Luke 15: 1-10
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
‘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?When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
There’s this amazing app on the internet - eScapegoat.com - where you can confess your sins to a rabbi during the month before Yom Kippur, and then watch the rabbi symbolically set those sins upon an adorable cartoon goat, and subsequently see that poor little goat get launched off a cliff on Yom Kippur. This is a representation of when the High Priest would place all of the Israelites’ sins on a goat and then set it loose in the wilderness. Hence, one of the origins of the term, “scapegoat.” Today, through the wonder of the interwebs, these particular confessions are limited to 120 characters. You can read some of these confessions online, and there’s even a twitter feed that lists them as they come in. Some are as silly and ridiculous as, “I missed work to watch all of Breaking Bad in a sleep deprived 4 day weekend,” and “When I tell customers I was changing out the keg, I mean I forgot your order but I still want a good tip,” as well as, “I wear headphones (not attached to anything) to avoid conversations.”
And some are desperately serious, some heartbreaking: “I feel like a horrible mother sometimes,” “I’m having an affair with my wife’s sister,” “When my wife gets mad at me, I just can’t sympathize with her, and I shut down - no matter how hurt she is,” and “I was never in love with my fiancée and I should have told her.” It’s cathartic, really, to both read others’ sins as well as express my own, and then see them get chucked over a cliff. It’s cleansing, and silly, and a little bit heartbreaking.
We have another domesticated animal in our story today, one who shares the same genus as our beloved scapegoat - and this sheep is also in the wilderness. Although all sheep could be fairly characterized as dumb, this one in Jesus’ parable is especially so, at least, from our perspective. Let’s call her Marianne. Marianne is lost in the wilderness - she’s wandered away, or maybe she just got left behind. But somehow, she has been separated from the rest of the group.
Maybe she got distracted and just wandered off.
Or was somehow lured.
Somehow, she got lost.
Maybe she’s wearing tattered clothes and has no where to sleep tonight.
Maybe she’s got schizophrenia or a personality disorder.
Maybe she’s addicted to drugs.
Maybe she’s just simply a habitual liar.
Or maybe she just trusted someone she shouldn’t have, or she never had a strong community behind her.
Maybe she made one dumb decision when she was sixteen and has never been able to recover.
Maybe she was the scapegoat cast out into the wilderness, carrying the sins of the rest of the 99.
And now she’s wandering around in the wilderness, begging for money or a hoagie on the corner of Forbes and Murray.
Tonight, she’ll sleep in a doorway, or on a bus stop bench, or under the Birmingham Bridge.
She’s lost in the wilderness. And the rest of the 99 are at home watching “America’s Got Talent”, or we’re walking to the coffee shop for a triple soy extra cinnamon pumpkin spice latte, refusing to give her eye contact, or we’re posting articles on facebook about how awful it is that no one is doing anything about poverty in our country.
And there she is, tangled up in a thicket, getting more ensnared each time she moves.
And maybe she put herself there.
Or maybe her circumstances did.
Or maybe she’s been caught up in these brambles by a combination of both.
And where is the good shepherd in all this?
Not in the government systems.
Not in big steeples or health care conglomerates.
Not in the air conditioned pastor’s study.
Jesus is out there searching the neighborhoods, the bridges and highway underpasses, getting cut up and torn by the thorns in the thickets. Jesus is out there - searching for Marianne.
And you know what, because Jesus is a good shepherd, The Good Shepherd, he’s gonna find her. He’s gonna find her and he’s going to rejoice. Marianne will be found and she’ll feel saved and like her life is back on track and she’ll even be able to pay her rent for a few months. Until she can’t.
Maybe it’s inevitable. Marianne is going to make poor choices, even after she gets a glimpse of Jesus. Even after she is picked up, put back on her feet, and is given another chance. Chances, are, she’s going to get lost again. She will probably take advantage of Jesus. She’ll use the charity given to her for drugs. Or she’ll waste it on booze. Maybe she’ll get back on her meds, but then she’ll forget for a few days, or she’ll lose track of her prescription, or she’ll decide to buy a gallon of ice cream, a smartphone case for the iPhone she doesn’t have, and twelve matchbox cars instead of the medicine she needs.
And Jesus might even be accused of being an “enabler.”
But no matter the case. No matter our perception, the fact remains: Jesus leaves the 99 and searches for Marianne.
Jesus will risk it all - 99% of everything he has - just for this one.
And he will find her, and he will rejoice.
This is where Christ is. Out in the wilderness, looking for and finding the scapegoat, the one whom we have laid upon all of our sins, and hurts, and blame, and ineffectiveness, and failures, and callousness.
But it’s clear. And not just in this passage. Jesus tells us again and again that when we find Marianne, we will find Him.
That’s where he will be. That’s where he is. Out there in the wilderness. With her.
So what do the other 99 sheep do while their shepherd is out looking for this lost one? Who knows? We hang around in our sheepfold. We play X-box and wax our cars and fertilize unnaturally green lawns.
The sheep trample over the same ground they’ve trampled on for months. Picture it. It’s a muddy mess of hoof prints and sheep shit. Here we are pacing around the pen, staring out between the fenceposts at the same stagnant landscape, waiting for our shepherd to come back.
Or. Maybe there’s another option.
Maybe these 99 could call out to the shepherd as he ventures out into the wilderness. Maybe we could shout to him, “Wait for me! I wanna come too!”
The sheep have two options. They could chase after the shepherd, or they could hang around the sheep pen, twiddling their sheep thumbs, and wait.
We could stay put, wandering around in the mud and waste, staring at the same things every day, absentmindedly grazing on the same patch of grass, staring out into the distance at the hills and the trees and the landscape that changes all around us - everywhere but in our safe little sheepfold.
Or. Or could we risk getting lost, could we risk getting hurt, risk encountering something we’re unsure of on the off chance that we could see our savior?
We could hang around and wait. Or we could join in the adventure.
One thing is for sure; Jesus will find the lost ones. And then there will be a party.
And this is for sure; we’re missing so much Christ if we don’t look for him in the places where the lost sheep hang out.
And maybe we’ll get a little bit lost too. No. Not even maybe. We will get lost. We are gonna lose our way.
And we’ll be unsure. And afraid. And we’ll make some mistakes and wander. Some of us will screw up big time. We’ll get tripped up and get caught in some nasty storms. Maybe we’ll be so scared that we’ll be paralyzed and caught in the thicket somewhere - maybe, if we’re really risking and doing this faith thing for real.
But here is the good news. And it is such good news. Jesus came for those of us who are in precisely that same position! And some more good news: whether you realize it or not, you’re already lost in the wilderness. Some of us are just better at faking it and functioning in the wilderness than others. But see what that means? That means that Jesus is looking for you, me, all of us, even as he has already found us.
Marianne has come by this church on several occasions this year. She’s come in asking for food, for money, for a place to stay. And each time she has come, she has been ignored or deferred by at least one person. We’re afraid that she’ll take advantage of us. We’re worried that we’ll be enablers of her poor choices. We feel so overwhelmed by her situation that we don’t know where to begin, or we just have no idea how to help her. So we pass her on to someone else to deal with. Someone else will pull out his wallet and give her the twenty bucks. Someone else will hook her up with a bus pass or a gift card to Giant Eagle. Or maybe no one will do anything, and like a mangy dog who is no longer getting any more scraps, she’ll finally stop coming around her asking for help. But when we do this, we’re missing Christ. We’re missing Christ even if she chooses to spend our five dollars on a bottle of malt liquor. We’re missing Christ even if she rejects our offers to help. We’re missing Christ if she takes our hoagies or our dollar bills and then comes back ten minutes later, asking us again.
This is “doing faith” - this is turning faith into a verb - faithing. You’re missing so much Christ if you don’t look for him where you find the lost sheep. You’re missing so much Christ if you don’t see the lostness in your own life. Jesus is where the lost ones are. Where the scapegoats are. Where we’ve loaded all of our sins and shame and guilt and sent them out into the wilderness.
Faithing means that we’re going out into the wilderness - not to save Marianne - that’s not our job, but to be with Christ. Faithing means that we’re going to take the risk, step out into the unknown, search for Christ, get lost, and then let Jesus come and untangle us from the thickets we’ve wound around ourselves.
And faithing means that we join in on the celebration when a lost one is found. Faithing means that we have a party when Marianne walks in to this church, or when we give her five bucks that she may or may not waste, or when we realize that we are just a stone’s throw away from being Marianne ourselves, and even, yes, even when we are the ones pulled from the brambles.
This is absolutely not practical. We’re going to lose money. And time. We’ll probably lose some pride. But still, Jesus tells us that we should celebrate that the one we thought was lost has now been found. The one we cast out into the wilderness has been reunited with us. The one whom we thought has brought us down and caused us pain and has been so very inconvenient, is back in the fold. We celebrate that we got to go on the adventure. We celebrate that we got to experience Christ - Christ - out there in the unsure, terrifying, unpredictable, storm-laden wilderness.
A woman searches and searches all day for her lost coin. Looking in every nook and cranny searching for what was probably a drachma - about a day’s wages. And instead of cutting her losses and spending her day earning another one, she spends her entire day trying to find the one she’s already “earned” but lost. And then when she finds it, she throws a party - a party that costs about a drachma - about the same as a day’s wages - if not more. She “wastes” a day searching for a coin she could have reearned in the same amount of time, and then when she finds it, she doesn’t put it somewhere safe, or deposit it in the bank to earn interest like she probably should have, she spends it celebrating the fact that she’s found it! And maybe she knows that she’s a bit absent minded. Maybe she knows that she’s going to lose another coin at some point down the road. Even still. Even still, she throws a party. And she invites everyone in to the celebration.
Just because you know another death is inevitable, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate the resurrection you’ve just experienced. Just because we know we’ll screw up again, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t party when we finally get it right, or when someone else gets it right for us, or when we’ve been pulled out from the wilderness still carrying our scars from when we tripped, still sunburned from the desert sun, still angry at all of the situations of life that ended us there in the first place. Life is a series of deaths and resurrections. And Jesus calls us to celebrate every resurrection, even as we know another death might be around the corner.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Pastor who planted a church in Denver called the House for all Sinners and Saints. Every year at Easter, after their vigil worship service, they celebrate Christ’s resurrection with a dance party in their sanctuary, complete with a chocolate fountain in their baptismal font. Does anything say “Christ is Risen” better than a chocolate fountain in their baptismal font? Does anything say, “we have been risen with Christ” better than a strobe light and a booming bass in front of the Communion table? Sounds like a mess. And I can’t think of anything better.
It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a big mess and probably a waste. And yet, that’s where Jesus is - at the impractical dance party - complete with a chocolate fountain in the baptismal font - doing the electric slide with the rest of us flailing, ridiculous lost sheep out in the wilderness. Jesus is out there, out in the wilderness, finding all of the Mariannes, finding all of us, if we’re so brave as to step out and chase him. He’s calling all of us back to himself, and inviting us to join him in the celebration.
Let’s do this scary faith thing. And let’s get lost. And then let’s get found. And let’s celebrate.
Thanks be to God.