Seeking the lost

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Luke 15:1-10
(15-9-13)

As usual the religious people in the time of Jesus are annoyed by His mixing with the wrong sort of people “sinners”. Jesus responds with three stories (we’re only looking at two today) about things that are lost and then get found. They are all well over the top stories which seem to be about people who are not quite reacting normally. We’re meant to look at the people in them, question their actions and then realize that in fact they are stories that question our own actions.

All of these exaggerated stories make the same point and they only really make sense to a hearer who is aware of how valuable they are to God.

Why does a shepherd leave 99 sheep unattended and go looking for one? Why does a woman turn the house upside down to look for one coin when she has another nine? The shepherd and the woman are behaving oddly – just as the Pharisees think that Jesus is.

Jesus uses the first illustration because everyone was familiar with the work of a Shepherd. A good Shepherd knew his flock, they might all look the same to an untrained eye . . . but not to the Shepherd.

The sheep were usually owned by someone else and it didn’t look good on your CV if you had a reputation for losing sheep. If one went missing the Shepherd had to pay for it out of his own pocket unless he could prove a predator had killed it. This would add a greater intensity to the search, but even so it seems over the top. The woman loses one of her ten coins. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to us but it was the equivalent of a day’s wage. Of bigger significance it was the mark of a married woman to wear a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. Girls would save for years to get their ten coins, which was almost the equivalent of a wedding ring. It was considered so important that it couldn’t even be taken from her for debt. The woman’s searching as if she’s lost her wedding ring.

The person searching in both stories is God and the point of both stories is that there’s to be no wastage in God’s household. It is a vivid picture of God counting up all the people He has made and not wanting one to get lost.

In both cases these people search, intently, focused on their goal.

Jesus wants us to understand this is the same kind of focus that God has for bringing us home to Him. The Shepherd pursued the lost sheep until He finds it. The search may have been difficult and taken days, but He was persistent, as God is with us. He continues to seek us and love us. We may hide but He doesn’t give up. We may run away, but He continues His pursuit of our heart.

The woman and searches carefully, lighting a lamp, sweeping until she finds it. Like a crime investigator on a crime scene, the Lord pursues you and me with care. He does not force Himself on us.

People come to be lost in different ways:

God looks for us. He offers us His love freely. For a while we ignore Him. He stands offering His free gift of love. God searches with every fibre of his being Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Looking out for us, giving up life for us, actively sweeping out rubbish to find us until His patience, His sacrifice and His persistence pays off and we realise our need. And when he finds us he’s not concerned that we are soiled. We are accepted with no question. We are loved unconditionally.

Do you think it mattered to the Shepherd if the lamb was dirty? Or the woman was concerned that the dirty and lost coin was going to pollute all the others? No. And God’s love and desire to welcome us as His children is not affected by our past. In the eyes of Jesus, the sinners were lost people. This may have brought disgust to the hearts and minds of the religious big-shots but it brought only joy to the Father.

Notice how the Shepherd brings the lamb back to the flock. He doesn’t put it on a leash and drag it back. He doesn’t beat it with a rod or put it in a sack and carry it back. The Shepherd places the lamb on his shoulders with the legs around his neck and the Lambs mouth near his ear it’s a picture of love not anger, joy not disgust.

Because what was it that made the shepherd go after that one lamb? It wasn’t the one with the woolliest coat. It wasn’t the one with the sweet eyes or the one that nuzzled up affectionately. No, it was simply the one that was lost.

No qualification, no good sense, no obedience. That was the one that got the ride home on the shepherd’s shoulders. That was the one that made the angels sing for joy.

Repentant sinners who heard these stories could know they didn’t have to earn God’s love or Jesus’ respect. He loved coming looking for them, and celebrated finding them.

And Jesus was telling everyone, especially the ‘religious’ that this searching and finding was what God was doing. It was mirrored in what Jesus was doing by mixing and eating with ‘sinners’.

We know that we are meant to be imitator’s of Christ. What must we do to copy Him in this seeking the lost.

Does it make it look as if being in church is rather like just sitting around waiting for people to come and find us? How can we actively seek out the lost? Risking leaving those who are safe and venturing out in unknown places to look for them?

In a way that’s what Janette is doing – surely people who go on retreat are wanting to be found by God?

For the rest of us I suppose the short answer is to ‘get out more’! Get down the pub maybe? How else can we do the hard work of searching for them in dirty corners on a dusty floor. Messy Church? Bubbles? Time4T?

At the least we must think of how much of our time is spent with people not of this (or any) church?

If we stick to the comfort of being with churchy people doing churchy things and maybe even looking down our noses at those outside then we are no better than the Pharisees that Jesus was speaking against! That’s the message of this story. Uncomfortable for some I know.

Jesus says he did not come to call “the righteous” but sinners to repentance. The religious people don’t understand. All they see are people with a stained past and terrible reputation. In their hearts they didn’t think that God would ever accept these folks. They were wrong, they were the true sinners in this story

Whenever a judgmental attitude fills our mind one of two things is inevitably true. It’s either because we believe we earn Heaven by our goodness or because we have forgotten who we were when Christ found us.

The prerequisite to salvation is an awareness of our sin and our need for a Saviour. If we don’t see ourselves as a sinner then we certainly don’t have a need of a Saviour. In fact we may well think quite the reverse, that the Saviour has need of us!

At the beginning I said that to understand these parables you need to know how valuable you are to God. Do you?

Are you sitting here wondering if God could love you? Perhaps you bitterly regret or are ashamed of things you’ve done in the past (we all should!) Perhaps you’ve ridiculed God in the past. Maybe you think that God doesn’t like you. You may feel like you have been looking for God but He’s been hiding. He’s not hiding, He’s looking for You. Calling your name, inviting you to be a part of His family. Others may have dismissed you but He hasn’t. Others may think you have nothing to offer . . . He sees You as a diamond in the rough. NEVER be afraid He will reject You . . . He’s been looking to bring you home since the first moment of your life.

If you feel like this then let me encourage you to stop listening to the crowd and hear the invitation of the Creator? Stop running from God and run to Him instead.

For those of us who have been found let us never forget where we were when Christ found us. If we’ve forgotten that at one time we were that lost, despised and rejected person we might begin to see others as a “lost cause.” It’s amazing how easily we forget our past but tenaciously remember the past of others? In our lost-ness we may have wandered into different areas and had different experiences. But, to a person, everyone of us was lost until we met Jesus.