St Andrew, Glencairn
Glencairn Methodist Church
[If you are not familiar with the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son then please read Luke 15 first]
Sometimes we leave our mobile phone down somewhere in the house and we can’t remember where it is. Well it is easy to find it – we just dial a call to it from another phone. [This only works if the phone is switched on, and the battery is charged, and you have another phone handy.]
It is a different story if the spare car key is lost and the key holder in question has to search through a million hand bags to find it. This is harder.
So it must have been difficult to find the lost things in the recommended Gospel reading. The experienced shepherd will know where to look for the lost sheep; he will have searched for, and found, many lost sheep in his career. The poor woman who lost a coin really had to search everywhere; the coin could have rolled anywhere. The lost son is a lovely story of a patient and loving father.
But why did Jesus tell these “lost” stories, these parables, in the first place?
Some time ago my wife and I went to Dublin for a weekend break. We had booked into a hotel that a friend had recommended. All went well until just after we had gone to bed. The music had started in the dance hall immediately below our room. And it was loud. And it went on and on for hours, to three o’clock to be precise. Boy, were we cross! The hotel had been recommended; it seemed nice at the beginning but those partygoers who were enjoying themselves in the dance hall downstairs were just “beyond the pale”. THEY were having a party, and WE thought they should have had more respect for guests trying to get to sleep. No doubt if we had gone down and complained, they would have thought us to be just a pair of grumpy spoilsports.
We complained to the management and they moved us to another room, but it was just as bad. Below was another bar and karaoke.
There are some parallels between our experience and the reason why were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were so aggrieved that Jesus was prompted to tell these parables. “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them”, they said. Jesus had a crowd of tax collectors and so-called “sinners” around him, listening to every word of the Good News Jesus was sharing with them. He was down in the bar with the noisy ones!
In the eyes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, Jesus was scandalous. He was making a habit of having parties with all the “wrong” people – the tax-collectors and “sinners”, and all three of the “lost” stories were simply ways of saying, “Look, ‘lost things’ have been found and we are celebrating! Wouldn’t you have a party if it were you? How could we not be happy?”`
At the heart of the trouble was the character of the people Jesus was eating with regularly. The Jewish tax-collectors were disliked not simply because they were tax-collectors – nobody liked tax-collectors but they saw the need for them – but because they were collecting taxes for Herod and for the Romans, and nobody cared for them at all. And if they were in regular contact with Gentiles, they might have been “unclean”.
The “sinners” that Jesus kept company with were probably not notorious criminals like murderers and rapists, but were simply common folk who didn’t know the minute details of the Law and so were considered to be hopelessly irreligious by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
Now Jesus was not saying that such people were simply to be accepted as they stand. Sinners must repent. After all the lost sheep and the lost coin are found, and the lost son comes to his senses and returns home. But Jesus has a different idea to his critics of what “repentance” means. For them, nothing short of adopting their standards of purity and law-observance would do. For Jesus, when people follow him and his way, that is true repentance. And he is quite clearly saying that the “99” self-righteous people – the Pharisees and the teachers of the law – also need to repent.
So, when lost souls are found, that is, when people turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, then there is cause for a celebration. A party is going on in heaven with the angles joining in, and when we pray “thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven”, the closest we get to heaven on earth is when we are following Jesus.
For the Jews, the closest you could get to heaven was in the Temple. The Temple Rules required absolute purity of life from the priests, and everybody else was expected to maintain a similarly strict purity code in every aspect of life.
But now Jesus was declaring that heaven was having a great, noisy party every time a single sinner saw the light and followed Jesus. If folk on earth wanted to copy the life of heaven, they should have a party too.
Now to get back to the parable, Jesus is not saying about the lost things, “I love you more than the 99.” The only thing different about the lost things is that they was lost. And so, repentant sinners saw that they didn’t have to earn God’s love or Jesus’ respect for them. He loved to go looking for them and He celebrated when he found them. And this is why the Pharisees and the teachers of the law hated him so much. He was challenging the very basis of their theology. God loves you and wants you to be found.
The church, us and all our leaders, are in the public eye. What would we have to do to make people ask the questions to which these stories are the answer? What might we do that would make people ask “Why on earth are you doing that?” Then we can tell the stories about finding something that was lost, perhaps even the story of how God in Jesus found us?
Ken (15 September 2016)
Note that this Message is inspired by Tom Wright's commentary "Luke for Everyone".
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm