Lost and Found, or Amazing Grace

Stone Cross

September 12, 2010

Bible Text: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 51:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10 |

Proper 19, Year C-2010

Sunday School begins today. Bible Study and Fall programs begin this week and month. Today we are going to do some serious Bible reflection.

Let us look at the whole of chapter 15 of Luke: stories of lost things being found. The first 2 stories – our gospel reading – are the stories of lost sheep and the lost coin. The rest of the chapter is known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”. It already came up in our lectionary this year, on the 4th Sunday in Lent. I want us to consider it again along with these other two stories. They all fit together and will help open us to God?s grace and love.
To begin: let's consider the Pharisees and Scribes to be good people, seeking God, trying to live righteous and upstanding lives. (Jesus is often critical or frustrated with the Pharisees because he knows they are seeking God and he wants to get them on the right track.)

The chapter begins with the Pharisees and Scribes 'grumbling' –  'murmuring' - about Jesus' spending time with, and welcoming, sinners and folks of suspect morals and lifestyle. The word translated as murmuring or grumbling is the same word used in Exodus of the Israelites who have been out of Egypt for six rough weeks. They complained about Moses, leadership, and how uncertain and hard life was. At least as slaves in Egypt they knew what to expect. The terms of their faith seemed clearer back then. (They had been faithful as slaves in Egypt, and in following God and Moses out of slavery, but now they felt lost.)

So Jesus, in response to their murmuring, tells a parable consisting of 4 mini-stories. The four build on each other.

In the first story, there are 100 sheep, and one gets lost. The shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep, finds it – which is good news especially for the lost sheep – takes it home and throws a party.

In the second story, there are ten coins. One of them gets lost. The woman of the house searches, and finds it, and calls her friends and family to share her joy.

In the third story, there are two sons. I will review the story: a father has two sons, and the younger son asks for his inheritance, goes away, and loses it. We don't know what exactly happened. The older brother accused him of losing it in immorality. We know there was a famine – economic disaster, worse than today. Maybe the younger brother made bad decisions. Maybe he struggled with alcoholism or depression.

In any case, he became lost himself. He loses his family, his identity, a decent life. At some point, he thinks: maybe I can go back and become one of my father's hired servants. Maybe I can find a little mercy after all that has happened.
So he goes back. Now his father wasn't searching like the shepherd or the woman, but he was waiting and watching. When he sees the son far off, he runs to meet him, embraces him, and welcomes him home as the son that was lost but is now found. And the father throws a great party to celebrate the return of his son.

Notice the pattern: 100 sheep – one lost and found. Good. 10 coins – one lost and found – great. 2 sons – one lost and found. Even better – throw a big party. These are stories of good news. Even the Scribes and Pharisees would be smiling because they could imagine losing a sheep or a coin or one of your own children and then getting them back.

Then Jesus throws in a fourth story. The older brother was working in the fields. He hears about the younger brother being welcomed back and is angry and offended. He refuses to join in the party. The Father goes right to him and pleads with him to share in the celebration, but he grumbles, murmurs, and complains.

He is not a bad person, any more than the Israelites in the wilderness were bad people when they grumbled and murmured about how hard life was and that the journey and leadership were not what they had expected.

And the Pharisees and Scribes were not bad people when they expressed moral expectations about good behavior being rewarded and bad behavior being punished, and when they were upset that Jesus welcomed “lost” people to dinner.

But the older brother was also lost – lost to his brother, to his father, and to his community who were throwing a party. He had the father's favor and all his inheritance, but he didn't enjoy it. He felt he had to keep working to earn or deserve it. He was lost to himself.

In the first three stories, the pattern is: Lost, Found, Celebration. But Jesus doesn't provide an ending to the fourth mini-story. He leaves it open and invites his hearers to provide the ending.

I would like to propose an ending. Jesus? series of stories tightens in focus: 1 out of 100, 1 out of 10, 1 out of 2, now its down to 1. What about the one remaining lost brother?
Jesus stops talking. The silence becomes almost unbearable. Then one of Jesus' hearers – who had been murmuring – a Pharisee, a Bible scholar, a pastor, or an active church member – gets it. "I'm that brother. It's about me. And my lostness exceeds all the other lostnesses. I'm the one – I fall short; I do foolish things. (I am among those that Jeremiah and our Epistle speak of.) And I am also found! The Father has found me and welcomes me!”
And one by one, more of the murmuring, self-righteous, good people realize that they are lost and have been found, and they are invited, just as they are, to celebrate.

God's grace with friends and neighbors and angels. No more murmuring, because it?s a new day, a new kingdom.
These stories, this chapter, is for those who have lost a sense of being lost. Aren't we the ones who are out looking for the lost, or organizing things in order that no one and nothing will get lost?
“Amazing Grace” is a song about our lives, and who God is for you and me. And this Communion Table is where the lost celebrate being found and welcomed home.

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