Sep16FriA sermon on Luke 15 September 16, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
There wasn’t much time left.
The sun was setting in the West,
and daylight was fading in the scrubby pastures of the wilderness.
He needed to bring them all back to safety,
He had precisely 100 sheep to take care of that day,
and as he was doing his final count, he noticed one was missing.
Could it really be? He counted again.
What should he do?
Soon predators would start lurking around,
maybe some eagle or wolf looking to snatch a lamb or another weaker animal.
What a dilemma.
Should he leave the 99 behind and look for the lost sheep?
That would be foolhardy…the remaining sheep would be defenceless!
But at least they’d have each other, with strength in numbers.
But the poor lost animal
would have no one else and would be all alone.
Perhaps, this sheep could yet be found before it got dark?
“OK, I’ll go, and try to quickly find the sheep,
I’ll give myself 15 minutes”, he decides.
Jesus tells this well-known story,
because he has some enemies in high places.
Jesus has a public perception problem, according to his critics.
The crowds that come to hear him are filled with undesirable folks,
like tax collectors,
who worked with the Roman Imperial oppressors to extort money,
and other sinners: prostitutes, outsiders,
People who are seen as not being proper.
Jesus’ love of outsiders is seen to undermine his authority, it doesn’t seem to fit well with other things he does and says.
The Pharisees and Scribes, the religious leaders, are grumbling:
“Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them,” they complain.
In the strict kosher laws,
clean has to stay with clean,
and if you hang around unclean people then you get unclean yourself, you’re contaminated,
Which kind of makes sense, I mean,
you eat with dirty hands then you’ll eat some dirt ,
but taken to an extreme, it’s a bit ridiculous.
Jesus goes on the offensive with this challenging parable
to help his hearers understand that
“God is a seeker who [doesn’t get tired] and experiences joy and encourages celebration when the lost are found”(Mohn).
Just like God seeks out the lost,
so Jesus’ mission is to the forgotten,
those most needful of God’s love and grace.
Which one of you would leave the 99 behind to seek out the single lost one?
This is actually a good question.
Most people would probably answer: no!
It’s not good use of time.
You cut your losses and move along with the 99%.
You don’t waste your time on the slim minority if the vast majority is secured.
But it really depends on your relationship with what is lost.
If one of your children is lost, you’ll expend everything you have to find them.
But if it’s a loonie, or some object you don’t care about,
you don’t give it a second thought.
We’re all keenly aware that we have limited energy,
and if we don’t care about the lost item,
then we won’t spare the time to look for it.
If you love assembling puzzles,
then you for sure will spend a lot of time searching
for that single missing piece of your 1500 piece puzzle.
If you couldn’t care less about puzzles,
you shrug your shoulders and move on to some other activity that is more pleasurable.
Jesus wants to remind us how much God cares about each and every one of us.
Nobody is worthless or unworthy to be searched out.
Everyone is precious enough for God to take the time to seek out,
find and bring back to safety.
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In 1999, in the days before smartphones, following an exhilarating performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, celebrated classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma went home, slept, and awoke the next day exhausted and rushed. He called for a cab to take him to a hotel on the other side of Manhattan and placed his cello, handcrafted in Vienna in 1733 and valued at $2.5 million in the trunk of the taxi. When he reached his destination, he paid the driver, but forgot to take his cello.
After the cab had disappeared, Ma realized what he had done. He began a desperate search for the missing instrument. Fortunately he had the receipt with the cabby's ID number. Before the day ended the taxi was located in a garage in Queens with the priceless cello still in the trunk. Ma's smile could not be contained as he spoke to reporters, and his performance in Brooklyn went on as planned later that evening. [Based on story in Chicago Tribune (10-17-99), preachingtoday.com]
Just like Yo-Yo Ma was desperate for his search for his prized cello, so God desperately loves each and every one of us, and he has a passion to seek out those who are lost.
Jesus’ priority towards the lost, the outcast and those considered unclean,
was a reason that Christianity was so attractive in the early centuries,
as it appealed to those marginalized by society, particularly women, slaves and lower classes.
If you think historically in India for example, those most attracted to Christianity were the “untouchables”, the lower castes who had nothing to gain and everything to lose in the Indian hierarchical class structure.
In today’s world, Christianity is growing among marginalized peoples particularly, the Global South, recent immigrants to the West,
and the good news find receptive ears among those with low privilege, in prisons, among those experiencing addictions, among racialized communities.
Those who have never heard that they are worth it or feel that they are heard or seen,
suddenly hear the good news that God cares for them and loves them so muchand so they listen gladly to God’s word.
By contrast, those who are rich and satisfied, have no need for the Gospel.
The good news of their healthy net worth is all they need.
Their generous health insurance policy, their reliable jobs or pension are enough security.
But when you’re at the bottom, or have no way out,
when you’re lost, sick, afraid, or suffering, then all the more you look for God’s hand to seek you out, or
To find you and pull you to safety.
Perhaps you’ve experienced it too when you’ve been in a difficult and trying time,
that you — then ask God to save you, and to help you.
When you’re in safety and feeling fine, you don’t need help.
But when you’re in the valley of the shadow of death, then you need a good shepherd to find you, protect you and guide you.
God loves the sinner, the average imperfect human, and calls them a guest at the heavenly feast,and empowers them to pass on the good news of God’s love to other lost souls.
We too are invited into this ministry to search out the lost.
We can participate in God’s work of seeking out and finding.
And as churches, this is a particular focus of our communities
As Jesus says: in heaven, there is more joy over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons with no need of repentance. (V7)
He doesn’t say the 99 are useless or have no part in the overall story of redemption.
But he does say that they are not the main object of attention and care at the moment, because there are many who are in more need.
For example, here at St. Matthews, what’s our most important ministry?
Perhaps it’s not Sunday morning worship.
It’s not this ministry of inreach to our core membership, of praise and worship in the traditional sense that is the main reason for our existence.
Rather, our most important ministries are for the lost and marginalized,
Our Out of the Cold, our support of CLWR, our Feather and Cross programme, our making space for the community to gather.
We can all participate in God’s mission to seek out, help and love those most in need.
We can all pass on God’s reckless, extravagant seeking love to those who have the least.
Uniting with God’s joy for the 99 and for the 1,
We can all sing praise to God who calls us tenderly, like a caring shepherd. Amen.
[Source consulted: Working Preacher Commentary by Kendra Mohn]