Luke 15;1-10 (Lent 4C)                                                

St. John, Galveston 3/27/22

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells two parables that “pave the way,” if you will, for the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is one of the most well-known and beloved of all the parables. The two parables that precede the one about the Prodigal Son are the Parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. A man had a hundred sheep and he lost one. Would he not leave the ninety-nine behind and go and search for the one? Likewise, a woman had ten silver coins and she lost one.  Would she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search feverishly for the coin that she lost? In both cases, the recovery of that which was lost is cause for great joy and celebration.“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

There were two groups of people in the audience when Jesus told these two parables. Luke says one group was drawing near to Jesus. They were the tax collectors and the sinners. Perhaps there is a liturgical image that may come to mind as you hear about these tax collectors and sinners drawing near to Jesus. “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father.”

There was another group there along with the tax collectors and sinners. Unlike the first group, the Scribes and Pharisees were grumbling among themselves and they were turning away from Jesus, because He had the audacity to dine with tax collectors and sinners. In the minds of these folks, they were the righteous, those who had no need of repentance! And so, as the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus, the Pharisees and the Scribes pulled away from Him.

The contrast between these two groups of people is central to the two parables.  Those who were drawing near to Jesus were doing so in repentance, a response to God’s Word that brings joy to heaven. Conversely, those who were pulling away from Jesus, were doing so because they saw themselves as righteous, with no need of repentance. 

As we get into the parables themselves, there is an interesting phenomenon that occurs. The urgency of the situation that presents itself is significantly altered depending whether you look at the parable from the owner’s perspective, or, from the point of view of a third party. As a third party, you might say, the loss in each parable really doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In both cases, the loss represents only 1%, one out of hundred sheep and one coin out of ten. Particularly in the case of the sheep, you might conclude that it would be much better, even a more prudent business decision, to forget about the one sheep that wandered off, rather than risk the other ninety-nine while looking for the one. 

The point is, it would seem that if God wanted to emphasize the relative value of the items that were lost, He would have changed up the numbers in each parable a bit. Suppose, for instance, the shepherd had two sheep and he lost one. Or, the woman had two coins, or, perhaps only one and she lost the one? If that were the case, our attention would be directed to the relative value of the loss. At that point, we would say, of course the person would search feverishly for what had been lost, it was, after-all, a substantial portion of their holding! 

But, of course, that’s not what the parables tell us, because our attention is not to be directed to items lost, but to the owner. The two parables then intend to shift our attention away from the viewpoint of the uninvolved bystander, to an obsession, if you will, of the owner of the sheep and the owner of the coins. 

Jesus is, of course, the owner, the One who seeks to save that which is lost. As such, it is His obsession that is the significant point of the each parable. His obsession though is not neurotic, nor is it unhealthy, or, even negative in any way. Rather, His obsession is one of pure and perfect love, not simply for the entire fold, or, for the whole collection of coins, but for each and every lamb and for each and every coin. 

As we contemplate God’s love for His creation, there are two ways to think of it.  You can think of God’s love for His creation it in a broad, or, a global sense.  There are several passages in the scriptures that describe His love in that way.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,” writes the Apostle John. He continues, saying, “for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” St. Paul too, in 2 Corinthians, says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” 

The fact that God sent Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world is, in itself, a source of great comfort. No one is excluded from the forgiving grace of God in Christ Jesus. No one is excluded because of the vastness and the global nature of His love. In that regard, there is a quotation attributed to Luther that may be apocryphal, but it is, nonetheless, appropriate. In reflecting on John’ words from chapter 3 of his Gospel, where he says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” Luther said that he was eternally grateful that the passage was not more personal, that it didn’t say, for instance, “For God so loved Martin, that He gave His only begotten Son.” He reasoned that a more personal statement would leave him always wondering if he, that is Martin Luther, was, in fact, the Martin for whom Christ died.

And so, the universal nature of God’s love in Christ Jesus gives us great comfort. However, the thought of Jesus dying for the sins of the whole world can also be difficult to process. Years ago, I worked in an office building in San Antonio that looked out over Interstate 10. I recall, from time to time, watching the cars go by, hundreds, thousands of them, and I remember wondering how God could love all those people. The sheer number of people made God’s universal grace in Christ seem almost impossible. And, if it was possible, it all seemed so impersonal. 

These parables before us this morning show us another aspect of God’s love, His obsessive love for each and every person, every lost sheep and every lost coin. When one of His own goes astray, He doesn’t tire in looking for him, His lost sheep, until He places him upon’ His shoulders and returns Him to His fold. So, it is absolutely true that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but it’s also true that He died for YOU, a person, a man, or a woman, a child! 

How are we to comprehend such a love of God for each and every one of us? “God without flesh is useless (says Luther). Upon the flesh of Christ, upon that Infant clinging to the bosom of the Virgin, you are to set your eyes and simply, with steadfast heart, say, "I have neither in heaven nor earth a God, nor do I know one outside this flesh which is gently enfolded in the bosom of the Virgin Mary." By every other way God is incomprehensible; only in the flesh of Christ is He comprehensible.”

The love of God for YOU is clearly proclaimed every time you come forward and receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.  These, that is, His body and blood, are given and shed FOR YOU!  “It is one thing for God to be there (says Luther) (that is, in the Lord’s Supper) and quite another thing for Him to be there for you. He is there for you when He sets His word there and binds Himself to that place saying, "Here you are to find me."

When you, the one for whom God gave His Son, when you repent, when God’s Spirit moves you to own up to your sin, to confess it before God, it is a time for the Church to rejoice and to be glad, to celebrate! Why, even the angels in heaven celebrate and sing for joy! As I said earlier, these parables are preparatory to the Parable of the Prodigal son, perhaps one of the greatest repentance parables in all of Scripture. Indeed, “bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’” 

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

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +