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Sermon for September 11, 2022 – Proper 19

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4042 Loving Us Out of Lostness
Michelle Fleming

Since the pandemic lockdown starting in March 2020, there have been seasons of fads and trends to keep us entertained. Early on in the pandemic,
I jumped on the jigsaw puzzle bandwagon. My friend and fellow Speaking of Life presenter, Cara Garrity even surprised me with a few in the mail to cheer me up during lockdown. And I wasn’t the only one. By the end of 2020, retailers were having difficulty keeping jigsaw puzzles in stock, and news stories reported that “there was a global shortage of puzzles.”     

If you’ve ever put together a jigsaw puzzle, you know the excitement of seeing the picture take shape. You start with trying to create the outside edges and work your way in. But what happens when you get down to the end and there’s a piece missing? Words can’t describe the frustration as we begin searching for that lost piece.

Jesus tells a story about a similar frustration in his parable about the Lost Coin found in Luke 15. Let’s take a look:

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”
Luke 15:8-10 (The Message)

The parable is intended to show us God’s grace. God is like the woman, tearing the house apart to find the coin, and we are like that lost coin. The coin doesn’t know it is lost, doesn’t know its value, and doesn’t know what it means to the woman. In addition, the coin does precisely nothing to be found, so the parable is not about repentance. And that tells us that we don’t have to achieve a level of morality or perfection to be worthy of being found. Instead, the parable shows how God finds us valuable enough to search relentlessly until we are found. Until we know how valued and loved we are. God, like the woman searching for the coin, is determined.

And this brings me back to that missing jigsaw puzzle piece. We can understand a little about how God must feel about us when we are disconnected from ourselves and God. We’re the piece of God’s puzzle that will complete the picture of the kingdom of God. Just as we search and search until we find that missing puzzle piece, lost in the sofa cushions or under the chair, so God seeks to demonstrate our inherent worth by showering us with love and showing us we belong. Our part is to let ourselves be loved and say “yes” to the reality of our value as human beings, created and precious in God’s sight.

Jigsaw puzzles allow us the satisfaction of seeing the full picture becoming complete, and when we can’t find the last piece, that completion is thwarted. Our efforts to find the missing piece can remind us of the Parable of the Lost Coin, and we can think about how God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit seek a connection with us and want to love us out of our lostness. The only thing we have to do is let them.

May you know and never forget how deeply you are loved and valued by God.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 14:1-7 • Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 • Luke 15:1-10

The theme for this week is the restoration of relationship. Our call to worship in Psalm 14 contrasts the response of the foolish with the wise and the inevitable struggling and suffering that goes along with trying to go it alone, not relying on God’s presence. Jeremiah 4 emphasizes the sorrows we bring on ourselves by thinking we can handle this life without seeking a relationship with God. Paul reminds us that Jesus has saved us, and God seeks a relationship with us, regardless of our checkered past. Our sermon text is Luke 15:1-10 where Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin, showing us that lostness is our typical state and one that we need not fear.

Lost and Found

Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV)

We all have lost something, and we recognize that feeling associated with loss: the knot in the pit of our stomachs. Most of us have also experienced the joy of finding something we lost—the elation and satisfaction of having something we valued restored to us.

Consider sharing a personal story about something you lost and found.

Imagine being in a foreign country and losing your wallet. That’s what happened to American soldier Chad Reid, who was headed home from Afghanistan. On the night before he was to leave, Chad lost his wallet on a busy Afghan street. That meant his credit cards were gone, and more importantly, so was his military ID. Meanwhile, aircraft mechanic Bill Peasley, who was working in Afghanistan as a civilian, went out to dinner that night, and he found Chad’s wallet. It took a few phone calls—first try was to Chad’s mother in Denver and then to his grandfather in Pennsylvania. Finally, Peasley was able to connect with Chad via Facebook and return his wallet just hours before his scheduled flight back to the US. You can imagine how delighted Chad was to receive something back he thought he’d never see again.

Our sermon text today has Jesus sharing two parables about being lost and being found. Let’s take a look.

Read Luke 15:1-10, NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

These two parables about being lost and found appear right before the parable of the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son), so the theme of lost and found is an important one for this 15th chapter of Luke. To set the stage for these parables about lost and found, notice the first two verses of the chapter:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So [Jesus] told them this parable. (Luke 15:1-3 NRSV)

Luke takes a special interest in often pointing out that Jesus ate and spent time with “sinners.” In Luke, we find the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and her own tears (Luke 7:36-50), the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Interestingly, even though Luke records at least three meals where Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners, Jesus never comments about the sinners’ behavior. Within the cultural context, sharing a meal meant more than just eating together. It meant friendship and acceptance, and by eating with tax collectors and others deemed “sinners,” Jesus shows his complete acceptance of them.

While we believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NRSV) and might feel like we should lump ourselves into the “sinners” category, Jesus does distinguish between human beings who perpetually fall into behaviors that are contrary to God’s will for humanity and those “righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, NRSV). The righteous, in Luke’s estimation, are those who are actively striving to live within God’s law in the context of Jewish society of that time. The point that Luke makes is that Jesus reaches out for people who are on the fringes, who frequently engage in behaviors that are not in their best interests or the best interests of those who love them. If we’re following Jesus’ example, we will take the side of those who might be considered “losers” in our culture and speak out on their behalf.

By looking at the basic structure of these two parables, we can see the following similarities:

  • There is a larger group, and one of that group becomes lost.
  • The main character of the parable searches relentlessly for the lost one.
  • The restoration of the lost one becomes an opportunity for the whole group to celebrate.
  • Jesus summarizes the lesson by talking about repentance.

Let’s look at each of these components:

Lost

The two parables focus on two familiar situations for the cultural context: a shepherd loses a sheep, and a woman loses a coin—the equivalent of a day’s wage. If we read the parables carefully, we’ll notice that the lost sheep and lost coin don’t know that they’re lost, nor do they play a role in being found. The lost sheep and coin do nothing to help the shepherd or the woman find them.

Those who are “lost” are engaged in habits that aren’t life-giving. While certain habits, like addiction, have destructive tendencies, other seemingly harmless habits can also negatively affect or destroy relationships over a lifetime. Selfishness and the desire to control others are two examples. Notice that degrees of “lostness” still have the same basic effect: our lostness keeps us from enjoying the fullness of relationship with God and/or with others.

Found

This is the most important aspect of the parables: the main character is completely committed to finding the lost and restoring it to the larger group. The shepherd and the woman in the two parables are actively seeking the passively lost sheep and coin. The searchers are relentless in their care and concern, and in their desire to restore the lost to the larger group. God’s desire to restore is critical. By focusing on God’s determination to restore us to right relationship, we can let go of the idea that our own efforts are what makes us “found”, saves us or makes us right with God. We can rest in God’s gracious character.

Celebration

This part in both parables is the aspect that seems most out of place. Would a shepherd throw an over-the-top celebration because he found one lost sheep when the other ninety-nine were fine? Would a woman, who was so concerned about losing one day’s wage (the equivalent of the lost coin), hold a celebration that would create additional expenses? Jesus’ inclusion of this lavish celebration demonstrates God’s great joy and welcome for all people, righteous and sinners alike. This is the absurdity of a God who loves and delights in us. Grace doesn’t add up – it doesn’t make logical or economic sense – but it is the driving force of love that governs all of God’s interactions.

Repentance

The lost sheep and the lost coin don’t really “repent.” However, both parables point out that without the restoration of seeking and finding, repentance could not take place. The word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word metanoia. Metanoia indicates a change in our worldview – how we see ourselves, others, and the world – as well as a change in how we respond. It means a transformation in our typical ways of understanding and reacting to life.

While Jesus welcomed those who were considered “sinners” in the culture of his day, we also might consider our own need for metanoia – a change in how we view ourselves and the world and the way we respond to situations in ordinary life. Too often we allow hurts from past experiences or our upbringing to influence our reactions and responses to the world around us. Some of us were not loved, valued, and understood the way we needed to be when we were younger, and this has created a particular way of seeing the world. Letting go of past hurts and letting God love us and love others through us is part of metanoia.

Application:

  • Recognize that God doesn’t require us to change before we can be found. Instead, being found and letting ourselves be loved creates a change in our worldview and consequently, in the way we respond to God, to others, and to the world.
  • Realize that God seeks after us relentlessly until we are restored. Restoration, connection, and acceptance are part of God’s vision and intention for humanity.
  • Know that we participate in God’s heavenly celebration when we show acceptance and love to those who might be thought of as “sinners” or “less than.” By following Jesus’ example of eating with those deemed unworthy, showing full acceptance and love, we play a part in the restoration of the lost to the larger group.

This third application is crucial to our participation in the Love Avenue. Do we see how God is reaching out to others – often through us? Are we focused on behavior and attitudes more than God’s purposes to restore the lost? By considering our own experiences with losing and finding items we value, we can understand a little about how God feels for those who are caught in the habitual web of negative behaviors. We can consider our own negative habits that might be destructive in our relationships, and we can think about our own need for metanoia, and celebrate that God has invited us to participate in others’ metanoia. We can know the joy of finding something lost that is valued, and we can rejoice with God when people, including us, are transformed in the way they view themselves and others.

For Reference:

https://www.rd.com/list/5-amazing-stories-of-things-lost-then-found/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10-2

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/lost

 

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W2

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September 11 – Proper 19
Luke 15:1-10 “Lost and Found”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage. It’s going to be Luke 15:1–10. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 19 and Ordinary Time, which is September the 11th.

Rex, would you read it for us please?

Rex:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Anthony: There goes that Man again, Rex, eating with sinners and welcoming them! What does this tell us about this God that we see in Jesus?

Rex: From this passage, it’s all about people or things being lost and being found and rejoicing for what was lost and now found. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.

And what this passage tells us is that Jesus is a God who is not intimidated by sinners. In fact, he reaches out and welcomes them. The woman finding the coin, the shepherd finding the one, leaving the 99 – and what that tells me is that we are all valuable to him, that he’s willing to search for us.

(And one person said, if he’s willing to leave the 99, the shepherd’s making the 99 feel so unsafe, but that’s another altogether study on the cultural background of the time.) But the fact that Jesus Christ or that shepherd is willing to really go out and to really search for that one sheep or that one coin tells me that Jesus is really showing how loved we are.

We are important. We are valuable in his sight.

Anthony: I’ve heard it said that if Jesus didn’t dine with sinners, he would always eat alone. And so, I’m glad he welcomes me and eats with me and certainly is my sustenance on a day-to-day basis.

Rex: And the imagery of him eating with sinners, that is a powerful image of him being able to relationally accept them. They are loved. I’m just trying to put myself in a situation where, for example, I have made a huge mistake, or I have offended the person or something. And then this person would still ask me out or [say] let’s eat, let’s share a meal. That would communicate so much love. That would communicate forgiveness. That would communicate, Hey, everything is going to be alright. Eating together is such a powerful image of a community and [unintelligible] for a sinner to be eating with Jesus that’s — man! I’m ready to be in that banquet.

Anthony: Yes. Yes. Amen and amen. I’m getting the imagery in my mind, Rex, about the condescension of Jesus. Meaning, in his incarnation, he came to us; he came into the far country. And to sit down and dine with us is to, in one sense, to condescend. But that’s what love does.

It’s much like a parent getting down on the floor with their young child and playing with them. You condescend because love goes downward, if you will. And thanks be to God, that’s who he is!

And therefore, I think Jesus would say, go and do likewise. Not out of a, hey, this is a legalistic perspective, but this is what love does. And that’s all God can do, is act out of who he is. And he is love. And therefore, that’s why we see this imagery of the shepherd with the sheep.

So, tell us more. What would you want pastors, preachers, and teachers, and Bible students to know about the parable of the lost sheep?

Rex: I’d like to highlight verse 5 and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder. I could just visualize here the sheep is too weak to return on its own.

And there are times when we as pastors need to understand that some of our friends, some of the people in the church may have, (I put it in quotes) may have lost their way, and they feel too weak or too embarrassed or feel too guilty to return on their own.

But Jesus Christ is modeling for us that there is so much joy when one lost is found and there is a (it’s in that passage) there’s a glaring contrast with the religious leaders who grumbled, but Jesus Christ is showing us the intense joy of someone being brought back. That’s why it’s consistent in the three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the idea of searching.

There was this song, Anthony. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this song. It’s called, “When God Ran.” Have you heard of that?

Anthony: I have.

Rex: And the idea that God is searching; God is looking and the idea that we have been found. And many times, we cannot [accept it.] Maybe out of shame, out of guilt, out of our weaknesses, we feel as if we don’t deserve to be brought back or whatever situation we may have right now where we feel we are not worthy to be loved or to be accepted.

Then the idea of the shepherd placing the sheep on his shoulder. I would like to imagine that’s me being the sheep, and Jesus Christ carrying me on his shoulder when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to do, when I feel alone or I feel rejected, when you question your worth. I don’t belong to the hundred and they’re the 99. They’re the good ones. And I’m the bad one here. I didn’t make the cut.

But Jesus Christ is always ready to welcome us back. And not only that, when we are too weak, just like this shepherd, he lays it on his shoulder. I would like our listeners to understand it. Jesus Christ is always ready to pick you up.

Jesus Christ is always ready and willing because that’s how much he loves us. And there are times when we look at what we have done or the output of our hands, and we look at ourselves as not enough. Jesus Christ is always willing.

And that there’s an intense joy. Could you imagine a God who delights in you? Especially when you are not (I’ll put it quote here) you are not performing how some people would feel that they need to earn the grace, or they cannot accept fully the grace. That’s why they feel as if they still need to do something so at least they were able to have a share in whatever they’re enjoying right now in terms of the relationship with Jesus Christ.

Anthony: As I’m looking back over verse 5, Rex, Jesus joyfully puts the lost sheep on his shoulder. And I’ve mentioned this story in a previous podcast, but it bears repeating.

At the time of this recording, my wife, Elizabeth, and I just visited with her parents in West Virginia over the weekends. Jim and Sandy are their names. And Elizabeth’s favorite story to tell from her childhood is when she got lost at a church festival. There were thousands of people there, and it took her parents and the extended family quite a while to find her. And you can imagine the fear that was creeping up in her parents. We’ve lost our girl, our baby girl, the youngest of two. And they finally found her, and her dad took her into a room, and everybody thought that’s where she was going to get punished because, how dare you run off from us? Why weren’t you paying attention?

And she loves telling that her dad knelt down to look her in the eye and said, “Everybody expects me to punish you. But I’m just so glad I found you!” And he hugs her.

And you can imagine, even for a young girl (as Elizabeth was at the time), how much that taught her about a father’s love. And ultimately points to our heavenly Father who loves us with an intensity that goes beyond any earthly father. So, I just think that kind of bears or highlights this reality that God just rejoices to carry us home.

Rex: And let me add, as pastors, as ministry workers, or as under shepherds, I pray that through the Spirit, we may participate in the heart of God for those who still need to really know him. May we have that welcoming spirit of Jesus towards people who struggle. People who may have stumbled.

People who may have messed it up, who may have messed up their lives, or simply people who may not have it all together. It’s basically all of us anyway. And may we share in the joy, (the passages there says intense joy.) May we share in the joy. Celebrate when one who has been lost has been found.

Anthony: What else would you encourage preachers and teachers to focus on from this passage, if anything?

Rex: Our encouragement is Jesus alone.

I remember someone said, I’ve been preaching sermons for 30 years, and it seems that nothing’s changed. Their lives are not changed.” And this preacher basically asked: is worth it?

And the encouragement that he received was, yes, because it’s the work of Jesus. Jesus is really happy when we preach in and out of season for those people who are struggling, and we preach the message for people who are doing well in their lives and those who are down and out.

But there is a call for us to really go for those who are hurting, those who are feeling lost. And this is a very difficult task sometimes because there are times when the people who need help the most are the ones who will reject us first. But if we can also share in the passion of Jesus, in his love, in searching for these people and making them feel loved and welcome despite all of these challenges, I think that’s the encouragement – that we have Jesus.

And there are times when we may feel like we’re not able to help a lot of people who are hurting, but being able to simply participate in that, even experience how Jesus would bring a person back, how Jesus would heal and renew and transform. We’re just invited to join. And then in the process, really see the wonderful works of his hands in transforming the lives of so many people, sheep who are lost and being carried.

And I am just imagining the story you shared about Elizabeth. And because back in the day, it was really all about being disciplined, right? Your steps are measured. I remember when you were more scared of the ushers. But I could just imagine where people expected Elizabeth’s dad to really be harsh.

And I think that’s a very powerful story. Many times, people in general had that impression that God is like that. That he’s angry, that he is very exacting, that he is watching over a shoulder to see if we are checking off the right list.

Anthony: It’s a good word. I’m encouraged by this. Isn’t it beautiful how the Spirit ministers to us through Scripture? We can get so familiar with some of these parables and stories of our Lord, and yet to be refreshed and renewed once again by Scripture is such a beautiful thing.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever lost something of value? Did you find it, and if so, how did you find it? What lengths did you go to find it, and do you remember how you felt when you found it?
  • Have you ever considered that we don’t have to achieve a level of morality or perfection to be worthy of being “found”? How does understanding that make you feel about God’s love?

From the sermon

  • When considering the basic structure of the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Lost Coin, which part speaks to your heart the most: being lost, being found, the celebration, or repentance? Why?
  • If we understand the meaning of metanoia as a shift in worldview and response, how does that change your view of what repentance means?
  • How does understanding God’s desire to seek and save the lost affect our view toward participating in the Love Avenue of our congregation or fellowship group? How does it affect our view of co-workers and neighbors?

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