Fourteenth sunday After Pentecost: September 15, 2019
Year C, Proper 19: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
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Today’s gospel reading is often referred to as the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. We can see the similarities in these examples given by Jesus. One sheep from a hundred is lost; one coin from ten is lost.
As a graduate student in public administration, I found that I was good at economics. But here’s the thing. In economics, the general assumption is that people will engage in rational behavior. With respect to today’s gospel reading, rational behavior is to assume you have lost only one sheep, and you have lost only one coin – it’s far better to maintain what you have than try to regain the small amount lost.
What you can be sure of is that God’s economy does not treat economics in a rational manner. We don’t need to get into pragmatic arguments about the relative value of the ninety-nine sheep next to the one sheep. The point we need to get into our minds – better yet into our hearts – is the extravagance of God’s love and care and mercy for each one of us.
That extravagance is on display in today’s gospel. The shepherd goes into the wilderness to search for the lost sheep, and the woman searches and sweeps the house until they both find what was lost. There is rejoicing when the sheep and the coin are found. In fact, their statements are like a reflection in the mirror. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost”. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I had lost”.
We are surely tempted to think – there it is, it’s a lost and found narrative. And, we likely would jump to the next logical conclusion, which is that God has found us. And that is true. We can also easily see the correlation between these two examples and the next parable in Luke’s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Even if we leave it at being found by God and loved by God, which is, of course, at the heart of our lives as Christians, we might overlook some of what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel.
The phrase “So, he told them this parable”  is more meaningful than it might first seem.
The word, “so”. It’s a way to start a new sentence. Too often it’s used as a throwaway word, especially in writing. You often hear the phrases “you know” or “like” – so is sometimes used that way. In this gospel text, it is akin to the word “because”. So, Jesus told this parable because of the grumbling of the scribes and the Pharisees.
And in the “so” of the parable, we can dig even deeper and find something else that Jesus is talking about. It’s right there: “just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” At the end of today’s passage it says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.
The words repent and repentance have just sprung up, smack dab in the middle and end of our passage. We’ve also learned a thing or two about the crowds that Jesus has been dealing with: the grumbling Pharisees and scribes. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Apparently, the Pharisees and scribes could easily find sinfulness in the people Jesus chose to hang out with, though they were less likely to see it in themselves.
How true is that of our own lives, I wonder. How easy it is to see sin in others and not ourselves.
Think about how both the shepherd and the woman evoke the image of a loving and merciful God. A shepherd went seeking his one lost sheep. The shepherd is an age-old image of God, and especially of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The shepherd cares for each and every one of his sheep; each and every one is precious in his sight.
In the same way, the woman in the next parable searches everywhere for the lost coin. We’re told that she “sweeps and searches”; isn’t that sweeping and searching exactly what God does for us in the world?
The shepherd and the woman represent a God who actively seeks us out when we are lost. In these parables, the drama centers on something that was lost and then found. How many times in our lives have we lost our way with God? If we’re truly honest, I suspect the answer is daily.
God finds us when we are lost. And when our lives are transformed, there is great rejoicing over the “one sinner who repents”. We hear that in today’s letter from Paul to Timothy. Paul was a lost and found disciple if ever there was one. Seeing ourselves honestly, as Saint Paul did, “I was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence,” as today’s epistle says—seeing ourselves honestly is how we can change, how we can accept others, and how we can know and accept God’s mercy.
We must all look at our own stories, our own lives to see where we have been lost from God and we must allow God to find us. And God will always be there. Remember that in today’s gospel, neither the shepherd nor the woman ever gives up until they find that which was lost. So it is with God.
God will always provide us with great love and mercy, especially in the times we most need it. It is always there – freely given – even when we are lost and need to repent.
 Luke 15:6
 Luke 15:9
 Luke 15:3
 Luke 15:7
 Luke 15:10
 Luke 15:2
 Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson. Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary (Kindle Location 3073). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
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