What’s Lost, What’s FoundPosted: June 12, 2016
What’s Lost, What’s Found
SLIDE 3: SHORT STORIES BY JESUS
In her book, Short Stories by Jesus, Amy Jill Levine provides an important and refreshing look at the Parables of Jesus. Part of her interest is to separate the additions the early church made to the Parables in the 50 or so years after the death of Jesus. One of her motivations is to strip out the anti-Semitic tone that became part of the early church after the synagogue and the church parted company after about 60 C.E. Of course for those of us who are interested in trying to reclaim the historical Jesus as much as possible, rather than the early church’s version of Jesus, Amy Jill’s work is very helpful.
SLIDE 4: LOST SHEEP, LOST COIN
This morning with Amy Jill’s help, I would like to help us take a new look at two Parables about lost things — the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The Parable of the Lost Sheep can be found in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke groups the stories of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son all in chapter 15, and provides the following preface for all three stories:
15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
SLIDE 5: LOVABLE MISFITS AND AFFABLE SINNERS
Luke’s preface turns all three stories into allegories about sin and repentance, or Jesus welcoming the outcastes. And of course in our congregation of lovable misfits, and affable sinners, we tend to identify with the Jesus who loves the outcastes and invites everyone to the Sharing Table. But Amy Jill challenges whether or not Luke got it right. First she notes the sheep may have wandered off, but it did not lose itself — the sheep was just a sheep not a sinner or a lovable misfit. If there is any fault in the story it lies with the shepherd. Levine also challenges Luke’s postscript to the story: “Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of repentance.” Are the ninety-nine really in no need of salvation? Aren’t we all invited to the Sharing Table, because we need the love and care of the community of faith that follows the way of Jesus? So Amy Jill suggests that while Luke may be reporting an original story of Jesus, he provides a context that may misinterpret the story.
SLIDE 6: AHA MOMENT
Also if we look at Matthew’s version of the Parable, the emphasis is different. Rather than sin and repentance the story focuses on God’s love for everyone regardless. “In the same way God is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” So we are prompted to ask, what was Jesus’ original intent in telling the story, what “aha moment” was Jesus seeking to prompt in his audience? In search of that meaning, let’s also consider the story of the Lost Coin.
SLIDE 7: MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING OF VALUE WE HAVE LOST?
A woman has ten silver coins. In Jesus’ cash poor Galilee, ten silver coins was a lot of money, possibly more cash than many of Jesus’ listeners living hand to mouth may have been able to accumulate. Once any of us realizes we have mislaid say $200, we would stop what we were doing and go look for it, not because the money was sinful and needed to be forgiven, but because it is of value to us. So Amy Jill suggests that the “aha moment” Jesus wants us to experience is realizing there is something of value we have lost.
And so the Parable comes back to us today with the question, “what spiritual values have we lost?” Because I cannot answer that question for you, this way of looking at the Parables of Lost Things is not as nice and neat as claiming we are talking about sin and repentance. But allow me, based on what I see on Facebook and in the news cycle to suggest some things that maybe some of us feel like maybe we have lost.
SLIDE 8: LOST A SENSE OF SECURITY?
First, security, an awful lot of people this year seem to be voting out of a sense of lost security. We feel anxious about money and the economy, we feel threatened by Isis and terrorism, some people may even feel threatened by immigration, or strange new diseases from other places like zika. We’ve lost our sense of security. And if only our security was a lamb that had wandered off, or a silver dollar hiding under the refrigerator, then we could call our friends together and celebrate. But once it is lost, how do we find our sense of security?
SLIDE 9: LOST CIVILITY?
Something else that seems to have gotten lost especially in this election cycle is a sense of civility. And this election cycle is certainly an example of a lack of civility in our political discourse. For all of his rudeness and crudeness, however, the Donald is only a reflection of what has been going on in our larger culture. Consider all the emotional garbage that gets posted on Facebook or goes out over twitter. Why do people think they can get in each other’s faces and trash talk one another? If we want more civil discourse in our political life, then we are going to have to show more civility and courtesy in our behavior in our communities and in our life together on the internet. We need to think twice before we press send, or press post! Do we really need to say the things we are saying?
SLIDE 10: BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE
If we think civility has been lost in our social life, then what are we willing to do to help restore courtesy and respect in our common life together? Be the change we want to see in others, and maybe you will rediscover some lost things of value, that have been lost.
SLIDE 11: WHERE DID HOPE GO?
As we think about the shepherd in search of the sheep and the woman lighting a lamp and sweeping her house in search of the lost coin, what else do we have a sense maybe we have lost? What about hope? This spring I have ministered with many people who seem on the edge of losing hope. Sometimes it seems we can’t win for losing. Maybe it is opposing physical symptoms, where if we treat one problem we make another symptom worse. Or we try to get a little bit ahead, and darned if the garage needs a new roof, or the car needs new tires. Suddenly none of our doctors will take our insurance, or the insurance doesn’t cover the medication we need, or we find ourselves in a downward spiral of depression, and we wake up wondering where did hope go?
SLIDE 12: TRUST IN GOD
If only finding hope was as easy as lighting a lamp and sweeping the house. And maybe it is more like going in search of a stray sheep. We can look, but there is no guarantee hope will turn up. But then if there was a guarantee of finding what we were looking for, it wouldn’t be hope. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews points toward the relationship between hope and faith: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”
SLIDE 13: FAITH AND GRATITUDE
Maybe in our search for hope, we have to find faith, and faith isn’t hiding under the refrigerator. Faith can be found in the cultivation of gratitude, and the acceptance and valuing of love. Both gratitude and love have to be unconditional. Remember a couple of weeks ago, we said wake up with a prayer of thanks on your lips, ten things for which you are thankful at the beginning of the day. We can’t wait to see how the day turns out before we offer thanks, that would be conditional gratitude. “Oh God, if you give me everything I want today, and if everything goes my way, then I will say thank you.” What kind of thanks is that? No, faith is starting the day with “thank you I am alive,” and closing the day with “thank you for seeing me through the day!” And until we can pray those prayers consistently hope will elude us, like the sheep who hears us coming and skips on ahead deeper into the thicket.
SLIDE 14: LOVING UNCONDITIONALLY
Finding hope and joy also means loving unconditionally. If we insist that God has to give us everything we want and make us happy, happy all the time, we won’t have much of a relationship. Rather, when we can learn that God is too kind to give us everything we think we want and when we grow up enough to know that life is not happy, happy all the time, then maybe we are mature enough for a daily walk with God.
SLIDE 15: ROBERT’S BONUS MOM
Allow me to share with you something that renewed my sense of hope last Sunday. Sometimes, when I see racism lift its ugly head in our nation, I am tempted to think, nothing changes. But then I remember, that our grandson Robert has a wonderful bonus mom Tracie. Last Sunday Tracie shared with us a beautiful story. She wrote:
SLIDE 16: GRANDMA ROSE LOVES HER LITTLE ROBERT
“I just wanted to share this beautiful feeling I have right now. As you know my Granma was in ICU. We were really close to losing her. The Doctors had her in an induced coma to get her vitals back up and allow her body to rest. Well, my grandmother loves her great grandchildren and Robert is no exception. After they revived her, we went to see her. Robert was really excited to go see Grandma Rose. When we got there, the first person she saw was Robert and the most amazing authentic smile spread across her face as she struggled to raise up and hug him. This morning they are moving Grandma Rose to a regular room and my father texted me to tell me she was glowing and talking about how much she loves her little Robert.”
SLIDE17: WHAT’S LOST? WHAT’S FOUND? FOR YOU!
When people love each other, the world changes. Robert has an African American Matriarch for a great-grandmother. Who would have guessed? Where love prevails the world changes and hope is found. What’s lost? What’s found? Have faith, hope and love and all can be found!