Sunday, 15 September 2013

Luke 15- Lost and found

In our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus speak about things that are lost and the joy of finding those things. A shepherd loses his sheep and a woman loses her coin. Both are overjoyed to find what they had lost.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about things that are lost.  As some of you are aware, last week my car was stolen from behind our house. I went outside on Saturday morning to come to the men’s breakfast and I noticed my car wasn’t where I had parked it. I wondered for a moment if I parked it in front of the house, but no. I came to accept the fact that my car had been stolen along with the children’s car seats and a bunch of tools that were in the trunk.
My mind raced as I tried to figure out how I was going to make all my appointments for the upcoming week, and how was I going to take my children to school. I realized life was going to get logistically challenging. I was also talking to my insurance company and discovered that my car wasn’t covered for theft. So I started getting my bike ready. I made sure the tires were full and that the chain was oiled. I tried to figure out the best way to carry my books and laptop as I rode through the river valley to get to the church and to my meetings for the upcoming week. …  I was starting to realize how much I relied on my car.
The majority of my brain power was spent on these kinds of questions until Monday night when the police called. A condo manager had called to have a mysterious car towed from their parking lot. They checked the license plate and found out that the car was stolen. I was able to pick my car up and, amazingly, it was okay. The only thing stolen was my GPS and a folder of CDs which were mostly Christian teachings and an Audio Bible, which was what was playing as the thief drove away. The car seats and the tools were all still in my trunk. … And there was much rejoicing at the Roth household. … I found my lost sheep. I found my lost coin.
But, when Jesus told these stories he wasn’t really talking about sheep and coins. He was talking about people. In the Gospel reading it says “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]” (Luke 15:1). And it was in relation to these people that Jesus told these parables about the shepherd searching for his lost sheep and the woman searching for her lost coin. Tax collectors were considered traitors. They worked for the Romans by collecting their taxes and made themselves rich by demanding more than what Rome asked for. It would be like living in France during World War 2 and your next door neighbor was getting rich working for the Nazis. Sinners could have been a variety of people, from prostitutes to people who were so poor that they were constantly working to put food on the table and so had little time to study the Bible and the Jewish laws. In the eyes of the religious elite these were nearly hopeless groups of people and it was probably their faithlessness that kept God from rescuing them from Roman oppression.
 Going back to my personal parable about my car, Jesus is speaking about the person who stole my car. He is speaking about the person who feels the need to steal in order to make his way through the world- Who is so desperate that he is willing to risk going to prison to steal a $2000 car- Who steals a car immune to the fact that there are children’s seats in the back of the car. When Jesus is speaking about the lost sheep and the lost coin he is speaking about this person- Someone who exists on the margins of society.
Jesus says that God is like a shepherd looking for his lost sheep, and like a woman looking for her lost coin. This man is God’s man, and he is lost. God is searching for him and there will be great rejoicing in heaven when he finds him. … So, what does it look like when God finds him? It begins with repentance. Repentance is when someone turns from their ways and they recognize the damage they have been causing others.  They feel real emotional pain when they think about the way they have been living, and then they desire to change. Repentance in Greek is metanoia, which means a change of heart and mind. It means to be transformed into a new way of thinking and behaving.  When this kind of transformation happens there is joy in heaven- Like when a shepherd finds his lost sheep- like when a woman finds her lost coin- like when a priest finds his lost car.     
The religious people (Pharisees and scribes) of the day didn’t have much time for lost people like this- tax collectors, thieves, and sinners. And they didn’t really think Jesus should keep company like this. The religious people were those who seemed to have their life together for the most part. They were doing their best to be good people and to be law abiding citizens. For some reason the rag tags were coming to listen to Jesus. This bothered the religious people. Earlier in Luke Jesus responded to their grumbling by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus is saying something similar here. He has come for the lost. … There is a subtle teaching here. Does Jesus have nothing to teach the religious people of his day? Is Jesus not here for them as well? What does Jesus have to teach us who are not thieves, or tax collectors, or prostitutes? Hasn’t Jesus come for us as well?  
So long as the Pharisees and scribes are seduced by their own pride into believing that they are righteous and spiritually healthy Jesus doesn’t have anything for them. It is not until they admit that they are sick that Jesus can offer them healing. It is not until they admit that they are lost that they can be found.
I am just as lost as the person who stole my car. I am just as lacking in holiness as he is. My soul is in need of just as much healing as his. I am in need of being found just as much as that man. When we look for levels of holiness we don’t look at each other and compare ourselves- we look to Jesus to find holiness. It doesn’t work to say “well I’m not a tax collector, or I’m not a thief, or I’m not a murderer, so I’m a righteous person”. The comparison we need to make is with Jesus. We are all living outside Eden. We have all fallen short of what God hoped for our lives. … That’s not a nice message to hear. … We are all lost. We are all sick. That’s what the Pharisees and scribes did not see about themselves. They worked hard to eliminate sin from their lives, but they became proud of their spiritual state and so they looked down on the tax collectors and sinners who came to Jesus. Pride is the root of all spiritual sickness, and it is pride that we are most blind to.           
At least tax collectors and sinners couldn’t pretend to have their lives all together the way the religious people could. This meant that these sinners were more able to receive the healing Jesus was offering. They were able to admit they were sick and so had their hands open to receive the medicine. The prideful will not admit to being sick at all, and so they are not attentive to receiving any cure. The prideful will not admit to being lost and so are not willing to be found.
This is why Jesus tells the religious leaders in Matthew (21:31) “truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you”. The only difference between them and the religious people were that the tax collectors and prostitutes who were coming to Jesus recognized their need for healing and transformation. The religious people were unwilling to admit their sickness.  We all suffer from hearts that are distant from God. We are distracted and addicted. We are lost. … But, there is hope in recognizing that we are all lost. Jesus tells us that it is not we who are searching for God. It is actually God who is searching for us. We are His and he wants to find us. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we are hiding ourselves from God in the bushes while he is calling our name. We hide because of our fear, and shame, and because we are addicted and obsessed. … But, God is seeking us.          
And when God finds us we find ourselves not in the presence of an annoyed shepherd or a grumpy woman who has been searching all day, instead, we find ourselves in the presence of joy. Joy at finding us. We are so valuable to God that He is filled with Joy when He finds us.  
So how do we respond to this joy? How do we respond to being found?...  Being found means that our lives change so that we start to reflect Jesus more and more. That is really what the church is- it is a hospital where our spiritual sickness is treated and as we are being healed we start to reflect Jesus out into the world. As we become healed we start to look like the people God intended us to be. This is a long process because we are continuously being found. Deeper and deeper parts of ourselves are being found. And deeper and deeper parts of ourselves are being healed.    
            We are continuously offering our lives back to God and God is continuously handing our lives back to us more healed and transformed than before. This is what it means to be good stewards. Stewardship isn’t just about giving up a bit of our money. Stewardship is about putting our lives under God’s care. Stewardship means living as if Christ is your king and the ruler of every area of your life. And we do this not cringing, but realizing that this is the best of all possible situations. To do otherwise would mean trusting some other power more than Christ and that is what it means to be lost.   To trust Christ with our lives is what it means to be found.
May we recognize our deep need for God (regardless of what kind of sinner we are). And may we know in the core of our being that we are worth finding, and that there is joy in heaven each time we are found.  

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