By Paul Koch –
As many of you know, this past 4th of July my grandmother passed away. Once all the arraignments were made for the memorial service we all travelled out to Arizona to give thanks to God for the many blessings we had received through her life. We would tell stories and eat tacos just the way she would have wanted it. Now I had only been to her home in Arizona a few times, and those visits were never very long. No, the home I knew as grandma’s house was the home where my father grew up – their home in Hacienda Heights. I can still remember the smell of the place and how the wood floor creaked as you walked down the hall. I remember the old rocking chairs and the pictures hanging on the walls. It was a home that my grandpa had built himself, and it was full of the things they had collected throughout the years.
Now, my grandma’s house in Arizona was the exact opposite. It was your typical track home in an Arizona neighborhood. It was where everything is painted some shade of brown and they all have rocks in the yard instead of grass. It was yet another bland and boring cookie cutter dwelling place on a long street of similar places. But once we went inside, why, then things changed. They seemed to melt back into that old home in Hacienda Heights. Sure the floors didn’t creak and there was the wonderful blast of air conditioning, but one quick look around the room and so many of those familiar sights were there. The pictures on the wall, the old rocking chairs, the little table and chairs that my brothers and I used to sit around in the living room, it was all still there. In fact, as my parents soon learned, a lot of what my grandparents used to have was still there. In boxes in the garage, on shelves in closets, in old tool chests, all categorized and packed away: it was there.
I began to wonder why she kept all of these things, why she held on to this or that odd grouping of things? And the more I thought about this, the more I began to consider it isn’t strange that she kept things. However, maybe it is strange that we are so used to throwing things away. My grandma wasn’t a hoarder, but she was used to scarcity and used to owning things that were meant to last. Today we are comfortable with the idea that most of what we own we won’t be able to pass on to our children: it won’t last that long, it wasn’t supposed to last that long, you just get a new one and move on. And I begin to wonder if this “throwaway” culture has influenced the church. Do we strive to hold on to what we have, or do we carelessly toss it aside for the latest and greatest? And I don’t just mean our traditions and worship practices. What about the people that make up the church? Do they become victims of a throwaway culture?
In our text today, we listen to our Lord tell two short parables about something that is lost and then found. It is something that that is precious enough to search It out, and to long to have it returned. But in our day, I wonder if we can appreciate the celebration that goes on when it is found.
Now the setting for these parables are as important as the details of the parables themselves. Our Lord has been teaching in parables for a while now. He’s also been healing. He even heals on the Sabbath, challenging the Pharisees’ adherence to the law, in neglect of their neighbor. Through it all, Jesus is gaining a following. Great crowds are clamoring to be near him even when he tells them of the high cost of being his disciple. Through it all, groups of sinners and tax collectors were drawing near to him. These were those known to be unclean, and known to be outside the commands of the law. To this the Pharisees grumbled saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And it is in response to that sentiment that our Lord offers these parables.
The first thing that is lost and then found is a sheep. We are told that a certain shepherd has a hundred sheep. When he realizes that he has lost one, doesn’t he then leave the 99 and head off to search for the lost one? And when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders and brings it home with great joy. But that is not all. When he gets there he calls together all his friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Now I wonder if we would rejoice with him. Wouldn’t it be more than likely that we would ridicule a man for leaving behind the 99 to go after the 1. To go after the one sheep that there is no guarantee of getting seems to be a foolish investment. We would have more sense, more reason. Take care of the 99 and forget about the one.
The second thing that is lost and then found is a silver coin. We are told about a woman who realizes that she has lost one of her ten coins. So she lights the lamp and methodically searches throughout her home until she finds it. When she finds it she, like the shepherd with the lamb on his shoulders, calls to her friends and neighbors to come and celebrate with her. Now, where we might have ridiculed the shepherd for leaving the rest of the flock, here we might more readily see that her effort is worth what was lost. But still I wonder if we would have joined in her celebration.
We are told that both of these parables are about one sinner who repents. They are about the celebration in heaven over the one sinner who confesses their sin, repents of their sin and clings to the shepherd who finds them and returns them to the safety of the flock. This stands in direct contrast to a throwaway culture that is always moving on to the new thing, always concerned about what is the greatest benefit verses the greatest cost. Cost, in these parables don’t figure into it. That one sinner who repents is worth everything and is worthy to be celebrated
I think now it is common for you to begin to see yourselves as the 99 sheep or the 9 silver coins. After all, you are here, inside the church, and so these parables are encouraging you to celebrate when another repentant sinner is added to your midst. In other words, don’t be like the Pharisees and grumble that your Lord goes out of his way to spend time with sinners. But I’m afraid if that’s is all we get from this text, we are not receiving it fully. There is a much deeper reality that is exposed here then a desire to reach outside of our own comfortable little church to welcome in the sinner.
If we are to act first like that woman who lost her coin and lit the lamp and examined the house, what would we see? Psalm 119 teaches us that the Word of God is lamp to our feet and light to our path. So what does God’s holy Word reveal as it is lit in your presence? What does it show you about yourself? As the light of the Word allows you to look deep into the mirror, what is it that you see? You may not want to look. You may prefer to just keep shuffling around the house in the darkness. But not today. Today the lamp is lit. Today you see every sin, every failure to do what God has commanded you to do, every time you did what he calls his children not to do. There are those in your life that you have failed to help, those you have hurt, those you have walked away from in their time of need. There are the things you have said, the comments you have thought, the hatred in your heart, and the pride that wells up within you. When the lamp of the Word shines bright you begin to see that this is not an outside verses the inside sort of thing, this is a sinner called to repentance in need of a savior. Even though you sit on the inside, you are the lost; always in need of a savior.
And so, all heaven rejoices that the shepherd has gone out after the one. And that one is you. He has gone out to find you, to restore you, to forgive you. As the light of the Word shines upon you, as the law crushes you because of your sin, there is nowhere to hide, no room to pretend that you are worthy of life eternal. But there is a shepherd who will make it so. A Good Shepherd who has found you and returned you to the fold. It cost him more than the ridicule of others, more than the sneers and grumblings of those who believe they are righteous. It cost your shepherd his very life. He dies to find you.
But, he won’t just throw things away. He finds you in your sin and shame and covers you in his righteousness. And as he rises from the dead he removes the sin that would hide you from the eyes of his Father’s love. Then he declares to all the saints, “Come and rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep what was lost.” Let us then join in the celebration. Let us raise our voices and rejoice in a Lord who never ceases to find what was lost.