02 August 2018

Today’s Homily

Prayer and Preaching, p. 260

Reading: Luke 15:1–7

Luke 15:1–7 (ESV): 15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." 

3 So he told them this parable: 4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7 Just 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. 

Responsory, p. 263


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He was crossing a line, and they didn't like it one little bit. They were pretty sure the God of Israel had made that line and left them on one side of it, and these others, these tax collectors and sinners on the other. So what was Jesus doing over there with them?

To be fair, the sinners really were those who just didn't bother with the law of God. They lived their life as they saw fit. And the tax collectors, of course, were the sell-outs. They'd made a lucrative peace with the hated oppressors. And there sits Jesus, welcoming such to table. Eating with them. Spending time with them. Maybe even laughing and hugging them. He wasn't just crossing the line; His very actions were erasing that line.

And so they complain about Him. He wants to help them understand, to see how it really is with this God of Israel that they have so misunderstood. So He tells three stories, three parables. Today we only hear the first one, but each of the three tells the exact same story from different vantage points. And the key to getting this one is to answer the question Jesus poses us. 

"What man of you? What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" Don't gloss over that. Think about it. Answer it. Which one of us would? Honestly, not a single one of us would be so foolish as to LEAVE 99 sheep in the open country unprotected in order to go hunting for one that missing. Why, we'd rightly suspect that when we came back, we might have that only one left if we happened to find it all! And if we saw someone behave like that, we'd say he was cracked. 

And just to prove he's totally cracked, check out Jesus' next bit: putting the animal on his shoulders, carrying it home, and then throwing a party and inviting all the neighbors in to celebrate with you that your lost has been found. Seriously? The neighbors would have to be cracked too.

It makes zero sense to us, as little sense as God in the flesh choosing to hang out with the people who didn't give two hoots about His law instead of those who were trying so hard to keep it.

And in this is the whole mystery and joy of our salvation. The thing that makes no sense is that the Shepherd placed an infinite worth upon his lost sheep. To Him it was worth everything. And if you're sitting there thinking: "Wow, He thought I was worth everything"...well, that's true, but the whole miracle is that this is how He thinks about each one. Especially including those you might be tempted to think aren't so important after all. To Him, each is of infinite value. Priceless.

Years ago I read an interesting novel couched in Iran. One of the protagonists was struggling to understand the so called "Western" mindset. He finally got it, and it is exactly the point of Jesus here: these silly people believe that each human life is of infinite worth. Each created in God's image. Each redeemed at the staggering cost of the Shepherd's own blood. That wasn't the way his culture saw things. There were those who mattered and those who didn't, and those who didn't could be disposed of without a qualm. To the extent our culture loses the insight into the wonderful worth God has attributed to each human life from conception to natural death, we've lost the thing that actually made all the great advances that took place in the West possible in the first place from hospitals and orphanages to old folks’ homes. It's sad in our days to see that failing on so many fronts. 

And yet, this infinite worth of the human life revealed on the Tree of Calvary doesn't mean that the Shepherd simply rejoices in the one sheep that was lost. No. His joy is in returning it to the others. Jesus as your private or individual Lord and Savior isn't in the cards. It's not about you. It's about how He rescues you from your singularity and isolation and brings you back and then celebrates that you have been restored to your place as a person in relation to other persons. Or, as the Father's picture it, it is really the story of how the Second Adam goes in search of the first Adam to find him and bring him back to the company of the angels and archangels. 

Salvation never stops with you being put on the Shepherd's shoulders and carried. It's fulfillment is when you're back where you belong: in the fold, and there's the great heavenly party to celebrate your reassuming the place God intended for you, and the same for each one carried home.

And when the Scribes and Pharisees grumped about whom Jesus was welcoming, they never even pondered their state. That they were on one side of the line and the God of Israel whom they imagined they were serving was sitting on the other, with folks gathered around Him to hear His Word. 

People loved by God, people made in the image of God, people sought by the Shepherd and carried home by Him, people who belong to the fold of God, don't look askance at any whom Your Jesus welcomes, but cross the line with Him and share the joy of the angels and all the company of heaven over the one sinner who repents. One is worth everything. Enter into the joy of Your Lord and join the celebration. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hymn: 569 In Adam We Have All Been One

Prayers, p. 265

Amy, Hannah, Paula, Roger, Ruth, Allan and Jan, David and Barbara Bush, Missionaries in Hong Kong

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