17th Sunday after Pentecost 2016
According to a report I heard recently, the average Sunday attendance at a Lutheran Church in Massachusetts is about 70 people.
Some have more, some less.
They’re all over: in big towns, sprawling suburbs, and farm fields.
And things are really ok there.
70 faithful people can do a lot.
They can support the ministry; heat and cool the church,
support missions, and all the rest.
So in light of all that, 99 sounds great!
If 70 people can do so much, imagine what 99 faithful people can do!
Incidentally, despite the usual summer drop-off, 99 worshipers are almost exactly what we’ve averaged here at Lutheran Church of The Way this summer.
So if we are 29% above average, if we are capable of paying the bills, if we have a great preschool with great teachers, and happen to be one small sheep short of 100 on any given Sundays, then it would seem we have a lot to be rejoice over.
Really, none of us could even glance out at a crowd and tell the difference between 99 and 100.
But Jesus can. Jesus does.
For Jesus 99 isn’t a goal or a particular threshold that must be met to pay the bills. Jesus never looks out and sees 99. He sees 100 minus 1.
Truthfully, He isn’t even talking about 100 sheep.
Jesus is talking about talking about 100% of the sheep.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that He wants them all. Every one.
So much so that he’ll even have a party with sinners and tax collectors.
So much that he’ll go anywhere to find them.
He’ll go from heaven to earth and manger to cross. Whatever it takes.
The Pharisees don’t share His zeal.
Pharisees are happy when the bills are paid, when the lamps all have plenty of oil, and there is plenty of food on their tables.
Pharisees high-five each other when they manage to spend under their budget, and they can put something in savings.
As long as that happens, who cares if one sheep is missing?
Who cares if one whom Jesus baptized hasn’t heard His voice in months or years?
Who cares if those confirmed in the faith wander and fall away?
They’re not big givers, and so they don’t make a difference when the bills come due.
So what’s the difference? What does one sheep matter?
Jesus drops everything, leaves the 99, and goes out in search of the one.
The sheep whom He has called by name are His own, and He will not suffer to have a single one taken away from Him.
In what can only be described as pure wreckless, impractical, Divine Love, the Good Shepherd goes out in search of the lost sheep, picks him up, and carries him home.
“And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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.” (Luke 15:6-7)
The Pharisees would have wondered, “How in the world is that repentance?
The sheep didn’t come back; the Shepherd went out and found it.
This story makes no sense.”
And they would be right.
This parable makes no sense at all because it is pure grace and mercy;
the kind of grace and mercy that compel the Shepherd to leave the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one;
that kind of grace and mercy is beyond us.
It would make more sense if the sheep just came to his senses and turned around.
It would make more sense for us if repentance was just feeling bad for what you’ve done, and promising to mend your ways.
But that’s not repentance. At least not the way Jesus talks about it.
As far as Jesus is concerned repentance is this: being found by Him, and being carried home. It is nothing to brag about because you did not do it.
After all, if the sheep could have found its way home, it would have; but it cannot.
The only thing the sheep ever did to be found was to first be lost – hardly something to be proud of.
But, thanks be to God, lost is not the end of us.
Adam and Eve were given a Promise.
God’s people were given a covenant.
And you and I have seen both fulfilled in Jesus Christ,
the Good Shepherd who has sought us out.
You were lost, but Jesus has found you – there, in the font.
In your baptism, Jesus found you.
He picked you up, put you on His shoulders and brought you home.
He brought you to repentance. He carried you there. He carried you here.
In that baptism He joined Himself to you.
You are found in Him.
And yet, even having been brought home, we continue to try and find places to hide; which brings us to the woman and the lost coin.
Coins have value, but they don’t don anyone any good unless they are available, unless they can be spent and put to good use.
But like the change that escapes from your pocket and into the crevices between your couch cushions, you hide.
You hide when you keep your talents to yourself, lest we put you to good use.
You hide when you won’t support the work of the Church.
You hide when you 80 lay everything on 20.
So the woman gets to sweeping.
St. Ambrose interprets her as the Church. It is an appropriate image.
After all, the bride of Christ wants nothing more than to have all her resources put into the use of the Kingdom.
And while one coin remains hidden, she will not stop searching.
That can be unsettling.
The woman lights a lamp, the light of God’s Word, and it shines everywhere.
It lights up our darkness and invades all the places where we would seek to hide.
When that happens our world can seem as if it is being turned upside down.
Our lives, like furniture moved all around, can suddenly seem as if they are of order.
Maybe we liked things where they were.
On top of that, the Light shows how dirty we have let our lives become,
and how many cobwebs need to be swept away.
That kind of cleaning can be so uncomfortable, that you might just consider letting things stay a mess. But this isn’t your house. This is Jesus’ house.
You are not lost, you are found. And even when that means that Christ has a better way of using you than you do, it is only because you are so very valuable.
That’s what Jesus does.
“He comes home, He calls together His friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost!’ (St. Luke 15:6)
When the Church preaches God’s Word and moves sinners from darkness to Light, when we are found again and again, she “calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’” (St. Luke 15:9)
We were lost, but Jesus has found us –
in the font, in our Baptism, in the Church.
We would hide, but He has lit up our darkness, dragged us out,
And now seeks to use us well.
This is the great joy of our Savior, who,
when He brings us home, gathers His friends and neighbors and declares a feast.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
He is the Light shining in our darkness.
He is the Bread come down from Heaven, and He is here for you this very morning. You who were lost and are found, come rejoice.
“This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” (St. Luke 15:2)