Sermon: Ordinary 24, Year C – Lost Sheep, Lost coin … lost faith, house, job…

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  • Being pious has great capacity for irritating people.
  • But people who are genuinely holy have immense power to attract others.
    • In the Gospel for this week, Luke observes the way that the marginal, odd, and those neither virtuous nor pious – the tax-collectors and sinners – were “all drawing near to hear Jesus”.
  • The very people who were excluded from other places felt drawn to Jesus of Nazareth.
  • In that society, as in ours, there must have been many who felt rejected and without value, and who knew that their lives were in disorder.
  • They felt lost: not only because of the lives they lived, but because of who they felt they were.
  • Likewise, the mirror image:
    • why did the pious resent Jesus so much?
    • He taught love, gentleness, and the goodness of God.
    • He included everyone at the table of fellowship
      • – sinners and virtuous, male and female, Jew and Gentile, clean and unclean, good and bad.
    • And the pious loathed him, and wanted in the end to kill him.
    • In a society that discovered holiness through social and ritual means of exclusion,
      • Jesus’s radical inclusion was too threatening, so they crucified him.
  • In our Gospel, Jesus tells the pious two stories about things that are lost – a lost sheep and a lost coin.
  • Luke uses these short stories as an introduction to one of the greatest stories of lostness, that of the Prodigal Son.
    • There is the lad who loses himself;
    • the older brother who loses his temper and sense of values;
    • and the good father who does not lose hope.
  • The father has carefully kept the robe.
    • What we normally translate as “the best robe” is not that literally, but it is “the former robe”. Imagine the lad before he goes off to a far country, dropping his clothes on the floor (an experience of clothes management, still known to the parents of teenagers).
    • The father picks up the clothes, carefully folds the robe, and puts it away.
    • When St Francis left his family to create his religious order,(vividly portrayed in Brother Son, Sister Moon) he cast off all the trappings of his former life by shedding his clothes and walking out of the busy market square as naked as the day he was born – do we think St Francis’ confused, concerned Father did the same?
    • Heartbroken, having lost his son, the father of the Prodigal Son still is trusting that things that are lost, people that are lost, can still be found.
  • Perhaps one of the hardest things we can do is to repent and forgive ourselves for the things that we have foolishly lost.
  • If you turn, as I do most days before morning prayer, to the intercession book or look in other churches to their intercession boards where people can write out requests for prayer.
  • Here, that word recurs again and again:
    • “I have lost my job, pray for me.” “My wife has cancer, I am afraid of losing her. Pray for me.” “I have lost my faith – if there is a God, pray for me.” “I feel so lost, depressed, afraid and suicidal – pray for me.” “I have lost my house, pray for me.” “I feel so lost, pray for me, pray for me.”
  • In the parables that we hear today, we have the assurance that Jesus is never indifferent to these pleas.
  • The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep, finds him, places him on his shoulders, and brings him home.
  • I am not a country person by background. My only experience of sheep is plastic-wrapped chops in Asda. Yet I sit in fascination watching sheep-dog trials on television. The way the dogs move the sheep was not at all what I expected.
    • They did not run barking after the sheep.
    • But, as the sheep wandered off, they watched intelligently,
    • then ran like hell, and got in front of the sheep.
    • Then they lay down across the path where the sheep were wandering.
    • So when the sheep came up to them, they were gently turned towards the right direction.
  • So I put before you this morning, my dear friends, the challenge for your mission to care for the lost, all those we encounter in our daily lives and all those we seek to bring back to the sheepfold on Back to Church Sunday.
  • Seeking out the lost does not in the least need any book to be burnt
  • It does not ask us to rebuke, to admonish or even look down upon, for that was not the way of Christ
  • It calls us to this:
    • First, think and pray;
    • Second, run like hell;
    • and third, be found lying about.
  • For the lost, it is a precious and costly gift to be found at the right time in the right place.
  • “Rejoice with me, for I have found . . . that which I had lost.

Amen

Based closely upon Lyle Dennen’s article in Church Times, 10th Sept, 2010