Sermon Thoughts for Luke 15:1-10

Sunday, Sept 12, 2010

Luke tells us that Jesus was hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners” who drew near to him to hear him. Grumbling (loudly – since Jesus heard them) the Pharisees and scribes said, “LOOK! Jesus welcomes sinners, and even eats with them!” The subtext is complex, but the explicit meaning is clear – “He shouldn’t be doing this!” In their observation is their judgement of Jesus for afiliating with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ and thus Jesus is, for them, disqualified from being an authority on the things of God.
In response to them, Jesus tells two brief parables about loss and the joy that follows restoration. We may look forward to Luke 19:10 where Jesus will say, “I came to seek and save the lost” as he stands in the house of Zacchaeus the wee little man whose life has been turned around, and his “thinking changed” (the literal meaning of metanoia – ‘to repent’). Luke uses the same word ‘lost’ (apollumi – literally ‘to destroy’) more than 20 times, and 6 times in this one chapter alone. Interestingly, it is also the word used when Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. From the beginning of his ministry when he reads from Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19) he makes clear his mission is to:

… preach good news to the poor;
… heal the broken hearted
… proclaim liberty to the captives
… proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
… set at liberty those who are oppressed
… proclaim the Lord’s Jubilee Year.

In the two parables we see concern to seek, find, and restore that which is lost and at risk. There is no indication of disdain or neglect for the 99 sheep or the 9 coins safe at home. The point is a deep longing that ALL should be safe at home, not a few, select, privileged, superior or elect. 2 Peter 3.9 teaches us that “…the Lord is not willing that any should perish but hat all should come to repentance.”

The word translated as repentance, again, is METANOIA which literally meanst ‘to change one’s mind (e.g. about a thing)’. Thus repentance only secondarily about behavior or other externals. REPENTANCE is about a change of mind, of POV – point of view, of how one thinks about self, others, things, God, etc.
Therefore: SINNERS are those who need to change their mind.
Have you ever tried to change someone’s opinion of something? It is terribly difficult. Have you ever tried even to change your own way of thinking? “I will like vegetables!” See how difficult it is? “I will not think about sweets (insert here your addiction).” Again, how difficult, and its obvious that our negative behaviors come from preceding thought patterns. In Matthew 15:18 we are reminded that our external actions, which ‘come from the heart’ (or mind/will/personality) are what cause us problems – and again we see that the problem has its source internally.
Then we see how much ‘rejoicing in heaven’ there is when one person changes their way of thinking from self-focused to God-centered. More than over the 99 who do not need to change their way of thinking. [Whether there actually are any among us in the 99, or that is possibly an ironic statement on Jesus’ part toward those who were ‘sought to prove themselves righteous to others’ (Luke 16:15) is a discussion for another time.]
Finally, we return to the fact that Jesus tells these stories in response to the Pharisees’ grumbling criticisms. What did they have to criticize? What was Jesus doing that they found so offensive, offputting and contrary to God’s will and righteousness?

Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
 * Jesus welcomes and does not condemn
 * Jesus receives and does not accuse
 * Jesus forms community and does not reject
 * Jesus saves lives, and does not destroy them (Lk 9:5)
 * Jesus offers Mercy and Grace, not “Fire and Brimstone”

How does Jesus do this?
By rejecting the traditions that told him faithfulness to God meant avoiding sinners. In so doing, Jesus was perceived by the Pharisees as losing his life. They believed that by aligning himself with ‘tax collectors and sinners’, Jesus was opposing God. Everything they understood about their religious tradition told them this. The problem was that they totally misunderstood the scriptures on which the tradition was a commentary.

Jesus ‘loses his life’ by forming community with sinners.
In so doing, He offers them new life in this relationship with him.
We NEVER see Jesus call out someone for their sin, except the self-righteous who think they have no need of a savior. This is so frustrating, confusing and disturbing at times when we see someone obviously going down a wrong path and we feel compelled to do something.

What did Jesus do? He formed community with them. He remained righteous and just and true and pure and all those things by the power and strength of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in him and flowed from him into the world. But he did not call people out, except those who spent their time calling others out.
Jesus ‘gives away his life’ so that others might become recipients of a new life.
I believe in the redemptive power and witness of a community that loves people, ALL PEOPLE, just as they are. I believe that in the midst of this community, the Holy Spirit will do whatever it wants. My task is to love people, to welcome them and commune with them. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is expected to be this kind of community. When we are not, we fail God, and thus become those lost sheep… well, you know how that goes.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus continually finds himself at a liminal space between

  • a tradition which seeks to conserve and thus honor scripture as God’s word to humanity,
  • and a God who desperately wants to offer life to those who have lost it, and lost themselves in the process.

Jesus ‘gives away his life’ so that others might become recipients of a new life.
Where do you find yourself in the story? With whom do you most readily relate? With Jesus, the tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees?

Are you among the 99 sheep, or are you one of those who have wandered off and gotten lost? Are you one of the 9 coins safely guarded, or the one that is under the sofa cushion?
Do you see Jesus going?
Do you see people being restored?
Do you hear heaven rejoicing?
Do you welcome sinners?

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