TO SEEK AND SAVE THE LOST Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 15:1-10 LSB Series C, Proper 19
September 15, 2019
1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just 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.
8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The pastor was called to the bed of a man, dying from a terrible disease. The man had received a Christian education in his youth, but had turned from it in his adult years. The pastor shared with him the words of a merciful God. The dying man confessed his sins and his faith and finally fell asleep in Jesus. A prominent member of the congregation came to the pastor shortly before the funeral.
“You’re not going to bury that good-for-nothing scoundrel, are you?” he asked.
“Certainly!” the pastor replied, to which the member retorted,
“Well, if this man is going to be in heaven, I don’t want to go there.”
At this the pastor responded, “Do not fear, Mr. Goodman, with an attitude such as yours, you won’t have to worry about ending up there. Remember, brother, there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Ro 3:22-23).
This was the gist of the confrontation between Jesus and the prominent church members of his day, the Pharisees and the scribes. Jesus was seen welcoming sinners and eating with them–a sign of acceptance of them. These good church members were upset, because Jesus, as one considered to be a man of God, should rather have punished and repudiated such sinners. These were the lowlife of the day–the kind of people with whom parents don’t want their children to associate. Yet Jesus welcomed them–he received them, he identified himself with them.
Jesus demanded a new attitude on the part of the church members of his day. His actions also call for a re-evaluation of our own attitudes toward the lost of our society. The two parables Jesus delivered to his hearers illuminate that new attitude. While there are certainly differences in each of these parables, there are three threads woven into each.
I. GOD IS CONCERNED FOR THE LOST
Let’s look at the lost in these parables. In the first, it is only one sheep that is lost. Perhaps the idea of losing only one sheep out of a whole flock of 100 doesn’t seem like an unbearable loss. That’s only 1%, but it would be of great significance to a family in Jesus’ day. The normal family would have between 5 and 15 animals in its flock. A number of families might join together to employ a shepherd who would tend to the combined flocks—often a member of the extended family. A lost sheep, therefore, would be a significant loss to the individual family to whom that sheep belonged, and the shepherd would suffer a great humiliation for his mis-handling of the family possessions. In the second parable, it is one coin that is lost. In a society where most families produced their own goods for their own consumption, money was a rare commodity and therefore very valuable. A village woman might fashion a number of coins into a necklace that she might wear around her neck. The loss of one coin would have ruined the beauty of the whole necklace. Of course, the value of that which is lost is heightened in this parable as the coin is one of only 10.
Now we come to the importance of these images in these parables: to God, the lost ones, whether one of a hundred or one of ten, are extremely valuable. Think of the father who watches helplessly as his son descends into the depths of drug addiction. Consider how a mother’s heart would ache as she sees her child turn to a life of crime. Such things destroy a family, leaving it incomplete and broken. This is what God experiences as he sees his own children, the very people he has created to be his own and live in his kingdom turn away from him and his will to follow the path to destruction designed by Satan. That’s what sinners do—they break away from the path that God planned for them in his love, they follow their own course in life, rejecting their place in God’s family. They leave a gaping hole in the family of God, an empty place at the dinner table, that causes his heart to ache with grief. That is what we do; we break God’s heart by our sinful independence and self-assertion. We have strayed from our God by our misplaced priorities, setting our work and our pleasure above time spent in his Word and together with his people in the Divine Service. We have strayed from our God when we fail to treasure the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. We have asserted our independence when we believed that we can manage our own lives without the support and care of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have strayed from our Lord when we listen to the advice from our friends rather than seek out the Word of our God. We have caused his heart to ache as we squabble with one another and ignore those whom he desires to save from sin and death. We, too, must count ourselves among the lost.
But God has a great concern for those who are lost. So great, that he reaches out to diligently seek those who are lost.
II. GOD DILIGENTLY SEARCHES FOR THE LOST
That’s the second thread in these parables. In the first we find the shepherd going out to find the sheep that strayed. The concern of the shepherd is so great, that he leaves the 99 other sheep in the wilderness to seek out the one that had been lost. The imagery isn’t perhaps as vivid for us as it would have been for Jesus’ first hearers. If you have ever been to the badlands of South Dakota or Wyoming, you get a feel for the kind of terrain in which this sheep had been lost. The wilderness was a dangerous place It required effort and not a little bit of luck to find one small sheep in such an area. The search of this shepherd was a grand undertaking. Diligence is emphasized search of the housewife who had lost one of her coins. She is pictured lighting a lamp and sweeping the house carefully in order to find her lost treasure. Perhaps you can picture this imagery a little more easily. She begins at one corner of the house and works herself around to every other corner in order, so as not to miss a spot. She digs through every container, looks in every jar, because she does not want to overlook anything in her search. She will not let anything leave the home until she is absolutely certain her missing coin is not among those things. She even sifts through the dust to find what she has lost.
Likewise God diligently searches every corner of the world in order to find his precious people who have been lost from his heavenly family. He sent his own Son on a search and rescue mission. Jesus welcomed sinners into his presence because they were the lost ones whom he had been sent to find. He entered the synagogues of Galilee and Judea, looking for those who had strayed from the fold of his Father’s flock. He entered the Gentile territories of Phoenicia and the Decapolis to seek for those who had strayed from the family of the faithful. In Christ we behold what one writer termed “the seeking God.” A Chinese convert expressed it this way. A man fell into a deep pit, miry and slippery.
As he lay injured at the bottom and unable to move Confucius looked in and said, “My friend, I am sorry for you. “If you ever get out of that place, take care that you never fall in again.”
A Buddhist priest came along and sympathized with the victim: “I grieve to see your plight. “If you can manage to climb up two thirds of the way, or even half, I might help you up the rest.”
Then Christ came by. He descended into the pit. He lifted the man to safety. One commentator pointed out, it is not man who seeks and finds God; it is God who seeks and finds man, lost in his blindness, ignorance, and sin. St. Paul wrote in today’s Epistle:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Ti 1:15–16).
This is God’s very nature—to search every ravine, every pit, every dangerous precipice of the wilderness of this world to find and rescue those who have been lost; to sweep every corner of his cosmic house until he has discovered and retrieved those who have been lost. In Jesus Christ we have been rescued and redeemed. He descended into the pit of our own sins to bear the weight upon his shoulders. He rose again on Easter in order to lift us out of that pit of despair to the new life of peace and comfort.
And having been found, there is a great outburst of joy.
III. GOD REJOICES IN THE RESTORATION
These parables picture a celebration of restoration. When the shepherd found his lost sheep, a celebration ensued. He called together his friends and neighbors to join in his joy. Together they rejoiced at the success of the shepherd who fulfilled his duty to bring the whole flock back safe and sound. When the woman discovered her missing coin, she also began to celebrate. She called together her friends and neighbors to join in her joy. Together they rejoiced at her success, at the restoration of that which was lost.
Then comes the conclusion which Jesus draws in each parable:
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (10).
Several years ago, my family and I were at a social gathering in Greybull, WY, where we lost our daughter. The plan was to leave the church and go to the pastor’s parsonage for a meal. Our daughter, along with another pastor’s daughter, both them about 3 years of age, decided they would start out early to walk to the pastor’s home. Of course, they didn’t tell anyone they were leaving. When Diane and I discovered they were missing, panic ensued. We checked at the pastor’s home. We searched every room of the church and the grounds around the church. We finally called the police, and learned that both children were safe at the police station. Believe me, there was great joy on everyone’s part when we were reunited with our children. When a sinner is found by God and restored to his place within God’s family, there is even greater joy in the kingdom. When a baptism is conducted, the heavens ring with joy as a celebration begins. When we come to this house of God confessing our sins and receive absolution, the band plays a song of joy in heaven. And why not! For a sinner has been rescued from death. He has been restored to the sainthood for which he was destined by the gracious plan of God.
The key theme for our Synod over this triennium is “Joy:fully Lutheran”. Joy is an important part of our lives as Lutherans. It centers in the truths we confess, truths revealed to us in the Word of God. We rejoice, not in the fact that our names are listed on the membership roster of an LCMS congregation, but in the truth that Christ has sought us in the darkness of our sin, rescued us from the judgment of death that hung over us, and restored us to his kingdom of grace, life, and light.
But it is not only the joy that we have because we have been rescued We rejoice that God is constantly on a seeking and saving mission. He longs to claim for his kingdom that sheep who has strayed from his fold, that precious coin that is missing from his collection. He invites us to join him today in praying for those who have strayed, in seeking those who are lost, and in rejoicing with him and the rest of his kingdom whenever one soul that was lost is found.