Summary: The lesson from these parables is that Jesus DOES give up on some people, and that only seeing it in this way is there any good news. If you think the message of these stories is that God never gives up on anyone, I suggest you have gotten it backwards.
Sermon: The Hound of Heaven, Part I
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Occasion: Trinity III (actually given on Trinity II)
Who: Mark Woolsey
When: Sunday, June 1, 2008
Where: Providence Reformed Episcopal Church
Luke 15:1-10, NKJV: Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable to them, saying: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she find it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[up] I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmŠd fears,
[down] From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbŠd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
So begins Francis Thompson in "The Hound of Heaven", perhaps one of the greatest and most moving poems ever penned in the English language. If we take today’s two parables as setting forth general principles, then this poem is the case study that illustrates it perfectly. In my not-so humble opinion it stands head and shoulders above almost all others that I have read. Its form reinforces its content. Francis wrote this autobiographically, at the end of a life spent running from God. It’s pretty straightforward, but there are portions that are somewhat hard to understand when you first hear it. I hope you don’t mind my gestures that I use when I quote it; they are designed to help you know who is speaking at the moment. When my hands are up like this ... then I am playing the part of Francis protecting himself as he is running from God. When my arms are down then I am speaking from God’s perspective.
Today’s parables in our Gospel lesson are familiar to most of us, and are in fact overshadowed by the even more familiar one that immediately follows, the Prodigal Son. Usually this trio is taken as a whole because it emphasizes a single theme, namely soteriology. Soteriology is a five dollar word made up from two Greek words, soter, which means savior, and logos, which means word, discourse, or study. Soteriology is thus the study of salvation, or the theology of salvation, and is common to all three of these parables - the sheep is saved, the coin is saved, and the son is saved. However, the parable of the Prodigal Son is the Gospel passage for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, so I will not lump it in with today’s. Instead, I will focus on the two parables in today’s lesson.
II. Jesus Gives Up
[up] I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followŠd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
[down] The gust of his approach would clash it to :
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.