Here is the sermon I gave for the Saturday evening service at Zion Lutheran in New Palestine. The worship theme the three year lectionary for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, which includes the parable of the lost sheep and lost Coin from Luke 15:1-10
Brothers and sisters in Christ, can you recall a time when you had to make a difficult decision where there are two places you would like to be at once, and you have to pick one? Maybe you were invited to a wedding out of town the same weekend that the school volleyball tournament is taking place. Choosing one option comes at the cost of being able to be a part of the other.
Sometimes the choice is so hard to make that you might even entertain the idea that you can do both. You know leave early, drive late into the night and participate in less than the whole of both options. Often this option comes with great cost in effort and planning, to the point where the weekend is rather stressful. Sin in our lives can make choices more complicated than they need to be.
Experience has shown me that the wisest course is to pray and seek to recognize God’s will in the choice that most closely fits with faithfully living out the vocations you have in life to your family and society.
God’s Word for us this evening provides a divine perspective on hard choices in life. Consider the gospel reading from Luke, where The Pharisees and scribes criticize the choice Jesus makes to eat with sinners and tax collectors. To their reasoning, why should Jesus eat with these sinners when there are plenty of righteous people to dine with? They don’t understand the choice Jesus made, and they assume it was a poor choice. Jesus answers with three parables that illustrate how what looks to be a hard choice is actually a clear the choice. The clear choice is for God to seek after and rescue those who are lost.
Jesus states that it is obvious that any of them would seek after one of their 100 lost sheep and bring it safely back in the fold. A shepherd will seek after the 1 lost sheep out of 100. Likewise Jesus describes the woman seeking after the lost coin, and states that it is a given that anyone in the same position as the woman will look for the lost coin.
The Pharisees likely did not have seen things that way. They might count their losses and conclude that having 99 sheep that are safe is good enough. Their perspective on the scenario is about self interest or business management. Jesus is providing a divine perspective that is grounded not in self interest but in God’s steadfast love. Finding the lost one out of 99 is a cause for celebration not because it represents a recovery of 1% of the owners assets, but because it means everything to that particular sheep which is lost.
To any one person who is lost and without a right relationship with Jesus, being found and rescued by Jesus brings a complete change of fortune. For this reason when a person who has been lost, is found by Jesus, it is cause for great rejoicing. The choice for God is clear cut, spare no expense to save the lost. There is no comparison or cost benefit analysis about how the person who is lost is worth less than all those who are safely in the fold.
Even as God makes no one or the other priority choice regarding the lost, the cost of saving those who are lost is nothing else other than the life of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus came to seek the lost, not those who consider themselves secure in their righteousness. Although the choice was clear for Jesus, a no hesitation, no holding back type of a choice, the cost was for Jesus to lay his life down on the cross. The cost for paying for our sins and bringing us back to God was for Jesus to take on all of our sins on the cross.
The reward for paying this cost continues to come day after day, as the church celebrates and rejoices over the bountiful harvest of those who were lost and now are found. God’s Word for us this evening leads us to see how important the lost are to God. The scripture also helps us to see that we ourselves are included in those who are lost or in danger of being lost.
The lost are not simply those outside of the church, but can also include us. Recall St. Paul’s confession of faith from our Epistle lesson: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Like St. Paul we need to recognize the gravity of our sin. Every Christian must like St. Paul be able to recognize the ways in which you can see yourself as chief of sinners in need of God’s mercy. Satan wants us to think of ourselves in the church as firmly entrenched in the ranks of the righteous 99, in no danger of falling away.
But the reality is that we are safe only in our faith in Christ. It is a mistake to assume that simply belonging to a church and having an identity as a Christian is what makes us among the 99 described in the parable. If we are secure in our own righteousness and have no need of Jesus, then we are no different than the lost. Without the mercy of Christ, we are in a manner of speaking right at the edge of a cliff, susceptible to falling off and becoming one who is lost and separated from the fold.
When we recognize that we also can be among those who are lost, we appreciate even more the mercy of God that saves us. When we appreciate how Jesus has given everything to go after us and find us in our state of lostness, we desire to show the same to others.
Our gospel reading implies a few application takeaways for us the church. First of all, don’t take for granted the joy Jesus has in us, as he rescues us from our state of lostness and celebrates that we have been found. It would be a mistake to think that God does not take joy in us because of our failures to live our lives in unwavering faith. When we repent of the mistakes we make Jesus welcomes us back with great joy. The joy is not confused with emotions, of, “well I’m glad you are found again, but you never should have ran off in the first place.”
As a second application, we should not take for granted the joy there is in telling the lost about Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes believed the tax collectors and sinners were lost causes. Perhaps the Pharisees and scribes convinced themselves that there was nothing in God’s Word that they could have said to change or convince sinners of their need for repentance. Jesus of course says, this is not so. It is not a thankless task to share the good news of the kingdom to the lost.
The joy of sharing the good news of the gospel with the lost is that some people do respond in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. And even if we do not see people repenting in response to God’s Word, as we share God’s Word we are giving ourselves the chance to internalize in our lives the good news of the kingdom applied to us. The good news we share to others is also good news to ourselves whenever we lose sight of the saving work of Jesus in our lives.
I wonder, who do we tend to write off as lost causes in our world today? Those who consider themselves atheists? Those who are deeply entrenched in pursuing materialistic goals in life? Or what about those who have values in life contrary to the teaching of God’s Word to the point where Jesus is experienced as a stumbling block to their way of life?
Here is one I’m sure you have all come across at one time or another. The person who says, I don’t go to church because I know that the people who are in church are all really just frauds who want to look good or feel better about themselves because they go to church. This is a perspective that takes no account for the possibility that being a Christian is about life with Jesus.
Do we consider any of these people lost causes? Jesus does not. Lost causes are His specialty. Lost causes are the ones who really give great reason for celebrating and rejoicing when they are found through repentance and new life in Christ.
In our own way we were once as lost causes. Prior to our baptism, we were enemies of God on account of our sin. Jesus sought us out and called us through His Word and through the gift of new life in Holy Baptism. We were sought after as hopelessly lost causes- and great was the rejoicing in heaven when we were found. Recall the words from our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel: “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”
God sent his own Son to us to search for us and rescue us. Just like in the parable of the lost sheep and coin, Jesus considered us so important that he rejoiced over finding us. This unsurpassed worth in which God places the lost is described well in the short parable of the merchant in search of the pearl of great worth in the gospel of Matthew chapter 13: 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
We often read this parable as a lesson about valuing our relationship with God above all else, as in we should be like that merchant and recognize that our relationship wih God is more valuable than any other pearls out there in the world. But the most specific and accurate meaning of this parable Jesus told is that Jesus himself is the merchant in search of us. The church is that pearl of great price that Jesus gave all he had to posses.
This is a wonderful perspective on how God sees us. An invaluable perspective in our proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to the lost. We can let those who seem like lost causes know that in God’s eyes they are of unsurpassed worth. They are to Jesus a pearl of great worth for whom Jesus gave up everything without a moment’s hesitation. May God grant us faith that helps us to speak about this love of Jesus and show this love in our lives.