The Pas 17th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 24
Proper 19 – Ordinary/Lectionary 24 – Pentecost + 17
11 September 2016
Psalm 51:1-11 BAS 770
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Merciful God, you seek us in the hidden places of our ignorance and in the forgotten corners of our despair. Gather us into your loving embrace, and pour upon us your wise and holy Spirit, so that we may become faithful servants in whom you rejoice with all the company of heaven. Amen.
Today’s readings are amongst some of my favourites. In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about finding the lost. He talks about the amount of care and consideration that goes into leaving the rest to go out and find the ones who are not there, the ones who are away from the love, the grace and the forgiveness of God.
Looking at the gospel, for today, we see surrounding Jesus we see tax collectors and sinners. We see those who are considered, by the powerful and mainstream society, to be on the fringes, out of the limelight.
Today, we can see the amount of emphasis we put into finding that which we’ve lost, as well as the joy that is in the finding of what was lost.
We can all identify with the joy that is in finding what we’ve lost, what we’ve misplaced. I lose my keys, on a regular basis. Each time I find them it was always with a sense of relief, and joy that they were found, yet again.
However, today, Jesus is telling us of the joy that happens all around when one who was lost returns to be amongst the mainstream who is not lost, who is firmly in the love and grace of God.
“3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Lk 15:3-10)
In both of the parables, that Jesus tells us today, the emphasis is on rejoicing over the one who repents, over the one who returns to the love and the grace of God, over one who is the source of the rejoicing. In both of the parables, the source of the finding, the source of the rejoicing is in the act of repentance; the act of confessing and being forgiven.
“I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10)
This is an important part of the lessons we receive from Jesus, and not just today. These parables are told, not just to the tax collectors and sinners sitting around Jesus, it’s also for the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are standing on the sidelines, criticizing the crowd around Jesus, in comments that are supposed to be under their breath.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law don’t see people whom God loves and whom God longs to love around Jesus. Rather they only see the sinners who are gathered on all sides around the Messiah. They only see those who don’t fall in line with the whys and wherefores and rituals of Jewish life, and the patterns of righteousness, as laid down by the laws of Moses, by the experiences of the whole community during the forty years in the desert.
And we can also look back to those days in the desert, when we look at the reading from Exodus for today. We can see how even the predecessors, these ancestors of the Pharisees and teachers of the law were in this very same boat as we see the tax collectors and sinners gathered around Jesus, today.
And when we look at that scenario, we are able to see God on the mountain angry at the people who have reverted to Egyptian styles of worship and revelry. We see how God’s anger was stirred up against the behaviour of God’s own people. We are able to see how it took all of Moses persuasion to deflect that anger and help God to see the opportunity to further instruct teach and mentor the Hebrew people into becoming the vision he had when he made the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be God’s chosen people.
In the lives and hearts of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, today, we see that there is no room for flexibility, for change, for confession, for forgiveness, and for the receipt of God’s love and grace in return. We can see the same in God’s heart as he looks on the behaviour of those at the foot of the sacred mountain. In both cases, there is opportunity to learn, to grow, to live fully in God’s love and grace.
In the parables that Jesus tells us today, we hear of the shepherd going in search of one sheep. When the sheep is found, we hear of the rejoicing that happens when that one sheep is found, not just in the heart and life of this one shepherd, but amongst his friends, neighbours, and family, as well.
The early church fathers have great insight into this passage, today. Tertullian speaks of “the patience of the shepherd that makes him seek and find the straying sheep. Impatience would readily take no account of a single sheep, but patience undertakes the wearisome search. He carries it on his shoulders as a patient bearer of a forsaken sinner.”
Prudentius looks at the condition of the sheep that has gone missing. He says: When one ailing sheep lags behind the others And loses itself in the sylvan mazes, Tearing its white fleece on the thorns and briars, Sharp in the brambles, Unwearied the Shepherd, that lost one seeking, Drives away the wolves and on his strong shoulders Brings it home again to the fold’s safekeeping, Healed and unsullied. He brings it back to the green fields and meadows, Where no thorn brush waves with its cruel prickles, Where no shaggy thistle arms trembling branches With its tough briars. But where palm trees grow in the open woodland, Where the lush grass bends its green leaves, and laurels Shade the Glassy streamlet of living water Ceaselessly flowing.”
Our gospel tells us: “When he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Lk 15:5b-6)
“Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
The same is true when we look at the example of the woman looking for the lost coin. When the coin is found she rejoices, not by herself, but also with all of those around her, with anyone she encounters in her joy at finding the lost coin.
“When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” (Lk 15:9)
In both of these examples, we find joy. In both of these examples, the sheep and the coin both of whom are found, the celebration is not just for the one who finds the sheep, or the coin, but for and with those with whom they share their joy, we find at the centre the found sheep, we find the found coin.
In both of these examples, we find the joy alongside the one that is found.
In both of these examples from Jesus, the application we find for our lives is that no matter who we are, no matter what has happened to us, we, each one of us, are welcomed back into the fold. We are welcomed back into the flock when we confess our sins and errors, when we turn away from the mistakes of the past, and wholeheartedly embrace God’s love and forgiveness for today, and in the future, as well.
Looking at the poetic words of Prudentius, the state of the sheep who is found is one who is glad to be found. In the shepherds care, we are looked after, watched over, and healed in all ways, for the duration of our lives.
In a way, this is an application of free will. The free will we have as a gift of God, the will to turn away, to wander into the patterns and habits that cause the shepherd to go looking for each one of us, at one point or another.
When we turn from our patterns of error, of sin, of separation from God, when we confess these patterns, this sin, and the reasons we are separated from God, it is then that God is able to rejoice. It is then that the angels rejoice, and it is then that the lost is found.
And this act of turning away from these patterns, these habits, these entrenched behaviours of error sin and separation from God are difficult to leave behind. In some cases, they’re a part of who we are, of who we associate with, and how we live our lives.
As part of our lives as Christians, we make it a regular habit to return to God, intentionally. We make it a practice to lay all of our sins and our errors at God’s feet, to ask for forgiveness for what we’ve done and for what we’ve left undone. We do this even today when we confess our sins and receive God’s grace, love, and forgiveness in return.
As a regular part of our habit of confession and forgiveness, we lay our sins and errors at God’s feet, and we ask for God’s forgiveness in return. The difficult part, for each one of us, is leaving those sins and errors, those mistakes and those problems with God. When we cannot leave our sins, errors, mistakes, and problems with God then we are unable to accept God’s love and forgiveness in return.
Yet, Jesus tells us: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10)
In today’s gospel, we find the need for God’s love and grace. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law need to find the love and grace of God’s forgiveness. Those gathered around Jesus are aware of how much they need God’s love and forgiveness in and for their lives as well.
And we are amongst those gathered around Jesus. We are the ones who are encouraged to lay aside the sins and errors of our lives, to embrace the love and grace of God in and for our lives. And we see in the gospel that this is what God desires for our lives as well.
And like the early church, we will rejoice at one who is found, we will rejoice at one who comes home, and rejoins the flock. Because “she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Lk 15:3-10)