurance that we are important to God.
They show us that, like the good shepherd or the woman with the coin, whenever one of God’s beloved ones gets lost, goes astray, God immediately goes into search mode and tirelessly searches for the one them (Debevoise, p70). God searches until they (we) are found and brought back home.
When you think about it, it seems so easy for us to wander away from God and to get caught up in what the media, peer pressure, our culture and economic structure tells us is important. Because of the decisions we make, our actions – or inactions – we can become so filled with regret, hurt, and fear, that we are unable to undo our mistakes, to retrace our steps, or make it right (Debevoise, p72). We get so lost to God, and even ourselves, that we struggle to find our way back home again (Debevoise, p70).
Fortunately, Jesus reassures us, with these parables, that God is a step ahead of us. Home is already waiting. Love’s door is open to us (Debevoise, p72) – and always will be. We just need to turn our hearts and minds back to God, to allow ourselves to be “found” by the one who continually seeks us.
It’s great to be “found”. And like the tax collector and sinners in today’s story, it’s great to know that we can be, and already are, forgiven; that we have a place where we will always be welcomed and loved.
But what about the Pharisees and scribes? Their community is being turned upside down by those who they don’t feel should be welcomed in. To them, Jesus’ parables are NOT “good news.”
Is there any merit to the old adages: Birds of a feather…..You are the company you keep….Or, if you lie down with swine, you can expect to get dirty?
If we are, in fact, known by the company we keep, then Jesus has completely thrown the community into a panic (Debevoise, p68). They are concerned for the very moral and ethical structure of their community. And they all thought that, Jesus, as the proclaimed Son of God, should be also very concerned about the same things they are. Yet… here he is inviting seedy people – the homeless, sick (mentally, physically, and spiritually), as well as the shady politicians, tax collectors, local hoodlums, thieves, drug pushers and prostitutes to dinner. That really cannot be a good idea, can it? (Craddock, p185)
Jesus’ only response to their questions is to tell these parables. And to top it off, Jesus ends the stories with “Just so (you know), (I’m here to) tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v10).
The stories are not just about individuals needing to turn or return to God. They also seem to be about the delight, the excitement and joy of the seeker (Jesus/God) finding the lost and bringing it back home where it belongs. In fact, the finder’s joy is so great that they call their neighbor’s together to help them celebrate their good fortune (Craddock, p186).
This final verse also tells us that for every person – each of us, and every other person alive – who finds their way to, and more importantly back to, life in close relationship with God there is a celebration in heaven.
Jesus invites his critics to join him, and all of heaven, in celebration of find the lost. Here we see that JOY is at the heart of the gospel. Finding and restoring the lost gives pleasure to God, as well as to all who are about God’s business (Craddock, p186).
Yet, through these parables we see that the Pharisees and scribes don’t join in the celebration. They don’t seem to “get” that they should be sharing in that same joy.
So, for those of us, like the Pharisees and scribes, who feel some should be excluded from God’s presence and blessing, and that their coming to join the community is not cause for celebration, these parables are a challenge for us to “repent” to “turn back” to God’s ways rather than our own understanding. These parables are about us learning to rejoice in what God values most – a relationship with each of God’s beloved ones (Bader-Saye, p72).
Today, Jesus reminds us today that the true nature of repentance is not to feel bad (about what we have done, or not done); it is to change one’s mind, (one’s perspective or understanding of what is right – in God’s eyes) (Nixon, p73).
So, I guess the big question for today is…..Who are the sinners – in today’s stories, in life as a whole?
Answer = the ones who need their minds changed.
For us as Christians, True repentance happens when our minds are changed to such a degree that we cannot see a community as a whole until all are included and none are “lost” (Nixon, p73) - or excluded.
One day soon, may we all share in this prayer:
Gracious and Amazing God, have mercy upon us, sinners. Give us the courage to open our hearts and minds fully to you, so that we may be found. Give us the wisdom and compassion to open our eyes to see all of your people through your loving eyes.
May it be so….. AMEN
Craddock, Fred B. “Luke” – Luke 15:1-32, Luke 15:4-10. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009.
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 4. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2010.