Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-32
We moved into the new house last November and we started unpacking. Isn’t it a lot of fun to try and find room for everything? Especially when you’re moving into a place a little smaller than you had before?
But as we were unpacking, and as we were trying to figure out just where everything goes, we realized some things were missing. In particular were a couple of small jewelry boxes which held some things special to us. We searched the house, we went back to the old house and searched there in case we left them behind. Couldn’t find them.
Then panic started to set in, when we began to worry that maybe they got mixed in with the bags of stuff we sent to charities.
What to do, what to do?
Back through the boxes again. They have to be here somewhere!
Days later we finally found them as I was looking through a box full stuff in my office completely unrelated to anywhere the jewelry should have been. There they were. After a huge sigh of relief, we realized that somehow, someone picked up these things and threw them into whatever box they could find room in, probably during the day of the actual move.
It’s not fun when we lose something that’s important to us.
Which is probably why we like to connect with the stories Jesus is telling us today. We’ve all felt the sting of losing something, and we’ve also known the joy of finding what we lost.
What’s interesting in our reading today is what sets up Jesus to tell these stories.
The first two verses of Luke 15 set the stage for us. They say, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)
Jesus is hanging out with those hooligans again. And they are really treated that way. Whether they deserve it or not (we don’t know for sure), they are seen as a danger to society. Yet, here’s Jesus, hanging out with them while the religious leaders sit around and point at them.
Now, Jesus decides this is a really good time to teach a lesson and launches into, not one, but three stories.
The first is the parable of the lost sheep. Then he goes on to the lost coin, and he ends with the Prodigal Son. Another story were are quite familiar with.
When we step back and look at these 3 stories together, you see an interesting pattern emerge. There are a total of 100 sheep. There are 10 coins. There are two sons.
The shepherd loses one of his 100 sheep. The woman loses one of her 10 coins. The father loses one of his two sons.
With the sheep, the shepherd notices one is missing as they are out in the wilderness one day. So what does he do? He leaves the 99 other sheep to find the one. This would probably actually be funny to those sitting around Jesus. Who would leave 99 sheep to find one? No one, that’s who. It’s foolish to leave 99 sheep all alone to find one which would have no significant value compared to the 99. And yes, they would have been left alone. It would have been one shepherd watching over all these sheep.
So, for whatever reason, the shepherd heads off searching for this sheep and he returns rejoicing with it when he finds it! Probably even more surprisingly he didn’t return to find the other 99 gone!
And what about the coin? The silver piece she has lost probably would have fed a family for a week, maybe even a few weeks. So she rightfully turned the house inside out looking for it. Then she finds it, probably stuck in a box randomly with a bunch of stuff it no reason to be with. What does she do? Does she put it away somewhere safe with her other 9 coins?
No, she spends it by throwing a party! More foolishness!
And in both cases, the sheep and the coin, Jesus mentions that there is great rejoicing in God’s kingdom when one sinner repents.
What’s interesting is that neither a sheep nor a coin can repent. Which means, it’s a foolish analogy, it’s unexpected and what is Jesus saying?
Well, when you take into consideration the company Jesus finds himself accused of being in, these sinners, it says a lot.
It says, God is actively seeking them. It means, that Jesus is out there like the shepherd, like the woman, walking around searching for people, not things like sheep or coins, but people who are lost. And what is he doing when he finds them? He’s bringing them home and there’s a party going on when it happens.
I mentioned patterns which emerged when we look at the three stories in sequence. 100, 10, 2. But also notice the value goes up. A worthless sheep. A coin which can feed a family for a few weeks. A parent’s own flesh and blood.
We know this story. It’s a common theme in movies and books. A wayward son wanders off on his own, sometimes demanding cash before he goes. He falls into the wrong crowd, loses his job, ends up living a meaningless existence. Maybe he’s an alcoholic. Maybe he’s a drug addict. He hits rock bottom and can’t stand to live like this any more, and he looks back at what he walked away from. A good home with a good family. So he picks up what’s left of his pride and heads back to see if his family will take pity on him for all he’s done to shame them, and maybe they’ll take him back.
There are many different spins taken on this parable in contemporary story telling. The story of the prodigal son has inspired many writers over the generations to tell of their own prodigal experiences.
But what of this experience Jesus tells?
On the heels of two stories of searching for lost items and the connection to repentance, how does the story of the prodigal son fit in?
Repentance isn’t mentioned in the parable directly. It might be hinted at. The son on his way home is practicing the speech he will give his father. Is he sincere or is he practicing the words he knows might get to his father’s heart? That’s the problem with written words, we can’t get a sense of the intent or emotion behind them.
Now, as you think about his life circumstances, being as low as he possibly could be. He’s a Jew working on a pig farm, and he longs to eat what the pigs are eating. If you forget, Jews don’t care of pigs. They’re unclean, forbidden. And this son is their servant. If you can get any lower, I’m not sure how you could for a Jewish man.
I think about the people I know who were at their lowest point with no where else to turn. Many of them who sought help were earnest in their cries for mercy and acceptance. Sure a few were well-rehearsed plays at simply doing what they needed to do to get in the door, only to return to their wayward ways. But those examples are in the minority, very small minority.
I’d like to think, as I read this story today, that the prodigal son was truly looking for help. The language he uses: admitting to shaming his family, and acting as a sinner. That’s strong language he’s using.
All the while, even though he doesn’t know it, the father has been searching for him, watching the horizon just hoping to see him coming home.
And it’s a beautiful reunion. The ragged son met on the road by his over-joyed father embracing him. This is completely uncharacteristic for the time. But the father doesn’t care, his boy has come home! And it’s time to celebrate!
But what of the older son? He’s now watching his father give away his inheritance to the one who disrespected his family by taking his share and walking away.
When you think about this parable, and everything that has happened, we should be furious.
The younger son brings shame on his family by disrespecting his father by demanding his inheritance, effectively wishing the father was dead. He goes off and squanders everything. Then he comes back and tries to make like nothing happened.
How is this fair?
He’s completely neglected cultural practices of the day. And so has the father! This is yet another foolish story.
But it’s also a beautiful one, and a beautiful climax for Jesus to end his teaching on.
The lost sheep. That’s just a silly story about a shepherd who foolishly leaves 99 sheep alone to search for one.
The lost coin. A woman rightfully tears her house apart looking for a week’s worth of food money, only to waste it on a party when she finds it.
But the heavens will rejoice when the lost are found.
What does it look like when a sinner repents and comes back to God?
It looks like the father who races down the road to embrace his wayward, disrespectful, shameful, selfish… but deeply loved son.
It seems the younger son has miscalculated what it means to be part of this family. He thought he could find a better life on his own. And he thought he couldn’t return, unless maybe his father would let him be a servant on the farm.
It seems he was expectating a family who has disowned him, rightfully so.
He was wrong.
But he’s not the only one who made that mistake. It seems the older son didn’t realize the true value of his family. He just stood on the sidelines judging his brother, well not only his brother but also his father for being so generous with what he saw as his own possessions.
He stood on the outside of the party welcoming a lost son home, he skipped the celebrations.
Maybe a little bit like the pharisees judging those Jesus was sitting with? Those sinners. Those unwelcome guests. Those dangerous people.
This is the example Jesus leaves us with as a glimpse into the kingdom of God.
We’re here in this church, we’re hoping we’re right with God, we’re hoping we’re all part of the family.
But what of those who are lost? What about those God is standing on the front steps of our church looking for?
When we look around our community and see the people who are struggling with whatever it is in their life, I wonder, do they even know they have Father who loves them and wants to throw a party for them, if they would just come home? Do they even know they have a place they can call home?
This is why what Jesus did in his life was so important. Jesus spent time with those people. He showed them they have a home, a place where they can be loved and welcomed. He showed them God cares deeply for them.
So deeply He doesn’t care about cultural practices, He doesn’t care about rules. God only cares that His children know him as a Father who will shower them with love when they come to him.
Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time for experiencing the deep love of our heavenly Father and a time to learn to share that love with others who are lost. We share because we have a gift, and also a part to play in helping bring people home.
Here in Cape Breton we love a good kitchen party. So let’s try to help people realize the wonderful party people will experience when they return to their Father’s home,
Maybe we’ll need to be a little foolish at times. Maybe we’ll need to act out of character once in a while. Maybe we’ll need to forgo cultural expectations…
If we act like and follow Jesus, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, God’s love will be known. It will be shared. And we all will celebrate the return of our lost brothers and sisters all together.
Let us pray,
You have shown us how to act in this world. You have shown us that sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone so that people will be found and celebrated by our Father in heaven.
Give us eyes to see those who are lost. Give us wisdom and courage to act as God would have us to act to help people see the love of our Father, as He so badly wants His lost children to come home.
And help us too, help us to not be like the older brother. Help us to celebrate those who are coming home to live with us and our Father God in this amazing family.
Help us to see all that God has to offer, not just to us, but all his children.
Amen and amen.