1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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 you find it? 5 When the shepherd has found it, the shepherd lays it on their shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when they come home, the shepherd calls together their friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 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.
8 “Or who of you having ten silver coins, if you lose one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of grace,
You have given us so much.
You have blessed us beyond measure.
Help us use what we have been given
To share with and bless the world.
Call us again to do your work,
With our hands, our feet, and our hearts.
When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do at a department store was to run around to each of the clothes racks and see if I could get into the middle of them like my own little cave. When my sister was old enough, it became this game of hide and seek. So, yes, right, this was back in the times when malls and department stores were still a thing, before Amazon and online shopping…you actually had to entertain yourself in other ways.
And now, I’ve completed the metamorphic circle and turned into the caricatures of the old folks I’ve sworn I never would and I find myself saying things like “Back in my day…we had to entertain ourselves in other ways!,” yelling at young whippersnappers to get off my lawn or some other such nonsense.
There was one time when my sister and I were playing when I guess I hid a little too well, because she didn’t find me but she did find our mom and they were getting ready to leave and I was nowhere around. So I had to get called out over the JC Penny intercom system…”Christian Michaelis…your family is waiting for you at Women’s Outerwear…Christian Michaelis…” That was humiliating.
It’s nice to be found.
It’s nice to be looked for.
Not so nice to not be found.
Hide and seek is also a sometimes favorite in our own house nowadays. There have been a few times over the past year or so when I’ve been working in our office and our son, Oliver, comes around the corner and squats between my desk and this large chair we have sitting there. After about 30 seconds or so, I’ll lean over my desk and whisper to him, “Who are you hiding from?” And he’ll whisper back, “Mom!” “Does she know that?” I ask. “No!” he responds.
It’s nice to be found.
But what if someone doesn’t know if you’re hiding?
Or what if they don’t know you’re lost?
What if you’re not sure if you’re lost or not?
These parables of lost things from Luke chapter 15 are actually a triad. There’s the lost sheep, the lost coin, and following these two is the parable of the lost son or the prodigal father…or maybe you’ve heard it as the prodigal son…it’s actually part of a triplet of parables that we only hear two of this morning. But it’s important not to forget about the lost son in the context of these other two. The son who receives mercy and compassion. The son who finds himself lost, but welcomed home with a gigantic party.
Jesus is talking to Pharisees and scribes, important religious leaders of the day, and using these parables to illustrate back to them how their way of engaging certain people—certain folks who are oppressed or marginalized or seen as unclean or unwelcome in their communities—is wrong. Jesus is using these parables as a mirror back to these religious leaders to critique how they seek to ostracize, or keep at a distance, these so-called sinners, as they say, those seen as unworthy.
In effect, Jesus is saying to the religious establishment, “Don’t think so highly of yourselves. You’re not so different than those you try and keep at an arm’s length.” Don’t think that you’re not caught up in the very same system that seeks to further oppress those that are already oppressed, seeks to further marginalize those that are already marginalized. You are part of that system. And when you stop being valuable to that system, they will cast you aside just like they’ve done to all these you call “sinners.” In other words, don’t neglect to show hospitality and welcome, because there will come a time when you, too, are in need of hand-up, a loving hand on your shoulder, a friend who will listen, and an ally who will stand and fight alongside you.
Don’t think you’re so different.
The author of First Timothy gets it right, by the way, about Paul. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” Paul surely would have said that about himself, but church, how many of you have felt that same way? Surely there aren’t any among us who haven’t said or felt that exact same thing…that truly we or I am foremost among sinners. Certainly we have all felt that way at some point in our lives. Lest we think we’re all that different.
And yet, it is also true that Christ Jesus came into the world, became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Mary, became truly human, to save such as these. To save us. To save you. To save the sinful ones…of which we are certainly a part.
Today, “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, is a day that we celebrate, honor, and affirm who we are as Lutheran Christians. It’s a day to focus on and to celebrate pouring into our community because we recognize that we are part of this community that has given us so much. “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday is a day that we roll up our sleeves in love and service to our neighbor and to our community. And we recognize that our love and service is not limited to a single day on the calendar, but is, in fact, a pattern of life, a call to discipleship…a call that was placed on your life, dear church, in baptism. Because we have received, we share and give to others what God has given to us. You are blessed to be a blessing, church.
The mercy, love, and grace the author of First Timothy describes Paul as having received from God, these are the gifts that God lavishes upon you, dear child. This is the very nature and character of God. One of overflowing goodness, boundless grace, unmerited compassion, and extravagant love. This is the character of God in Christ Jesus, giving to us all that we are completely underserving of. That’s why it’s grace. You didn’t earn it. You can’t earn it. It is a gift from God, and it is yours. Because it is the nature of God to lavish such good gifts upon you.
And because we have been recipients of such wonderful gifts from God, we are called to share, and we can’t help but share, those gifts we’ve been given with others. Sharing these gifts is what our “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday is all about. Because you have been given such gifts and goodness by God, your call as disciples is to share those gifts with others, with your neighbor, with your community, and with the world. Because God has been so generous with you, dear one, you get to share all those gifts with others and with your neighbor.
Because you have been found, you get to share in the joy and celebration when your neighbor discovers what you have experienced to be true, that they are found, too. That they are found and affirmed and celebrated and loved…deeply…without cost or condition…by a God who leaps with joy at their very personhood…that God is so deeply in love with them precisely and exactly because of who they are, just as they are, in all of their incredible beauty.
Church, we get to be the place that celebrates people discovering that they are found by God.
We get to be the place that throws the party, that rejoices with them.
We get to be the place that welcomes people just as they are, and tell them about a God who loves them exactly how and who God created them to be.
This is God’s work that we get to do with our hands.