Sermon Proper 19 Year C 2019

Deacon Otto Anderson

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Ps 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Luke 15:1-10, NRSV

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “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 he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and 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.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 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.”

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From Genesis to the Book of Revelation, God has relentlessly and compassionately pursued us, even when we were at our worst; which, as you read through the Bible, seems to be a large part of the time.

Each week this summer we heard about that relentless pursuit in Eucharist Prayer C, which describes things quite beautifully “From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us stewards of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace”.

God loves, and relentlessly chases after the lost.

In our Jeremiah reading, God’s love looks more like frustration. The words used, describe people as “foolish”, and “stupid” and the phrase “they are skilled at doing evil”, doesn’t sound like a God who will continue to chase after us, but, later in the lesson we hear the words  “yet I will not make a full end.”   God will teach a lesson, but God will give the lost children another chance.

In today’s Psalm we, also, hear about Gods frustration as people are described as fools, having no knowledge and who are evildoers. In spite of this, or because of this, the Psalmist pleads for deliverance and looks forward to God’s restoration of the fortunes of the people. The Psalmist trusts God will not leave the people lost.

Again, and again God calls and restores the lost. 

In our New Testament Lesson from Timothy, the author provides a stark contrast of life before and after receiving God’s grace. Blasphemy, violence and ignorance were characteristics of the lost Saul before his conversion. Christ came into this world to save sinners like Saul and like us. Christ came to save those lost, those disconnected from God and creation. In this passage we see the author celebrating being found. We see that the Lord is a patient, merciful, and loving presence that has the power to help the lost change their way. And, like Paul, when we have received God’s loving presence, we too can model God’s love for others. 

Luke’s Gospel lesson may be problematic for those who have worked hard all their lives to be righteous, but it is comforting to those of us who feel they have, from time to time, lost their way. All of us at some point have faltered or have felt lost, so this lesson is good news.

“All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” Tax collectors were hated, treated as traitors, because they were taking money from the people to put into their own pockets and the treasury of the Roman occupier. As to the sinners Jesus was associating with people that the Jeremiah and Psalm readings describe as ones skilled at doing evil, who were foolish, and who did not know God.

The sinners and tax collectors were attracted to Jesus. What attracted them to him? What might they learn from Jesus about God and the Kingdom of God? What might happen if they were to listen and take his words to heart. Jesus is attracting the lost and giving them the opportunity to be found. Jesus helps to free them from the bonds that their own actions and what society placed upon them, those actions made them outcasts.

But the Pharisees and the scribes are upset because Jesus is attracting the wrong types of people, the outcasts of society. Those who, in their opinion, were not worth the effort, who, frankly, should stay lost. So, Jesus tells these stories to the scribes and the Pharisees because his mission is to the lost.

Jesus tells them about a lost sheep and a lost coin and the shepherd and the woman who go to great lengths to find their lost things.

Women were second class members of society, at best and Shepherds lived outside the boundaries of proper Jewish society.  But in these stories, the shepherd and the woman play the part of God.  I wonder how those scribes and Pharisees thought about that?

Jesus tells us that when the lost sinners are found, God and the angels in heaven rejoice. In both stories the result is the same; both the shepherd and the woman invite all their neighbors, everyone without exception, to “Rejoice with me, for I have found what was lost.” There is more joy over one sinner who is found than any 9 or 99 who have no need for repentance. But, how many of the 9 or 99 are really without need for repentance?

Who are the truly lost in our Gospel lesson, the sinners, the tax collectors?  I think not, because they had taken the first and probably the hardest step on the path to be found. They have recognized that they are lost, that something on their life path is wrong. With that acknowledgement we who are lost, can let God in, we can begin to listen Jesus.

We are all sinners and outcasts. We find ourselves lost, time and time again.  The good news is that God, the womanthe shepherd is relentless in the search for us.  All we must do is to come near and listen to God.  

And, who cannot rejoice for the ones who listen and are found?

Amen