St. George’s-in-the-Pines, Banff

Almighty God, you call your Church to witness that in Christ we are reconciled to you. Help us so to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may turn to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

It’s a common story.

A child loses a favoured toy. Perhaps a stuffed animal. That stuffed animal was the child’s friend and constant companion. Does the parent give up searching? When all hope is lost, what does the parent do?

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus explains a bit more about the grace of God and how even when all hope seems lost, God will never stop searching for the lost.

Biblical Context

To understand what Jesus means by all this, it is useful to start with placing our passage within its context.

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus talking about discipleship, saying that rightly ordered love, love of God above all others, is the foundation of discipleship in Jesus.[1] In our passage today, it begins with Jesus teaching tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees object to this.[2]

As S. Cyril of Alexandria notes, the Pharisees just don’t seem to understand the generosity of God, and the fact that he provides for the salvation of all people. Even the outcasts of society like the tax collectors and sinners.[3]

We hear this message here and elsewhere. In the parable of the Lost Sheep, the lost Coin, the Prodigal son, which finishes off this chapter of the Gospel, and also the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.[4]

Parable of Redemption

Jesus gives us two parables in our reading today. The first, the parable of the Lost Sheep, tells the story of a shepherd who leaves 99 of his flock to go and search for the one missing sheep.

Initially it seems a simple enough parable, but when you read it you might be left with a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right. As Fr. Robert Capon puts it, “this parable can hardly be interpreted as a helpful hint for running a successful sheep-ranching business.”[5] The point is this: the role of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, isn’t just to think about the sheep currently under his protection, but rather to constantly search for the lost. It’s not enough to save some, or even most. All are to be found and restored.

The parable says something interesting about the nature of God’s love. “When the shepherd had found the sheep, he did not punish it, he did not get it to the flock by driving it, but by placing it upon his shoulder, and carrying it gently, he united it to his flock.”[6] And those shoulders are the arms of Christ on the cross.[7] He carried us on the arms of redemption, back into the loving embrace of the unified Body of Christ, of which we are members through our baptism.

Nor does Jesus leave the 99 to their own devices. They are protected by God, walking in his paths.[8] It is love and pity that moves him to restore all to him, not some kind of callousness for those who already follow him.

Us in Scripture

Now these parables were instruction to the Pharisees given their condemnation of Christ’s association with the tax collectors and sinners, but that doesn’t mean the passage doesn’t speak to us today!

One of the most important questions we can then ask when reading a parable of Jesus is where are we in the story? Obviously in the parables, Jesus finds himself in the place of the shepherd and the woman. Are we involved somewhere? Our lectionary helps answer this question with a reminder from the Old Testament.

God’s judgement is on the whole people of Israel who have turned from him. Just as they turned from him immediately after the Exodus where God saved Israel from captivity in Egypt, when they demanded golden idols be made to worship.

If they can turn from God in the midst of his great display of liberation, surely anyone at any time can become lost. The lost sheep and the lost coin are not, our lectionary reminds us, just the outcasts of society.

In the time of Jesus it was tax collectors and sinners. Today we might think first and foremost of people in prison or who have served their time in prison and been released, or the homeless. People who, for whatever reason, have not followed the rules and expectations of polite society, and who are thus pushed away.

We might be tempted to view ourselves as the 99. The sheep who stay with their master. But the reminder is that any of us can become lost. Even if we aren’t pushed to the margins of society, we can still lose our way with God.

What now?

All can become lost, but God, in his loving faithfulness will never stop from searching for us. He wants to restore all people to unity with him. How should we respond to this unmerited offer of salvation?

Once the shepherd has found his lost sheep he calls to his friends and neighbours, telling them to rejoice with him.[9] Similarly, Jesus speaks of rejoicing when the coin is found, and how there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.[10]

God rejoices in us, and we, who are called to be at unity with God, should rejoice with him! Not just for the return of the other lost, but also for ourselves. In our Epistle we hear S. Paul rejoicing for his own salvation.[11] Rejoice that no matter how lost we become, because Jesus will never forsake us. Rejoice that no matter what our sins, because we will be forgiven as he lovingly upholds us in his arms, on the cross.

Conclusion

Jesus came to save sinners.[12] He seeks the lost and rejoices in God with all of the heavenly host when they are found. He does so because he loves us and wants to restore us to his flock. Not just those of us in this room, but all of his beloved creations. Even those rejected by society, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Reminded of the love of God, the love that led him to offer up his son on the cross for our redemption, give thanks for his desire to be reunited with us. When we rightly order our praise for God, acknowledging that we ourselves have been lost, we have the possibility of becoming not just the saved, but the seekers.

That is why we are here, to rejoice in God, and recover the lost.

[1] S. Luke xiv. 25-33

[2] S. Luke xv. 1-2

[3] S. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Hom. 106

[4] S. Matthew xx. 1-16

[5] Fr. Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, 185

[6] S. Gregory of Nyssa, cited by S. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, 525

[7] S. Ambrose of Milan, Expositions on the Gospel of Luke, 7.209

[8] S. Cyril of Alexandria, cited by S. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, 525

[9] S. Luke xv. 6

[10] S. Luke xv. 9-10

[11] I S. Timothy i. 12-14

[12] I S. Timothy i. 15

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