Lost sheep, lost coin...
The following sermon was preached by Paul Bailie, LSTC M.Div. senior, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 20, 2007.
Lost sheep. Lost coin. Searching shepherds and sweeping women. Today's gospel texts call us to think about searching and looking, seeking, and being found. We spend much of our lives looking for something. We look for our lost keys or driver's licenses. We look for friends. We look for meaning. We look for answers. We look for love. We look for community. We look to be included. We look to be recognized for who we are.
But in this Gospel text, it's not really us doing the looking. It's God. We don't have to do anything. We don't have to look or seek. The woman sweeps her whole house to find the coin. The shepherd goes into the wilderness to find the sheep.
There are many reasons people may feel lost. Maybe you aren't included. Maybe you aren't welcome, or invited to the party or spoken to. Maybe your style of learning or way of thinking, or language is ignored. Maybe you are judged by the color of their skin, or how you act or talk. Maybe you're not rich enough, thin enough, straight enough or smart enough. Maybe you are invisible. Sometimes we are the sheep that's not part of the flock, or the coin that has fallen out of the purse.
The shepherd goes out into the wilderness to find the sheep that is lost, from green pasture to dry desert brush. The shepherd seeks the sheep. God enters humanity to join us. God comes—manger, road, table with tax collectors and sinners. The woman tears apart her house to find the coin. Jesus' flesh is torn on the cross.
The shepherd longs for, yearns for, the sheep back in the flock—for a complete flock. The woman desires, wishes, seeks, a complete purse. Yes, it is a parable of a lost sheep and a parable of a lost coin, but also a parable of an incomplete whole.
Jesus tells these stories when the Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus makes part of his life those who aren't always acknowledged. Earlier in Luke, Jesus was talking about a great banquet where all are welcome. Jesus heals and teaches. Jesus' teaching is an inclusive vision. Every body is important. God's vision of completeness is not complete when we exclude each other. God's vision of completeness does not include trees that only some people get to sit under. God's vision of completeness needs everybody. The flock missing one sheep is not the same flock. The purse without that one coin is different from the purse with the coin returned. The incomplete whole is not complete until all parts are there. X – 1 does not equal x. A circle with a piece missing is just a wavy line.
"The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly." The church is not the assembly of the our best friends in which we teach what makes us feel good and administer the sacraments in ways that make us comfortable. In the love of Jesus, all our longing meets the longing of a God who loves all of us, who welcomes us, who crawls into the bushes looking for sheep and cleans apartments looking for coins. God's love is even for people who hide in bushes and clean apartments. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. God comes to us.
When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. When the woman finds the coin, she calls her friends together, "Rejoice with me."
What about our rejoicing? We rejoice, we celebrate, we fellowship. We come together in worship, over food, over card games and conversation, music and dancing. It is a good thing. But sometimes we become the over-aggressive sheep that push the others away, or the unaware sheep that don't even know there are other sheep around. We don't always follow Jesus' example of eating with sinners and tax collectors. But Jesus loves us anyway. The shepherd goes out and finds the stinky, stubborn sheep that we are and carries us on loving arms.
We may seek answers, we may try to go looking for what we think we need, but Jesus beats us to it. The shepherd finds the sheep, the woman discovers the coin. Jesus finds the treasure that is the people of God, just as we are. Amen.