Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity - Luke 15
Three encounters these last couple of weeks. Last Saturday I met a woman at Paul Bunyan Days who shared with me how she felt cast aside sometimes by the church. It started with a discussion about what she might hate about religion. She is a woman in recovery, and also suffers from anxiety and depression. She is new to the church. New to Christianity. She felt judged by the church for not knowing all the words we use. She felt judged by the church for not knowing the bible. She also worried about what the church might think of her and her sins. With her past and the struggles she has. And it was amazing to hear her talk about how she was struggling. How she knew her sins and we talked about how the life of the Christian, as Martin Luther said, is to be one of daily repentance. Daily and regularly turning and fighting against the worst parts of us because in Jesus, our sins still haunt us. Yet she worried about what we might think of her, and she fought what so many others were telling her. A woman on a journey being worked upon by the Spirit, not having the right words or answers and yet one whom Jesus found.
Second encounter. When we were in Germany, we went for Carry’s cousin’s wedding, and she asked me about what it took to start a bible study. She wanted a bible study to be started, wishing to learn, but felt the Catholic church was leaving her generation behind. I looked her in the face and I said to her, “Why don’t you start it?”
“But I am not trained in that stuff,” she answered.
“Even better,” I said. “The one’s who are trained can often mess things up. I know what I am talking about.”
We then talked about how so often we don’t go to bible study because all we are told is what it’s supposed to say. What the bible is supposed to have meant. What the teacher wants us to hear. Never actually just reading the bible for what it says, and wrestling with it. And so, I told her, “if you can read the bible together with others, then you have a bible study.” No need for special words. No need for special training. Just to read it and ask questions, which is how I lead bible study anyways.
Third encounter. Our last night in Germany, another cousin and I were visiting together, and we talked about his struggle with the church. How he comes from a devout Catholic family, but he feels if he were to walk into any church, even our church, he would burst into flames. This is a young man whom I love. I enjoy his company. He puts up with my bad German. He hasn’t lived that long, hasn’t killed anyone or any sin worthy of prison as far as I know, and yet, he feels to be outside the mercy of God.
Luke chapter 15 is the lost things chapter. It’s made up of a lost sheep, a lost to coin, and a lost son. Many of us who grew up in the church know the stories. We’ve seen the pictures. Jesus carrying the lamb on his shoulders. And yet, do we know them? Do we really know them as parables for us? Given to us? Involving us? The religious folks are mad at Jesus because he hangs out with traitors and the ungodly. He associates and eats with tax-collectors who stole money from their own people to finance an occupying army, and with prostitutes, who even today are seen as the lowest of the low.
You read this story of the lost sheep, and you hear, “what man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?” The answer, if you are wondering, is none of us. As a shepherd you would have cut your losses. Even today we live that out in our lives, don’t we? We used to have repairmen for things. TV repairman. Appliance repairman. Vacuum repairman. Now, if something breaks we just throw it away and buy a new one. It would’ve been the same with the shepherds – you have 100 sheep and one goes missing, you’re not going to leave 99 in the wilderness with no protection to run after the one. The 99 would be more valuable. Yet Christ, in his answer to the religious people & leaders is, “Yes. But I will.”
I read this story, and I look for myself there. And I see myself in a dual role. I am both the one and the 99. I am the 99 because I stand on that hilltop and berate the one for not staying with the group. I judge the one for not being a good enough sheep. I might even get angry at the one because the one is not playing the game right. Doesn’t know the language. Doesn’t show up. Or even has gone after other things more wild than Jesus. Me as a religious person being destroyed by my own religiosity.
And yet I’m also the one. I have to be the one, as I was lost. I often am lost every morning I get up thinking things are going to be great, then I sin, or am reminded of my sin, and I need daily repentance. Need Jesus to find me. Hold me. Bring me back. By his promise of forgiveness. By the fact that if we think forgiveness is not that big of a deal, then we have to say that the cross is not that big of a deal. And yet it is. It is there for those three folks who were struggling with how the church works. What they’ve been told of themselves. And what they need to hear of this Jesus who finds the lost things.
Or how about the lost coin. A woman has 10 coins and she loses one. Each coin would have been worth a day’s wage. And so, she wastes more money, lighting the lamps, burning oil, sweeps the floor and the whole entire house to find that one lost coin because it is too precious to her. And then she calls her neighbors, and I don’t know about you, but I see myself as the neighbors in a bad way. How many of you have ever berated your children for losing something? Got mad at yourself because you misplaced something? “If you would just put it in a safe place you wouldn’t have lost it. If you would just put things away we wouldn’t have this problem. Don’t all those things mean something to you? This is why we can’t have nice things.” That is me all the time. Getting frustrated when things get lost, often buying a new one because I don’t want to waste the time to find the old one. And yet, Christ does. He scours the world for lost coins. Breaking all the rules and frustrating the ones who have life all together, at least that is what we often portray ourselves as, so that he might find me and you. Lost coins no longer.
I want to read to you the third parable and I’ll intersperse commentary as I like.
Jesus also said: “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So, he distributed the assets to them.
This son comes to his Father and says to him, “You are dead to me. Give me what is mine.” Looking the one who has been your caretaker, your life, without whom you would not exist, and saying - I can’t wait for you to be dead. And the crazy thing about this Father is that he obliges his son in this. The grace of gifts demanded without any evidence of worthiness on the part of the son. And not only does he give the younger what he asks for, but then also gives to his older son too, who did not ask, which will be important in a minute.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living.
Taking the gifts, seeing no value in them, just what I can get out of life for me. First sin, proverbial patricide. Second sin, abandonment of family and life. Third sin, arrogant use of what he never earned.
After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything.
Bear in mind that Jesus is preaching to devout Jewish teachers. Pigs were unclean. Dirty. Not to be touched, let alone fed, and Jesus takes this young man’s sin to the point of saying he even had to do the worst of the most unclean thing religion could think of because he had lost everything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’
Imagine being so lost, so broken that you would rather be disowned by the father you disowned, and work in his house scrubbing toilets and wiping bottoms, then live as you did before. Here confessing his unworthiness and need for something else. He plans to confess and barter. Make sure that his father knows he is truly penitent he will give his father himself. He will remove himself from any other inheritance and be a commodity in his father’s house.
So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.
I need you to see this Father as one who stood at the end of the road every day and night waiting for this son to return. He was expecting a return. He was looking for it to come, because he knows his son. He knows his foibles and his sins. He knows he is young and foolish. He knows that he will come back. When his son does, he was overcome with joy and ran to him, casting aside his dignity to love his son before a confession ever comes from his lips.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
If you notice, no bartering. No proof of repentance. No pound of flesh as I always tell you. The son only confesses his brokenness. His unworthiness, and it is as though the father doesn’t even listen. He knows he is broken because he came back wearing pig poop on his rags called clothing, and mud in his hair. He knows he was lost because he has been drawn back by his father. Now his rags are covered by a royal robe he does not deserve. He is still in the will because his father gave him the ring of nobility. A lost one brought back to the life of the house. Let’s party.
Now we get to the good part.
“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“Then the older son became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
We always think of the prodigal son, but never the older brother. The one who received his inheritance early because of the sin of the younger. Who remained loyal and did all his father asked of him. Who was even working in the fields, and yet in the midst of all that, the same sin. You are not good enough Father. I needed more. Even though I have all things from you, I am judging you for your fatherhood, and even more, this son of yours. The 99 and the neighbors in action. Judging the one in need of rescue for needing rescue because we have forgotten to whom we belong.
“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Realizing we are that lost son. That we spend so much time pretending we are the older brother. Pretending we have it all together. Wanting to forget, that in the course of our salvation story, we too are ones who have been lost and found. Who have to be reminded day after day in order that we might never become the neighbors or the 99. Never become the ones who make others feel outside of the Body of Christ because we know the lingo and they don’t. To never ever allow another child of God to feel as one outside of his mercy, or that the church is not a place for sinners to gather for healing and grace. Because, if you notice in the beginning of the chapter, the lost sheep was actually part of the fold. Part of the flock. Belonging to the Shepherd all along. Not some random sheep, but his sheep. The coin was the woman’s before and after, that is why the lost coin, you, is so precious to her. Not some extra coin but one that was her’s and had gone missing. The two sons in the story were sons of the Father at the beginning and the end. All I ask of you today, which one are you? Both are lost, just one realized it. The other, not so much. Or, maybe ask you, look around you, right now. Who is missing this morning? And is God calling you to be his vehicle by which he might find that lost one? I know he is. Because he found you. Thanks be to God. Amen.