A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Patrick H Wrisley, September 11, 2022
This morning, it’s helpful if we begin right where we left off last week. Immediately preceding our text this morning are two pivotal Stories. First, Jesus tells the Story of a man who tells his servants to go out into the community and invite his friends to a banquet. When all those on the guest list make excuses as to why they cannot come, the man then tells the servants to go out again and compel any and every single person on the street or in the allies to come to the feast. The upshot is the community’s most marginalized are invited to the feast and banquet. The parable of the banquet is quickly followed by last week’s teaching of Jesus telling his would-be followers what is required of us if they decide to join his group and become a disciple. We noted how Jesus used hyperbole to get the point across that in order to follow him, each of us will need to place every little aspect of our lives under his Lordship. This all sets up for our Story today. Listen to the Words of the Lord from Luke 15.1-10.
15.1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinner and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
What we have this morning is Jesus doing rounds with the ensconced religious status quo telling two parables of similar structure that speak to lost items that are found — A single sheep and a single coin. If we are not careful readers, we will fall for Luke’s sleight of hand and focus on the lost and found but totally miss the point of the parables which are actually about the character and ways of God.
The first parable about a lost sheep is in and of itself quite puzzling. A shepherd who has 100 sheep has one sheep go astray. We read how this shepherd left unattended and unprotected 99% of his capital, i.e., his sheep, in order to recoup a potential 1% loss. Think about that: This shepherd is willing to risk his or her entire flock of food, clothing, and sustenance in order to backtrack and locate one single sheep. Add to that is the genuine possibility that the entire flock of sheep is not even his but someone else’s who has hired the shepherd to do this grunt work for them. Shepherds were, after all, a cagey and suspect bunch of people in those days and often were not seen as the most reliable of people. So here is a guy who was probably picked up early that morning at the daily labor pool and then was left in charge of 100 sheep. He’s got one job: Watch the sheep. One job. Watch the sheep.
And what does our hapless shepherd do? He leaves the entire flock unattended while he goes in search of one wayward lamb. What would happen if the flock’s owner decided to pop in and check on matters. He sees the shepherd has left his post and then he becomes absolutely livid. We can hear him ranting on the hillside, “I gave that guy one job and that was watching over my sheep and this jerk left his post exposing my entire flock to danger!”
Then there is the story of the woman who has lost 10% of her savings and then tears the house up to find it. Like the shepherd, she is dauntless in her effort to find that coin. She stops everything she is doing and throws herself into the task of reclaiming that one coin.
So, what are we to make of this Story? What are we supposed to get out of it? Why did Jesus tell these stories to begin with? Let’s remember the scene: Jesus is surrounded by what would be considered first-century low-lives.
It was a bunch of tax collectors who were despised because the overall Jewish population felt that they had sold out and were working for the Romans exploiting their own people. Then there is that catch-all term ‘sinners’. The best way to understand who the sinners are is for you to think of a group of individuals that immediately pop into your mind that just rankle you at the thought of them. Maybe it’s the homeless guy working the intersection of Broward and Federal who is using the beat-up handwritten sign asking for money. Maybe it’s those people who voted for “Brandon” or it’s those who voted for Trump. Maybe it’s the illegal alien, undocumented worker, or migrant in our midst we feel is leeching off the system. Maybe it’s the dishonest developer who used inferior products in your condo building and whose neck you want to ring. Maybe it’s “that group” that is other-sexed than you and you just can’t understand why they are who they are. Who are the people you count as ‘sinners’ that would be part of Jesus’ audience that day?
The beautiful trick this parable plays on us is that whoever we think a sinner is in God’s sight and we place them in that category, we have to immediately stop and place ourselves in line next to them. Honestly, who are you and I to determine who is a bona fide ‘sinner’ or not? Friends, as soon as we choose to determine who sinners are according to our personal criteria, then we automatically become a sinner in our own right because our hubris declares us a sinner as well.
Yet, along with the sinners gathering around Jesus to experience Jesus are the grumpy, grumbling, stodgy, uptight, religious old guard who is complaining off to the side griping about how “we surely have never done this before!”
And it’s at this point the power of the parable’s point comes crashing on top of us! Jesus is telling the uptight leaders of the synagogue “who have never done it that way before” that they have a small view of God. I mean, really, what idiot would leave 99% of their capital investment unprotected to go find that one wayward sheep? God would! And furthermore, who has the audacity to compare Mighty God, Yahweh, to a fretful woman tearing her house inside out looking for a coin? Jesus would.
Beloved, the wonderful, winsome news of our Story today is that Jesus is describing a God who is not wrathful or vengeful. He is painting a picture of a God who does what no one expects in the search of those stray sheep like you and me. God will illogically leave the 99 to find the one. And the power of this parable is that as we hear the Story and assume we are one of the 99 that are left behind, the implication of Jesus’ words indicts us indicating that we too are the wayward ones, we are the dukk. We are the lost coin God is anxiously searching for.
God is the lover pursuing his beloved and when the beloved is found, he or she is brought back to the community of the other sheep, added back to the purse with the other coins. It’s not just that we are rescued and found but it’s about our reintroduction and reconciliation with the larger community of God that’s called the Church. The single sheep isn’t rescued for its own sake; the lone sheep is rescued for the sake of the whole flock. The party over the found coin is not about just the coin; it’s about adding the coin back to the purse which makes the whole purse more valuable.
One hundred ten years, Church. For 110 years God has been using this community called First Presbyterian to search for that one wayward lamb in our midst and bring him or her back into the community of Christ-followers. Fort Lauderdale would be diminished if over the last 110 years this church was not here making a difference in southeast Florida in her ministries of service and compassion. This morning as we come to the Table of the Lord, we are joining with all those members who have come before us and have established this faith community. Today we come, we come to celebrate their hope, faith, and efforts as we pledge along with them that we will do the same. Come, let’s eat from the Table of the Lord! In the Name of the One who Is, Was, and Ever shall be. Amen.
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33301, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org