Old Testament Lesson Ezekiel 34:11-24
Second Lesson 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel Lesson Luke 15:1-10
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Luke 15:1-10]
In the fifteenth chapter of The Gospel According to Luke, we hear Jesus tell three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son (or as we often call it, the parable of the prodigal son). The titles we ascribe to these parables reflect what we see as the central focus of them. And from our point of view, the parables are all about ‘the lost’.
From our point of view, the focus is on the action of the lost; the one who strayed, or fell away, or in the case of the prodigal son, the one who rejected his family and set out to pursue his own personal pleasures. That’s the easy answer, the obvious answer, the self-focused answer. And, of course, that’s the answer we connect with so naturally. Why wouldn’t we?
We are like sheep. Left to ourselves, we do go astray; we do wander off. We are like the prodigal son. We do make bad decisions. We do sin, even as we struggle trying not to sin. We are lost! And when we see the focus of Jesus’ parables pointing at us. That’s what we see, you and me at our worst; you and me gone astray …. not just once, but again and again. We are lost!
And, we did this to ourselves; we truly did. There’s no one else to blame. We’re each responsible for our own sin; the angry thoughts, the hateful words, the self-centered actions. With a point of view that’s focused on ourselves and our sinful habits, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to seek us out, to search for us like the shepherd, or like the prodigal’s father to patiently, steadfastly look for our return.
And from our point of view, that’s the teaching of these parables. It’s focused on us and our failures, on us and our lost nature, on us being saved. But there’s another point of view for these parables, another vantage point that puts the focus on something else.
What if the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son were only necessary players in these stories; necessary to lay out the backdrop for the main character’s entrance as he takes his place in center stage? What if these stories weren’t focused on you and me at all, but on the shepherd, the woman, and the father?
This is God’s point of view. Listen to Jesus’ words again, “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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And 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.’ And again, “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? And 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.’
From God’s point of view, he has lost you and he has promised to seek you and find you, to care for you, to supply you abundantly with everything you could possibly need. You who were lost! You who were as good as dead! This is the good news we heard in the Old Testament reading today: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
You have sinned, and in your sin you’ve turned away from God. There’s no one else to blame; but you are his people and he never gives up on you. We are covered with the stains, the bruises, the chips and scuffs of our sin. In our sin, we do stray, we do wander, we dither around until we’re used up, worn out, ready to be tossed on the garbage heap; but God gives us His grace despite our sin.
Despite the fact that our sin makes us enemies of God, He sent his Son to us. He knew the outcome, and yet despite the fact that our sin would cost God’s Son his life, He sent him to us. Despite the fact that He knew that our sin would cause us to reject the very one that came to rescue us, He sent His Son to us.
He sent His Son, because this was the only way to rescue us from all the places we had scattered; the only way to bring us back from the way of death and restore us to the way of life. This was the only way. Only for the sake of Jesus Christ could all our sins be forgiven. Only through the working of his Holy Spirit could we repent so that, covered in the righteousness of Christ, we could stand before our heavenly Father, pure and holy in his sight. Only for the sake of Christ could we who were lost, we who were dead in our sins, be made alive again, in Christ, and become heirs of God’s kingdom, heirs of eternal life.
For this reason, Jesus had his Holy Spirit draw repentant sinners and tax collectors, the lost, near to him that they might hear his words and be brought into the kingdom, into the sheep fold. And, this is the focus, the point of view that God has, as he seeks us; the lost. God doesn’t focus on our sins, the very thing that made us ‘the lost,’ because when he seeks us, his every intention is to restore us; not to punish us for our sins but to rescue us, to recover us, and to rejoice in that recovery. And so Jesus says, 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.
God is gracious and merciful. He is the good shepherd who searches for his lost sheep without ceasing. He continues until they’re all returned to the fold. He never abandons them. He never leaves them to purposely or carelessly wander away, but cares for them each day; His holy Word and Sacraments showering them with his love and blessings; the very things they need to sustain them, everything needed to keep them restored to his kingdom, from this day forward forevermore.
This is God’s point of view: choosing not to see our sinfulness, but to see us covered in the righteousness and purity of his Son. Our Good Shepherd has sought us and found us. He’s rescued us with his own life. On the cross he bore our sins as surely as the shepherd in the parable today bore his wayward, but rescued, sheep on his shoulders.
And just as surely as the shepherd in the parable rejoiced with all his neighbors as he brought his lost sheep home, so there is rejoicing in heaven over you; because once you were lost and now you are found. Once you were dead, and now you are alive …. forevermore.
In Christ’s service,