The Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Good morning and welcome to our continuing journey with Jesus in Luke.
I was recently in a meeting with a group of clergy and lay people We had some work to do together and at that initial meeting, one of the things we recognized was the diversity of our understandings. We held different opinions on a wide variety of topics and issues.
What really helped that group to come together was that someone said: "we all understand what we mean when we say certain things. Unfortunately what certain words mean to us can have very different meanings for other people. If during our meetings I say something and you are not sure what I mean or if what I have said somehow offends or upsets you please ask me about it." "Please trust that I will not say something purposefully to hurt or injure you."
In making that statement the person cleared the way for open and direct communication. That group worked towards their goals and achieved a sense of unity which is very uncommon in our world at this time.
Words are powerful things. They convey meaning and sometimes that meaning can create difficulty or discord. Words may also draw people together and develop the opportunity for concord and unity.
Being thoughtful about how we use words or allowing for others to comprehend or understand the words we use differently from how we do is almost an art form these days.
It is an interesting exercise for discerning my prejudices or discovering someone else's prejudices. Then it is the opportunity of working out how to say something so that I can avoid my own or someone else's prejudices.
Now, there are probably some of us here this morning who just want to say: "Look this is who I am. You get what you see." "I speak my mind and if others are offended by that, well that is all well and good, it is their problem and they will have to work it out."
Fair enough. You are entitled to that opinion. I hope though that you might stay open to hearing what I have to say in the rest of my message this morning.
As I was considering the concept of prejudices and the power of words I was struck by the thought that it opened up a new way for me in my approach to reading Scripture.
I realized that I most likely read the scriptures and apply the power of certain words and phrases as well as my prejudices as I go along. Perhaps you do the same thing?
The Gospel from Luke that we heard this morning is a good example of that process.
I wonder how many of us found ourselves responding to particular words or phrases in the Gospel this morning.
Now, it will be different for each one of us as we read these passages. But I want to lead us through a bit of an exercise looking at the passages we have this morning.
Now we may have to make the decision to put aside our Sunday morning listening to Scripture mindset. You know that attitude we have developed over time that says: "I don't really understand what this passage is saying, but I am in church and I am supposed to act like I believe or accept what I hear."
Today it is OK to be skeptical, to have a less than "proper" approach to the Scriptures. It is OK, to be honest about what we think about some of the people we are meeting today.
So the section from Luke this morning starts out this way:
"All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So, where do you see yourself in this grouping of people? Are you more likely to be in the tax collectors and sinners group or to be in the Pharisees and the scribes group?
Are you glad that Jesus associates with the people on the margins, those people who some others find it difficult to accept or understand? Tax collectors and sinners - hmmm - who are those people today? Are you glad that Jesus is happy to welcome these folks and to spend time with them?
These can be powerful words, words of acknowledgment and welcome. Or perhaps they are words that reveal a prejudice on our behalf.
Where do I see myself, in society, in relationship to these folks? Am I above them in my estimation or are they people like me, people I would be happy to hang out with as well?
Am I concerned about the fact that Jesus is spending time with these people who are making their way in society by collaborating with the current political power base?
As I read this passage of Scripture what do I learn about myself?
Then we move on to the first parable that Jesus tells in response to the comments of the Pharisees and the scribes:
"So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
Who do you identify with in this passage? Now, this is challenging because none of us are shepherds and none of us have a flock of sheep we are responsible for.
Unless someone here is holding that piece of information to themselves and you haven't told me that you are secretly hoarding a bunch of merinos somewhere on a patch of grazing land.
Do we tend to dismiss this parable because it "isn't relevant to us?" Or are we somehow attracted to the story because we long to know that if we did wander off Jesus would come looking for us and restore us to our place of fellowship and love?
Do these words have the power to reassure and comfort us when we are uncertain of our place in the worshipping community we want so much to be part of?
Or perhaps we are angered or frustrated by the parable and how it is used to assure those we are not convinced deserve the Lord's forgiveness and restoration? Those people who we are convinced are outside the parameters of our understanding of the Scriptures. Those who don't fit the rules that we have come to accept for ourselves as being the way that Christianity should work.
Then we have the parable of the lost coin: "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
I believe that this parable is easier for most of us to comprehend or perhaps grasp. After all, we have all lost something at one time or another. We know the anxiety it creates when we struggle to find whatever it is. Whether that is an actual object or perhaps it is a friend or a relative who we see is lost despite our best efforts.
Or perhaps we are frustrated by this parable. What kind of person is so irresponsible that they can't manage their own affairs? How could someone lose such a valuable and necessary thing? Just be a little more organized and prepared for pity's sake.
After all, I have my own affairs to be responsible for and I manage, why can't you just apply some simple rules and guidelines to your life and you would be better organized and capable of avoiding these kinds of situations?
Both of these parables end with a similar tagline.
"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
"Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Maybe these words powerfully encourage us about our own spiritual state or relationship with the Lord. Or they hold out the hope we need to continue to believe for someone who we desperately want to come into or come back to the life of fellowship and love in the Lord.
Or do the words sinner and repent cause us some frustration? We do not see ourselves or others we love and care about in that way. We are good people who deserve to experience good things if God is a loving and caring God.
Does this approach to the words of Scripture offer you a new understanding or a new openness to the reality of the dynamics of faith?
How do you read the Scriptures? What makes you react and pull back? What draws you into the hope of the Gospel?
Perhaps we can experience something new as we read the Collect for this morning:
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike