2022-09-11 Pentecost 14
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember the rhyme from the old days “See a penny pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck!”? Those were the days! Now, you can’t even find a penny because they no longer exist! Our luck has finally run out … just like the Roughriders! But you know, for the longest time, young kids wouldn’t pick up pennies anyways. Why? Because you couldn’t buy anything with them. Penny candy ceased to exist too. You had to have at least 5¢ to buy a blue whale and, who had time to go looking for 5 pennies?! Not me, I was busy! So all too often, those pennies on the road would remain right there, on the road.
It’s funny because even though they were worth some money, they weren’t worth picking up. Maybe if you found a $20.00 bill or even a loonie you’d stop and stoop down for it. But pennies? Nah, forget about it. Their perceived value was nill, nadda, zilch. And that’s been a developing trend in our culture for quite some time. Probably since we started outsourcing all of our products to be made in China. The price went down, along with the quality. This began our journey down the “disposable” road. We started throwing things away, rather than fixing them. Just ask yourself, if your house burned down tonight, what couldn’t you replace? Possibly antiques and stuff your parents had. Family heirlooms. Old pictures of the kids maybe. Your Stalwart Lutheran Beer Stein you won at the last Oktoberfest contest perhaps. But everything else, you could buy new and wouldn’t be out much.
And that’s our Canadian culture of consumerism at work. And, I would argue that our culture has largely made us incapable of relating to Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep or the lost coin that we have before us this morning. In our culture, we’d simply go and buy new ones if something got lost. Baa baa black sheep toddled off into the wilderness and got munched by a pack of coyotes, oh well, just swipe the card and pick another one up at Johnstone’s auction mart! Lost a loonie, oh well, there’s more where that came from. We wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time looking and searching for stuff.
But to make this parable hit home for us, we need to up the ante and frame it where it hurts. Let’s say your favourite kid just got abducted by some psycho. Now what’s your attitude? Do you go searching? Do you frantically call the police? You bet you do! Why? Because you love your children more than life itself and would do anything, anything, to get them back. You would put up posters. You’d organize search parties. You’d setup community patrols. And you would do so tirelessly because you would be so driven by love and fear.
OK, now that we have shed the consumeristic mindset, look at these parables of Jesus. Do they make more sense now? They have a completely different shape to them. It’s more dire. It’s more pressing. Because the sheep and the coin aren’t just livestock and money – both of which are replaceable. No, that which is lost is people. Precious, precious people whose Father cares about them with a crazy love. A relentless love that stops at nothing to search, seek, find and bring home his children. And of course you know where I’m going with this, right? We are going to the cross. The old, rugged cross. To that place of redemption where Jesus did exactly what was needed to find us and indeed the whole world that had been lost to sin and death. The devil, like a horrid child abductor, had taken the world hostage with sin and death. But on the cross, Jesus broke into the criminal’s hide out, over powered the thief and smashed his head in, and then took back His precious children.
What do parents do when lost children are returned? They vomit emotion! Exceedingly great joy mixed with grief combined with sadness and relief all get twisted around like a blender! But afterwards, there is nothing but happiness, joy and love. What once was lost is now found. The people we love the most in the world are back, safe and sound. And nothing ever again will separate us. This, friends, is the Gospel. This is the point that Jesus is making. And it’s totally awesome! It fills our hearts and minds with such an amazing feeling to think that we are that lost child who God Almighty loves and cares about so much that He stopped at nothing, not even death on a cross to save.
The Pharisees didn’t get this. They didn’t fathom that crazy love of God. They themselves ought to have thought the same way about the people. For they were the leaders, the shepherds of Israel. But they didn’t. They didn’t care. They wouldn’t walk 5 feet to care for someone. This is that sassy attitude that Jesus was running headlong into. “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Well, ya, no duh! Fancy that! The Lord of life put on human flesh for exactly this purpose. To seek and save the lost, He needed to go where they were. He needed to be among them. He needed to receive them and have supper with them. The Pharisees should have done likewise, but no way. You can’t be higher and mightier than others if you actually hang out with them, like friends do.
So as much as these parables are about that amazing love of God to redeem us, it’s also a bit of a slap in the face to the Pharisees and Scribes and all other legalists in general. It’s meant to crush high and mighty, ‘holier than thou’ attitudes. It’s meant to squash them down and reveal how silly they are, how counter productive to the Kingdom of God they are. And hopefully, this stern word of Law will bring about repentance. It really didn’t in the Pharisees, but it can in us. If we have looked down on others and have chosen to pass them by because ‘well, we’re better than them’ then, we need to repent. We’re walking the road of the Pharisees. And that’s not good. What would Jesus do? He’d receive sinners and eat with them. He’d visit with them. He’d get to know them. He’d die for them.
These parables today really and truly drive home the point that people have incredible value in the sight of God. We are His precious creations, made in His divine image, covered in His very fingerprints like a potter to a lump of clay. And all of us are the same. We’re all sinful, we’re all prone to wander off like sheep or roll away like a loonie on the loose. But God seeks and saves the lost. And when people are returned to Him by faith and Baptism, God is joyful! His heart sings with happiness, just like an earthly parent would do when a lost child is returned. An enormous party ensues! Jesus said “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Eternal heavenly joy results when people repent of their sins and embrace the love and forgiveness of God. And the only thing that makes that better is spreading it around. Tell everyone about God’s love and forgiveness. Tell the world about the crazy love God has for them. He’s searching and looking for them, like a shepherd for lost sheep. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost!” Thanks be to God now and forever. Amen!