By The Rev. Sherry Deets

17 Pentecost, Proper 19 – September 15, 2013

Luke 15:1-10

Our gospel passage today begins with a contrast between “tax collectors and sinners” and “Pharisees and scribes.” Apparently, sinners are drawn to Jesus, but religious leaders complain that he accepts and even eats with sinners. What is it about Jesus and what he does that elicits such different responses?

And if we had been there, on which side would we have found ourselves? Before you jump too quickly to answer, consider something that Barbara Brown Taylor mentions. I think she has a good point. She imagines “Jesus down at the plasma bank… standing in line with the hungover men waiting to sell their blood, or maybe down at the city jail shooting the breeze with the bail bondsmen who cruise the place like vultures.” She sees him at the diner “with a crack dealer, a car thief, a prostitute with AIDS, buying them all cheese omelettes…” Which is all well and good. Jesus can do whatever he wants… until she comes with her sixth-grade confirmation class and sits down a couple of booths away. {Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, Inc., 1993), p. 148}. It is at that point that Jesus’ behavior starts to get personal. You see?

In other words, it’s okay for Jesus to spend time with people like that as long as we’re not around. As long as they stay in their part of town without venturing into ours. That would make us uncomfortable, would it not?

But nothing gets by Jesus, whether people confront him directly or speak against him behind their backs. And this gives him a perfect opportunity to make, what is for him, a very important point. He starts talking about lostness and how God is pleased, and the whole kingdom of heaven rejoices, when they who have been lost are found.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t want people to remain in their lostness. It’s not that he’s attracted by that kind of “lifestyle.” He wants those who have been lost to be found, to be redeemed, reclaimed.

This is where the kick comes in. Most of Jesus parables, have a bit of a bite or kick to them — something that doesn’t set quite right and keeps you thinking, wondering, wresting with the story until you begin to wonder if you’ve understood it all. In these stories it’s the reaction of the shepherd and woman. “Which of you,” Jesus begins each story, implying that their behavior is normal. But is it? In the first case, a shepherd searches for a lost sheep. Natural enough, we think, as that’s the shepherd’s job. But to do it he puts 99 sheep at risk, leaving them in the wilderness, to seek out one that was lost. And when he finds the lost sheep, he hustles the whole flock home and calls his friends and neighbors to join in his celebration. Normal, ordinary? Hardly.

In the second case, a woman who loses a tenth of her wealth lights her lamp and sweeps all night searching for the coin. Makes sense to me. But then, when she finds it, she also calls together her neighbors and invites them to celebrate which, likely, meant that she provided food and drink and perhaps spent on this celebration as much as she recovered from her search. Normal, ordinary? No chance.

Which is, of course, the point. This kind of ridiculous celebration is what characterizes God’s response to sinners who repent. That brings me to one more brief note: repentance may include a mending of one’s ways and moral reform, but the chief characteristic is a turning around, a change in perspective, a recognition, to bring us full circle, of being lost and a corresponding desire to turn around and be found.

The movie, Apollo 13, is the story of Jim Lovell and the Apollo 13 crew as they struggled to overcome the disaster of an explosion in space. It is also the story of Lovell’s family–their fears–their hope–their despair–as they watched Jim’s fate unfold before their eyes on the television screen.

One of the most poignant moments in that movie took place in a motel. Mrs. Lovell was taking a shower. Her husband was in space, and she was afraid. As she showered, her wedding ring, loosened by soap and water, slipped off her finger and washed down the drain. The movie showed her desperately searching the drain for the ring. It did not show her finding it.

How much was that ring worth? By one measure, it was worth a thousand dollars or so. But by another measure it was priceless, because it was her connection to her beloved.

We are connected to God. When we wander off, God could easily say, “There are plenty more where that one came from!” He could easily say, “I’ll give him what he deserves!” But instead, he weeps at our loss and searches to bring us home again.

We need that! We don’t like to admit it, but we need God’s help when we are lost. God is there, and he wants you to return home. He wants to throw a party for you. He wants to save you, and he wants what is best for you. Give him that part of your life that you have kept away from him until now. Quit hiding in the wilderness. Let God find you and bring you home today.

The parable is about a God so crazy in love with God’s children that this God will do anything to find them. To find us. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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