It was a warm welcome yesterday at the presbytery meeting. Maumee Valley Presbytery….I feel the love. Thank you.
It was a great day, and I was honored to preach at our worship service. For those of you that weren’t there, I preached over the passage from yesterday in Luke 14: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Today’s gospel reading deals with the parable of the lost sheep. The parable of the lost coin. That being said, we are still talking about crosses! On my recent trip, the Journeys of Paul, I had the privilege of visiting the Vatican. While there I bought a replica of the cross that Pope Francis wears. His pectoral cross, which each pope has the opportunity to choose one unique to them, from afar looks like a crucifix, but up close it is the parable of the lost sheep. I would expect nothing less from a Jesuit. He is so crafty and wonderful.
In the parable of the lost sheep and lost coin, each is a response to the claim of the Pharisees and the Scribes that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
This is the 1st Century equivalent of mud-slinging on the campaign trail. “This is how bad Jesus is! He welcomes sinners! He eats with them too! How bad can it get? How many rules is he willing to break?” the Pharisees and scribes are saying, attempting character assassination.
What is most interesting is that, instead of explaining it away, Jesus seems to defend and reinforce this idea! Jesus says, “Yes, one should welcome sinners! And one should eat with them.” He declares this in the context of two parables.
Does not one leave the ninety-nine sheep and go find the one that is lost? And don’t you look for the one coin you lost? Of course you do! And in doing so, Jesus changes the trajectory of the early Christian church. And today when we hear the phrase, “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them,” our immediate reaction is not, “Oh my God, what a scandal,” but rather, “Good for him…and we should too!”
What good news! God is concerned for the lost. Luke pays special attention to the lost physically and spiritually. There is much talk in his gospel of the poor, the lame, the widows, the children, the afflicted, and the lost. His gospel begins with the special place of Mary and Elizabeth, and we see shepherds at the manager.
God is interested in exalting the lowly. Those who have been swept under the carpet will now be raised up. And these two parables, which often become the focus of repentance, are actually parables about joy. “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.’” So too, the woman who finds the coin in the parable ends up rejoicing.
In a sense Jesus is saying, “The party that I am having right here right now is nothing compared to the party that is happening in heaven each time God finds another lost soul!”
What a wonderful image! This idea of God as judge is a bit different than what many of us grew up with, which went something like this: “Do bad things and God will get you.” Instead, it is just the opposite! God is not interested in the kind of judgment that curses us. When we stand before the judgment seat and confess we have strayed, God’s judgment, as it turns out, is not one of condemnation, but one of rejoicing! No life in prison. No death penalty. Not even probation. Instead, the slate is wiped clean and the party begins.
I will wear my new cross with pride!