Sermon St George’s Preshute, 15th September 2019, 8am
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity: Luke 15.1-10
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us two familiar parables: the lost coin, and the lost sheep. Deliberately trying to provoke, or at least to startle, He starts by saying “Which one of you would not …”. I’m not sure about you, but when I’ve lost something not so essential, I usually just wait for it to turn up again. If I can’t find the pen I was using, I’ll grab another one lying around. Unlike the woman in our reading this morning, I would certainly not spend hours looking for a missing coin, if I had nine others lying around.
This also applies for the shepherd. We may understand someone going to look for a vulnerable, fluffy, lamb. However, in the time that the parable was written and originally heard, shepherding was a profession like any other. It was part of the job to lose a sheep here and there, and certainly not something worth risking a whole flock, as it meant risking one’s livelihood.
However, God’s economy is different from ours, and that is what our readings this morning are all about. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells three famous parables about being lost and found: the two parables we hear today, the lost sheep and the lost coin, The third, which directly follows this passage, is the parable of the lost, the prodigal, son. There are very similar themes in all three stories, not least the fact that there is a celebration as soon as what was lost is found.
Looking at these parables, maybe the most important thing to remember is that with God everyone is essential. God’s economy is not one numbers, but God is looking for each of us as much as for anyone else. God does not have any favourites, although it may feel like that at times! He seeks, finds and welcomes each of us.
Our relationship with God is not the only relationship to which we are invited in these stories, it is also a genuine concern for and friendship with others. As soon as what was lost has been found, friends and neighbours are invited to the celebration. So we notice is that Jesus is not trying to turn the Pharisees and the scribes away, but He is actually inviting them to join the others, the tax-collectors and the sinners. Jesus is explaining that with Him, with God, everyone is welcome: neighbours, friends and sinners. That is what a true Christian community looks like.
Possibly the most obvious difference between the first two parables and the story of the prodigal son is that this morning we are asked to identify with the person who is looking, not so much the person who is lost. We have already seen that the shepherd, the woman, are representing God. So, the Pharisees, the scribes and we ourselves are asked to imagine God’s perseverance in seeking those who are lost and His joy when they are found. A perseverance we may not necessarily have ourselves. Once more our inability to really understand the depths of God’s love becomes clear if we try to understand the parables too much in human terms.
It is not only our limited ability to fully understand God that makes His decisions seem so different from ours at times, but there also the fact that God does not wait to seek us until we find him. No, it is precisely the other way around: God comes to find us. Our role is the role of the lost object. This does not imply an active role – our seeking preceding His finding –, but neither does it imply a passive role. It rather implies a middle way: we are invited to be found. Hence, our seeking is a willingness to be found.
Where does that leave us this morning? I always like to think that every Gospel reading has a challenge and a reassurance. The reassurance this morning, I’d like to suggest, is that we can be confident that God will find us, or indeed, has already found us. At the same time this our challenge, because being confident is not always easy. Trust, have faith, and be willing to be found.