Summary: This sermon was deliberately intended to shock and shake up the Church. God’s priorities need to be our priorities - the Lost!
‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’ (15:6). ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin’ (15:9). Rejoice with me; a young drug dealer is now clean. Rejoice with me; a former racist has completely changed his ways. Rejoice with me; a broken-hearted abused woman has found healing in body, mind and spirit. Rejoice with me; a local Vicar has had a drink down the pub with that ‘church-hating foul-mouthed, lazy, unemployed, tattooed foreigner’. You know; the one who should’ve gone to prison but escaped on a technicality. Yes, that one. The Vicar had 2 pints of bitter and he had 6. Rejoice with me.
Jesus was telling stories again. He was using ‘Parables’ to paint a picture, with a punchy, poignant, pertinent point. Once again the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law – the Religious Thought Police – were very cross. They muttered, “[He] welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15: 2).
Jesus gladly and openly spent time with anybody and everybody; so the Religious Inspection Team was offended. He was up close with Prostitutes, Collaborators, Foreigners, Terrorists, Tax-Collectors, Low-Life, and Persons with Highly-Infectious Diseases. The blinkered men of the religious establishment were shocked. Never, ever, ever would they even consider speaking to, let alone looking at or being in the near vicinity of that lot ‘beyond the pale’!
Who are the people that you would never, ever, ever consider talking to? Which person or groups of people would you not want to pass in the street? Who is so far gone that they don’t deserve our attention? Who are the ‘lost’ of our community? Who are the ‘lost’ in your family? Do you feel as if you are ‘lost’?
‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’ (15:6). The message was clear. The ‘lost’ are not to be shunned, ignored, criticised. They’re to be sought out!
I can imagine those Pharisees going red in the face and thinking: “Jesus is suggesting we are meant to go …and seek out them. No way will I ever do that!”
In what ways is that true of us?
People are lost. Not sheep and coins but real people that we know are lost. Unfortunately, the supposedly religious ones of Jesus’ day – the Pharisees and the Teachers of the law – were so focused on getting out their religious rule book all the time that they themselves were in danger of being lost; and that can be true of us in the Church when we turn our noses up at attempts, initiatives and examples of spending time with so-called sinners.
I’m sure like me you felt heartache for the family of the 16-year old fisherman who was lost overboard in the North Sea after colliding with a ferry last week. His 20-year old brother joined in the search for the lost.
And who could fail to be moved by the plight of Madeleine McCann and her family. The plight of the physically lost gives us a very direct insight into the plight of those who are separated or lost from God.
People can be lost or separated from God by rejecting him, or by ignoring him, or by failing to live life in the right way. People are lost and God’s heart is broken for the lost. If you are ‘lost’ God ‘aches’ for you, God searches for you, and God sent Jesus for you.
In the parable Jesus told the shepherd left the 99 sheep to seek out the one lost sheep. Each individual lost person, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done is precious to God, our shepherd, our Father. The priority of the shepherd was the one who was lost; and when he found it he threw a party. I remember when my son Matthew was about 4 he lost his favourite guitar plectrum. He had others but wanted that particular one. All my other plectrums were available to him but he wanted the lost one - his favourite! When I found it he beamed from ear to ear. He threw himself at me saying, "Daddy, Daddy, thank you. You’ve found my plectrum!"
God has no favourites, and he does even more than ‘beam’ from ear to ear when the lost are found. ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’ (15:6). ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin’ (15:9). Rejoice with me; the lost has been found.
20 years ago Tony Campolo wrote a book called ‘The Kingdom of God is a Party’. He tells of the time when he threw a party at 3.30 am in an American diner. Present were Campolo himself, the owner of ‘the greasy spoon’ and his wife, and dozens of women from the red-light district. Campolo had overheard someone saying that it was her birthday; that no-one ever celebrated it, and that she didn’t need anything from anyone. He bought a birthday cake, the whole café celebrated, and the broken-hearted woman was deeply touched. She wept and laughed with joy.