It is seldom necessary to use the world “hate” but in this context I will use the word “hate” in all caps, and in bold and underlined. I HATE, HATE, HATE ……losing things! And as I age it happens more and more. Losing things rocks my world until I find them and to be honest I get a little OCD in seeking them out. I retrace all my steps. I think of ever variable. If I don’t find what I am looking for I will start the search all over again and repeat all of my steps as if by some miracle the lost item appears in the drawer that I had just opened 5 minutes ago. The best technique for finding things is when I use the Sherlock Holmes method that once you have ruled out the impossible then whatever is left, however improbable, must be true. So last week, once I rule out that the squirrels took my glasses then I concluded that they must still be in my shirt pocket, which at the moment was on the second rinse cycle under a load of darks in our washing machine. And voila, what was lost is now found. It was in pieces but it was found.
On a much more serious note, the Gospel today is about lost things and found things. Our lessons this and next week separate the stories but in actuality Jesus spoke of three lost and found things back to back. He spoke of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.
Anglican scholar John Stott argues that there is a reason that Jesus would give three parables back to back and the reason is Trinitarian in nature. The story of the Father, who did not leave his home to seek his lost son but graciously accepted his return, is a story of God the Father. The story of the shepherd, who left the 99 to seek the lost sheep, is a story of God the Son. And the story of the woman, who lights a lamp to find a lost coin, is a story of God the Holy Spirit empowering and enlightening the Church to seek and save the lost. I was intrigued by Stott’s take on this and thought to myself, “that will preach” but then I decided just not today. I want to take a different take on these stories.
While it may be true that these parables were told to illustrate the Trinity, I believe that they were also told to reveal the heart of God, particularly toward those who are lost in their sins. I say that because what sparked the parables to begin with was the negative attitude of the Pharisees towards the people that Jesus was hanging with. They were grumbling that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners and so Jesus tells them three stories. And what do these stories tell us about the heart of God towards tax collectors and sinners? Let’s take them in reverse order.
First we see in the story of the Father and lost son a heart of compassion. The Father would have been just to have righteous indignation towards his son. A father has to work his whole lifetime to give an inheritance to his children and when this knucklehead squanders his inheritance on wine women and song there should have been a reckoning. The Father could have easily said to the son, “You had better believe that you are going to be numbered among my servants and for blowing your inheritance as you did you may not even be treated that well.” But that is not the heart of God. “For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”
We are told over and over through the Psalms that God is full of compassion and that is what we see with the Father in this parable. Instead of condemning his son, he runs to greet him and throws a robe over his shoulders and puts a ring on his finger and he calls for a feast. From the Father’s perspective, his son who was dead is now alive. The Pharisees want to shake their fingers at the sinners and tax collectors but Jesus wants to feast with them and treat then like family.
How about us? What is our compassion quotient? Do we build up or do we tear down?
Last week an Orthodox priest that I know did a very positive post on Facebook about Mother Theresa being canonized by the Roman Church. Consequentally there was so much vitriol by self-proclaimed religious folks that he has to take the post down. The Pharisees were out in numbers wagging their fingers. At first I wondered where all of this venom was coming from but then I realized that I answered my own question. This venom comes from the serpent and so it has no place among believers.
As believers we are to reflect our Father’s heart of compassion, realizing that we will never help others find their way back to the Father if we are filled with criticism and bitterness that is fueled by self-righteousness. We need to remember that we too were once prodigals and maybe some of us still are. We need show to others the same compassion that the Father had for us when we came to our senses and returned home.
The parable of the woman and the lost coin, shows us that in God’s heart there is an urgency for the lost. The woman didn’t say to herself, “I’ll look for the coin when the rent is due.” She didn’t even say “It can wait until the morning.” She got up then and there and lit a lamp and started sweeping.
We see God’s urgency for the lost all through the Bible. We see it in the story of Jonah. He so urgently wanted to call Nineveh to repentance that He was going to get a prophet to them even if it meant having a great fish vomit one up on the beach. We see God’s urgency in the life of Jesus as He tirelessly went from village to village proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. We see God’s urgency in the life of the Apostles, most of whom were martyred in foreign lands, as they obeyed the Lord to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
What about us? What is our urgency quotient? In his book Radical, David Platt has some very convicting words. As you probably know there is a concept called “universalism” which in essence says that all roads lead to God. Obviously that is not what Jesus nor the Apostles taught. If universalism was true then Jesus died for nothing and the Apostles wasted their lives going to the ends of the earth. Addressing that Platt says, “While some professing Christians have rejected universalism intellectually, practically they may end up leading universalistic lives. They claim Christ is necessary for salvation, yet they live their Christianity in silence, as if people around them in the world will indeed be okay in the end without Christ.” (p. 142).
Platt goes on to tell a story of a missionary going to an unreached people’s group in Southeast Asia. As the missionary met with the villagers he asked them some very important questions. He asked how they were created and they said that they did not know. He asked who sends the rains. Again they did not know. He asked what happens after you die and they said, “No one has come to tell us about this yet.” As he continued a villager showed up with a can of Coke classic and it hit home with the missionary. “A soft drink company in Atlanta has done a better job of getting brown sugar water to these people than the Church of Jesus Christ has done in getting the Gospel to them.” p.159
To share the Father’s urgency does not mean that we have to turn into street evangelists or ride ten speed bikes wearing white short sleeve dress shirts with elder badges on them. But it does mean that we need to be actively engaged in searching for ways to share the Gospel of the Kingdom, particularly with those whom God has placed in our lives. I don’t believe that they in our lives by accident. And who doesn’t know a family member or a friend or a coworker or a fellow student who is oblivious to the things of God?
Urgency begins by praying for them, because evangelism is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t argue people into the kingdom, they are birthed into it by the Holy Spirit. Second, just as Jesus did, you hang out with them. The Roman Catholic movement called Cursillo has a great perspective on evangelism. They say, “Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” This perspective is so different and so much more Christ like than the used car salesman techniques that is often passed off as evangelism.
Fr. BE is offering us a perfect opportunity this month as he begins ALPHA, and it could not be simpler. Just invite the person for whom you have been praying to accompany you to a meal and a discussion. It is fun, it is non-threatening and it is non-confrontational. It is simply friends sharing a meal and talking about the meaning of life.
The third parable is about the shepherd going after the lost sheep. In this parable we see that God not only has compassion but that He is passionate about the lost. Look at the risk that the shepherd is taking. He leaves the 99 to go after the one! A lackadaisical shepherd would be happy he still have the 99 and call it a day, but not this one. And to go off after one sheep in the Judean wilderness was no cakewalk. There were critters in that wilderness that could eat a person. David spoke of his shepherding days that included fighting the bear and the lion. So it takes passionate love for the shepherd to go after the one lost sheep. How passionate is God toward us? John 3:16 tells us. The question is, do we share His passion, especially for the lost? What is our passion quotient?
A friend posted this last week. “I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of God’s love. I was lonely and you left me alone to go and pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.”
I believe that we are doing many good things, particularly for a small parish. Consider our outreach to the Burmese refugees that has developed a Burmese speaking church. Or our mission trips to Cochabamba and our upcoming trip to Honduras to get water to an orphanage. These are all acts of passionate love. There are also many quiet and behind the scenes things being done by you. We give thousands of dollars every year to Food for the Poor who go to the poorest of the poor. The recently added Second Saturday Packers ministry that takes necessary items to those in hospitals is a wonderful idea. Some of our parishioners volunteer for the Food Bank, others are working voluntarily as Court Appointed Special Advocates for Tennessee foster children. One brother mows a widow’s lawn for free. I could keep going on and on but I want to make two points.
My first point is to say to you what Bishop Herlong used to say to me. “Your doing great, just don’t stop.” So “your doing great, just don’t stop.”
My second point is to call on us to continue to think and pray about more creative ways that we can serve our community in order to show the passionate love of God. If the 99 represent our parish family, then we need to seek out ways to leave the 99 and go after the one. I am positive that if we ask the Lord of the Harvest that He will point us in the right direction.
And one of the ways that we will know that we are doing God’s will is when the Pharisees, as they did with Jesus, start grumbling about who we are hanging out with. So let’s make them grumble. Amen.