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Lent 4C Sermon
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

March 6, 2016

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

What’s the most valuable thing that you have lost? I remember once when I was a teenager leaving my bicycle at the baseball diamonds behind Ridgeview Middle School because it began to rain. When I finally got back to get it, it was long gone. Up until a couple of years before my father’s death, he would still occasionally remind of the fact that I lost that bike – it stuck with him that I could be so uncaring about our property.

You’ve probably lost some things along the way. I lost a ring once on a golf course; a calculator was stolen from my high school study hall when I left it unattended for 2 minutes. I lost some cash that I was collecting for a gift just last year, but thankfully found it while rustling around in my underwear drawer a month or two later. Car keys. Cell phones, wallets, driver’s licenses, hats, gloves, socks – we’ve all lost these things and it frustrates us when we do. Sometimes we recover them and sometimes we don’t. We know and love the feeling when we do find what we have lost– a joyful rediscovery of something that we had missed.

Think about the posters and photos that were seen on New York City streets in the days and weeks after September 11, 2001 – “Lost: My wife Susan. She worked on the 93rd Floor of Tower #1;” “Has anyone seen my brother Miguel?” “Our Daddy is Missing!” These losses were far more emotional than a lost set of car keys or a bicycle. When we think of this and other tragedies, we are reminded of what is really important in our lives – the people who we too often take for granted. Our hearts bleed for the wives, husbands, parents and/or children of the tragically lost.

Things get put into perspective when someone loses something that is very, very precious. Rings, Bikes and wallets are pretty easy to replace in the grand scheme of things, but loved ones are not. Remember that as we think about this very famous parable that Jesus tells about a Father who thinks he has lost not one, but two sons!

The committee who suggests our Bible readings each Sunday had us skip over from verse 3 to verse 11 in Like 15. I think it probably has to do with the length of the chapter, trying to keep the Gospel lesson from taking too long to share. But those seven verses contain two other stories from Jesus about people who lose something very valuable. One story is about someone who has 100 sheep and loses one – this person leaves behind the 99 others and searches out the one that strayed away. The other story is about a woman who tears her house apart looking for one lost coin. In each of these parables, Jesus depicts people who do not act as any of us probably would – you certainly know how I would act after the story of leaving behind a bike out of carelessness and laziness. But these two go to extreme lengths to find what they lost, and then throw an elaborate celebration when they find their lost items. Who among us would do something like that, would we be in those situations? Well, I probably wouldn’t. But the point is, what we human beings probably wouldn’t do, God would, and does.

Yes I said God. These two short stories and the longer one which I read as our Gospel text have something to say about God’s love and about God’s nature. And what is it about God’s nature that Jesus wants us to know? Quite simply it is that God loves all people with a boundless, reckless kind of love that, quite frankly, no logical human being will understand. And for that, we should be eternally grateful.

Jesus is talking with some religious leaders of his day as he shares these three parables. We are told that some scribes and Pharisees are grumbling because Jesus has taken up company with some un-savory characters. He has been eating with prostitutes, tax collectors and other various kinds of sinners, and the religious leaders think that this is highly inappropriate. The two stories about the lost sheep and coin might be construed as missing the mark, by the religious leaders. After all, wasn’t it the woman’s fault that the coin was lost? And how could the sheep help but wander off – it is in sheep’s nature to do this. So Jesus closes with one of the greatest stories of loss and recovery that there is, inside or outside of the Bible.

One cannot deny that the young son in the story is a scoundrel. I have heard people try to explain away his actions and attitudes, that it wasn’t his fault that the famine hit at the wrong time, or that he somehow remembered what his family meant to him and repented, coming to his senses and returning to his father’s house. But I think that makes things a little too clean. This story is messier than that. This son asked his father for his inheritance while he was still alive, in essence telling him that he wished that he was dead! And he wasted all of it in dissolute living. We are not sure exactly how that happened, but somehow the older son received word about his brother’s escapades, as he complained that he had, “devoured your property with prostitutes…” And when we hear that this younger son finally “comes to himself” it isn’t a sorrowful confession. It is an attempt to simply get something to fill his belly. “How many of my father’s slaves have too much bread to eat?” He is willing to lower himself to the status of one of his father’s slaves in order to survive. He is a sneaky, conniving, sleazy character who probably wanted to get out from under his father’s thumb because he thought he could take care of himself much better on his own. There are few redeeming qualities in his character, and his older brother is right for feeling so strongly about his father’s outrageous behavior by welcoming him back with such fanfare.

But this story is not about the younger son’s sinful ways. It isn’t even about the older son’s faithfulness and jealousy. It is about the love of a father for someone who can only be called, “precious”. He was lost, and now he is found. He is more than a sheep to a shepherd or a coin to a poor woman. He is a son to a father. I didn’t mention those lost in the Sept. 11 attacks in order to take us to a dark, sad place. I mentioned them because I want you to imagine what life was like for the person who put the sign up that said, “Lost: my wife Susan. She worked on the 93rd floor of tower one.” Imagine his life in the two to three weeks following that tragedy. Do you think that he watched out the window of their home daily to catch a glimpse of her strolling down the sidewalk to their front door? Do you think he waited by the telephone for any word that she was still alive? Do you think that any time the telephone or the doorbell rang that he jumped to answer it with hope in his heart? And if somehow she would have survived and made her way home, don’t you think that he would have made a fool of himself, running to embrace her, throwing a party with all of their family and friends to celebrate that he has got her back? This is the father in the story, and this is God!

I have a feeling that in a throw-away world, we don’t get too caught up in losing things anymore. And that goes for people as well. But Jesus tells this parable so that we can know that no one is throw-away in God’s sight. Not you or me, not the most heinous, hardened criminal. That is wonderful news, but it isn’t always welcome when it comes to those who we judge to be unworthy of God’s love. But all are worthy because all are loved by God first. Today as we turn the corner and are two-third of the way through Lent, we hear about our God who loves us enough to allow us the freewill to go our own way, and who is always scouring the landscape and seeking us out when we return home. Thanks be to God for his extravagant love! Amen.