11 September 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him and the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 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.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Over the past two months
The Goddard household has been undergoing some remodeling.
Our kitchen was completely torn out.
I can see from the look in your eyes, some of you know our pain!
We had installed a new floor, counter, sink, and cabinets.
What was most unsettling of all
Was the fact that everything from the old kitchen
Had to be moved into our dining room and living room,
Resulting in clutter of Biblical proportions!
We had piles and boxes stacked full of eating utensils, cooking utensils,
Canned food, boxed food, baking supplies, cutting boards, pots and pans,
Mixers, coffee grinders, coffee makers,
And every other appliance known under the sun.
Once the new cabinets were put in and we were able to begin to fill them,
Cynthia and I discussed among ourselves,
“Let’s slowly move things back into the kitchen;
Only moving things as we actually use them.
Then we’ll know after a few weeks what we don’t often use
And we can store them in the garage.”
Painful in implementation!
What has resulted
Has been an ongoing memory test of where anything is
That would put to shame any memory research study taking place at the UofR!
To make matters worse, the old kitchen cabinets don’t correlate
With the new kitchen cabinets.
Old habits don’t mix well with changed locations.
I searched for the can opener the other day when cooking dinner;
Nowhere was it to be found!
I knew I had seen it recently,
So it had to be somewhere in one of the three rooms.
I called Cynthia at work;
She had me hunting from box to box
And from cabinet to cabinet.
I had to wait until she returned home before it was successfully located.
(I know, it’s a guy thing!)
I so dislike searching for lost items,
Yet as each of us age,
We search more and more,
Only enhancing the frustration we experience.
While you and I may find searching for lost items the bane of our existence,
We learn in the Gospel of Luke
That searching for the lost
Is one of the core characteristics of God.
You heard me right;
That which frustrates you and me,
Searching is a key characteristic of God’s nature.
This fifteenth chapter of St. Luke is called the seeker chapter,
For here lays three parables about seeking or searching for the lost:
The parable of the lost sheep,
The parable of the lost coin,
And the parable of the lost son
(also known as the parable of the father and two sons,
Or the parable of the prodigal son).
Jesus is teaching tax collectors and sinners,
Who were drawing near to listen to him.
It is interesting that this behavior
Receives blistering criticism from the Pharisees and scribes,
Two groups of individuals who would not consider themselves sinners,
Resulting in their exclusion from those who Jesus is teaching.
They’re irritable and grumbling.
They were grumbling about Jesus
Teaching people who they would not lower themselves to associate with.
They were grumbling.
The content of Jesus’ curriculum is clear:
Essential truths about God
Are embedded in his parables.
Jesus is teaching about the character of God.
Today we hear the first two parables,
Both of which are well known to us,
The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
In both these parables we see God as the one who seeks the lost.
The shepherd searching for the lost sheep is the proxy for God,
As is the woman, searching her house, high and low.
God’s searching behavior is active, not passive in any shape or form.
God is willing to put forth the effort and to make significant sacrifices
Just to find the lost one percent.
In a way,
This is a scandal of grace.
God would put at risk the obedient, faithful ninety-nine
To go in search of the disobedient, unfaithful lone sinner who has become lost.
No wonder the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling.
For those of you who sit next to me
On our moral high horse,
No wonder we ninety-nine often grumble and feel like we’ve been ignored or neglected.
God is willing to make significant sacrifices to find one lost sinner.
God was willing to send his Son, Jesus, to find the one lost sinner.
God was willing to allow his Son, our Lord,
To die upon the cross, just to save the one lost sinner.
God was willing to go one step further,
To raise Jesus from the dead,
To bring victory over the grave and sin,
Such that the found
May live out eternity
Safely and securely in God’s protected flock.
What are the implications of a seeker God for our church today?
Those of us who are faithfully here every Sunday,
Who are working hard to fulfill God’s call for our lives,
To lead lives worth of Jesus’ disciples:
God knows we’re already found,
He’s searching elsewhere.
He’s looking for the lost.
And he’s looking for you and me to join him in the hunt.
Stop grumbling if you have felt Spiritually dried up recently;
As if you feel God has abandoned you
Or left you high and dry.
Rest assured that God is out in the mission field
Searching for others,
The lost, the last, the least, the left behind,
And has issued the invitation for us to join in the hunt, too.
It’s time to get on the stick and gather them in.
The way to quench your Spiritual thirst
Is to join God in the field searching for the lost.
The success of a parish has little to do with the preaching or worship on Sunday.
The success of a church has everything to do with
Joining God in his relentless search for the lost
The other six days of the week.
The second characteristic of God,
As revealed by Jesus today,
Is that God finds.
God is in the finding business.
And God’s success rate is one hundred percent.
This is not some politician’s boastful hyperbole.
God’s success rate is one hundred percent.
Think about that for a moment.
God finds every lost individual who he searches for.
God isn’t some bumbling private eye
Or some overworked police detective.
God always gets his man.
God always gets his woman.
God always finds the lost whom he is searching for.
If you are that lost one percenter,
If you are that lost coin,
You, as an individual, are one in six billion in today’s world population.
To the world you may be one,
But to God you are everything.
In God’s kingdom
You are not lost in a sea of many,
You are being found
Because God is looking for
To be true,
Sin is a behavior of recidivism.
In other words
We sin, God seeks us, finds us, and returns us to the fold.
Then we sin again, God seeks us, finds us, and we are returned to the fold.
Over and over again we sin and are redeemed back to the ninety-nine.
Every one of the ninety-nine had, at one time or another,
Found themselves the one who was lost.
Sometimes we sin intentionally
(which we shouldn’t)
And, often times, we sin unintentionally,
Without even knowing it.
All of which is to say,
When we find ourselves lost,
Know this to be true:
God is looking just for you.
God will always find you and return you home.
What does this mean for us today?
When you’re not in worship (or in Sunday School), you are missed.
I’m looking to see who’s here, and who is not.
Not only me, but more importantly, God is, too.
Gathering for public worship is important,
Not only for the praise and thanksgiving we lift up to God,
But because attendance is a sign of whether one is in the fold
Or one has strayed and needs to be found and returned.
The “Presence” nature of our membership vows
Is all about showing up,
And being willing to join with our Lord
In the retrieval of those who are lost.
It also means that God doesn’t retrieve the lost
To boost our numbers who attend church
Or to increase church income.
God finds the lost
Because God needs each and every one of us.
Every individual is needed,
For without one,
The whole is never complete.
Without the one,
Ministry is fatally flawed,
Input from the Spirit is restrained,
And the church becomes just another charitable, dying, institutional relic.
It is important to note that divine retrieval
Is what we call “redemption”;
And redemption is a powerful act of love and grace
That is the foundational characteristic or our God.
Our God redeems the lost,
Returns them home,
Restores them in every perfect way.
This is the Amazing Grace, of which we sing.
The last characteristic of God
That we can squeeze out of these two parables for today is this:
God is in the business of celebrating!
Drop the tailgate and light up the grill!
You heard me right, God is in the party business!
With sheer joy, God celebrates the redemption of every sinner who has been found,
Of every single person who was lost.
“Rejoice with me!” God invites us to join the party,
Because no one like to party alone (not even God).
“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
God’s joy is contagious, infectious;
Seeping into every nook and cranny of heaven and earth.
“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Even the air surrounding the angels of God is filled with joy!
Sheer joy makes no room for grumbling.
Church is a grumble free zone.
If it isn’t, make it one.
If you want to grumble,
Go join the school board
Or get into politics.
Grumbling is a sign of becoming a modern day Pharisee or scribe.
Remember the Pharisees and scribes grumbling?
Don’t be that guy or gal!
I’d even go so far as to suggest that Pharisaic grumbling
Is the single biggest barrier to drawing the lost into God’s fold.
Church fights, arguments, and spats have generational repercussions.
Denominational schisms drive more people away
Than draw new people into a relationship with Jesus.
If you want to be Contagious for Christ
Make it your faithful purpose to become a member of his rescue squad
And take part in the celebration after each and every success!
Sheer joy is a sign of faithful discipleship.
It means that we turn ourselves inside out
And celebrate the successful redemption of someone else,
Just as others celebrated the time when the Lord
Rescued us and returned us to the fold.
People of faith, a joyful church is a healthy church.
Joy comes when we join the Lord in seeking and finding the lost.
Don’t leave it up to the pastor.
This is everyone’s job.
This is our faithful duty Monday through Saturday.
On the first day of the week, the day of resurrection,
We gather with sheer joy to worship,
Our Lord’s success.
Whether you’re one of the ninety-nine safely in the fold,
Or the lone lost sheep,
Know this to be true:
God created you.
God loves you.
God will make every sacrifice to return you,
To return anyone,
Who has become lost,
To the safety and security of his fold.
Join the Lord in the hunt!
Take an active roll in God’s grace of redemption!
And let us celebrate with sheer joy
That God is our God
And we are forever God’s people.