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2016.08 Trinity 16

SERMON (based on Luke 15:1-10)


In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about a lost sheep and a lost coin. In neither of these examples is Jesus talking about right or wrong. The sheep foolishly wanders off. There is no malicious intent here. The sheep just gets lost and far from home, with no sense of how to get back. The coin just slips into the cracks, is lost and forgotten by others. It seems that Jesus is talking here about “lost-ness”, for want of a better word


So here is an interesting question: Can you be righteous and still be lost?


Here is another strange thing. While we’re used to thinking that “we’re all sinners,” it’s not the way Luke sees it, at least in this passage this morning. When Luke describes someone as a “sinner”, here he’s talking about someone, whose pattern of sinning is not only habitual, but the whole community knows of it.


Similarly, by “righteous”, Luke doesn’t mean those who are perfect or self-righteous, but rather he describes those who actively try to do what is right. The stories that Jesus tells here are not, stories about the difference between the  sinner and the righteous, but rather, they are about things lost. A sheep, a coin and the joy we experience when we find these things again.


One of the problems with the stories that Jesus tells (the parables) is they keep us thinking, wondering and wrestling with the story  until we begin to wonder if we’ve understood it all.


Jesus begins each story with “Which of you,”, implying  some sort of normal behaviour here. But is it?  In the first case, a shepherd searches for one lost sheep. Natural enough, we think, as that’s the shepherd’s job. But to do it he puts 99 sheep at risk, leaving them in the wilderness, apparently without protection or shelter, to seek out one that was lost. When he finds the lost sheep, he calls his friends and neighbours to join in his celebration. Is this normal behaviour?  I don’t think so!


In the second case, a woman loses a tenth of her Money. She lights a lamp and sweeps all night searching for the coin. This makes some sense, but then, when she finds it, she calls all her neighbours. She invites them to celebrate, which, likely, meant that she provided food and drink. She probably spent more than she recovered from her search on this celebration. Is this what we would call normal or ordinary behaviour? No chance!


Which is, of course, is precisely the point that Jesus makes here. This kind of ridiculous over-the-top celebration is what characterizes God’s response, to sinners who repent.


But here is one more thing to note: Repentance may include a mending of one’s ways and moral reform, but the main feature is a turning around, a change in direction. It’s recognising that we are lost and a corresponding desire  to turn around and be found again. Which brings us back to the original question:


Can you be righteous and still be lost?


It seems to me that most of us are a lot more like the righteous in these stories than we are like the sinners. Most of us try very hard to be good Christians and to do the right things. Though we may be righteous in this sense, might we also be lost?


Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around sport, and dance and music recitals; might they be lost?


Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder their one and only priority in life; might they be lost?


Might the senior citizen who has a great pension plan, but little sense of meaning since retirement; might he/she be lost?


Might the teenager who works so hard to be perfect, and who will do just about anything to fit in; might he/she be lost?


There are many more examples and I am sure that you could come up with your own, but I hope you get the picture. There may be many who seem to have it all together and yet, deep down, feel lost.


There’s not anything wrong with being righteous. Working hard, doing your best, showing up for church on time, these are all good things. But they only scratch the surface of who we are and what we need/hope for. Describing ourselves primarily in terms of whether we’re sinner or righteous, is nothing more than a legal description that defines us simply by what we have done.


Understanding ourselves as lost, and ultimately, as being found is a much more relational way of understanding who we are. And God, is there to grant us an identity beyond what we have done, beyond what we are doing, and beyond, what we may someday do


While having it all together is great, there will be times, for all of us, when for some reason or another, we may feel quite lost. The church is (or ought to be) a place for all those who feel lost, sinner and righteous alike. We can admit our lost-ness, reveal our hopes and fears, to God, confident that when we turn toward God for any reason, God throws one huge party to celebrate.


This parable this morning isn’t ultimately about sinner or righteous. It may not even be about being lost and found. It’s about a God so crazy in love with God’s children, with us  that this God will do anything to find them (us).





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