I was going to hit you with a major mind-bender of a statement at the beginning of the sermon today, but I decided that I had probably better not. I was thinking about what I was going to say and decided that to just come out and say it would probably get me into some trouble. So I decided to give you this little heads-up. The next thing that I say is going to sound pretty close to being sacrilegious: We have some pretty silly stories in our Gospel reading for today!
To hear these stories referred to as “silly” probably is not what we are used to. We are not used to hearing Jesus’ words referred to as being silly. Usually we are told that we need to listen to Jesus’ words and head Jesus’ words. But when we look at our parables today, they are just silly!
Let’s look at the first parable. I am guessing that most of us are familiar with the story: A shepherd has 100 sheep and one runs away. So the shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep and goes to look for the one lost sheep. Sounds nice and cozy, doesn’t it? We like the thought of this. But let’s stop and think about it for a moment. Imagine you were the teacher of a day-care and you had 100 toddlers. You were out at the playground with the toddlers when you realize that one of them is missing. So, without thinking, you leave the other 99 toddlers to go about their business while you go look for the missing one. Now remember, it is just you and the children, there is not another adult there to watch. When you leave to search for the missing child, the other 99 are allowed to roam free, to get into all kinds of trouble. And remember, toddlers are toddlers! While you are looking for the one, ten others may have decided to go home and are just about to step into the street! We may get this warm fuzzy feeling about the Shepherd going out and getting the one lost sheep, but leaving the other 99 to get the one is really not a very bright thing to do!
The same thing goes with the sheep. It would really be silly for a shepherd to allow the other 99 sheep to go roaming around, possibly into the mouths of wolves just so he could find the one lost sheep. It would make more sense to just chalk the lost one up to experience, assume the loss in revenue and go on. The shepherd runs the risk of losing much more by looking for the lost sheep than by not going, and keeping the other 99 safe.
And what about this woman who lost the silver piece? She loses one of her pieces of silver and searches for it. Ok, that is fine, but then she calls everyone and throws a party! Unless the amount that was lost was quite large, the amount the party would cost is probably more than the value of the coin. We can probably agree that it would be silly to throw a $100 party to celebrate the finding a coin worth $10.
But these are the examples that Jesus gives us to help us to understand just how much God loves us and wants us to follow God’s way. So what can we learn about God from these parables and by extension, what can we learn about how we are to live our lives?
Well, first off, I think we can safely assume that God plays by a whole different set of rules than the world. Where the management people would keep telling us to watch our expenses and to figure out the ultimate cost to benefit ratio, Jesus is saying something different. Jesus is telling us that no matter how far we may wander, no matter how lost we may appear, we are not so far gone that God cannot find us. No matter what the cost, God is not content to just let us go. God is not going to chalk our loss up to the cost of doing business. God will work to find us, to save us, to bring us back!
But if we pay attention to the reading, we will also see that this is not just God’s doing. Not only are we the ones who are lost and need to be found, we are also the ones who are to do the searching!
At the beginning of both of the parables, Jesus begins with a question that assumes that everyone would agree with it. “Which one of you…” “What woman…” In starting the parables this way, Jesus is not allowing the listeners to back out. It is assumed that we would be willing to also risk it all for the one lost sheep or we would search until we found the lost coin. It is assumed that we would do the same things that God would do. We are not allowed the opportunity to say, “You know, the 99 sheep are ok.” We are not allowed to just let the lost coin remain lost. Jesus implies that it is our job to be out doing the work of finding the lost.
But it is not all work! We are also to be celebrating! We are to celebrate those who have returned, those who have been found! And our celebrations are to be momentous events! We are to celebrate even the smallest of victories. God searches for us, and we are to search for others. And then let the party begin!
Being in the world looking for the lost is not the easiest thing, in fact, many would prefer that the lost not be found. Being out among those whom society says are untouchable has many stresses in our society, just as many as there were in the time of Jesus. But just as Jesus ate with the sinners, we are called to go out and be among the sinners. We are called to be among those whom polite society may have turned away. We heard about this last Sunday, and we hear about it again today.
But the thing that we always need to remember is that while we are called to search for the lost sheep, we are never a few steps from becoming lost ourselves. God provides shepherds and flocks to keep us safe and provides a home to return to when we stray. But God also asks us to be shepherds and flocks to others. God asks us to provide role-models for what it means to be Christian in the world.
This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I do want to talk about what has been in the news for the past week. When I look at people wanting to burn the Koran in the name of Christianity, I see sheep that have gone astray. And I do believe that God will continue to reach out to help these people to see how they have strayed. But also, I feel that God is also talking to us. Many people will look at these extremists and assume that they represent the flock, not the sheep that has gone astray. How do we, individually and as a congregation spread the word to our community and to our world to help them to see that we worship a God of extravagant love not intolerant hate? How do we interact with our world to spread the message that we have a savior who is not looking to punish the sinner but to reach out to all people and celebrate their return to the flock? How do we spread the message that not only did our Savior eat with the sinners, but died for us too? This is the message that we are to bring to the world. This is the message the Christ wants us to share. This is the message that will bring the angels joy in Heaven!
We have a God of love, a God of forgiveness, and a God of extravagance. We have a God who will go to lengths that the world would consider silly just to save one who has gone astray. We have a God who loves us more than we can ever comprehend. This is what we celebrate, this is the message we have the opportunity to bring to the world.