Written by Pastor Ed
The Value of One
September 11, 2016
I Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-10
There were a number of things that could have directed our thoughts today. It is the beginning of the program year for the church as we noted in recognizing the teachers, and the return to our regular schedule. Meetings are being scheduled and school is back in session, and traffic is considerably worse.
Some people may have also thought about where they were 15 years ago on this date in 2001, as we awoke to news of the plane attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. It was one of those defining moments in history, of which we are still paying the consequences, both of the initial attacks as well as of the response and retaliation that occurred.
While those thoughts may enter in to our thinking, I noted that the Gospel readings for the next several months focus primarily on the parables of Jesus recorded in Luke, and so for the next few weeks at least, we will be turning our attention to those passages and working to learn what Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God and what that means for us, something that I think is relevant no matter what else is going on in the world.
Our scripture passage for today includes two parables found in Luke 15, sometimes called the “lost” chapter of Luke, since it includes actually three parables dealing with lost items, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son or the prodigal son. Since the latter is dealt with separately at another time, we will look only at the first two today.
The parables of Jesus are always interesting. They are generally simple stories that Jesus used to make a point, often about what the Kingdom of God is like. And they generally have a twist to them, some detail that would make people go, “Really?” We also have to be careful that we don’t over-analyse the parable. You can find some wonderful examples of that from a time when parables were seen as symbolic and every detail was taken to symbolize something – sometime with extreme results.
The two parables we read this morning are quite straightforward. Each is about something that was lost. In the first case, it is a sheep, one out of 100. And in the second it is a coin, one out of ten, probably about a day’s wages. In each case, the person who has lost the item goes searching and on finding the lost item calls together their friends and neighbours and rejoices in the find.
Now there are several things that might catch our attention. Especially in the first parable, losing one sheep out of 100 seems like it would be inevitable. Would you really go off, leaving the 99, to search for one lost sheep? I mean, most of us would probably not even notice that one was missing, would we?
We might notice a coin that was missing, if we only had 10. But even then, I doubt that we would immediately light all the lights and clean the house thoroughly in search of it, let alone call together all the neighbours to let them know we have found our lost coin, or sheep. I mean, what’s one coin or sheep? Shouldn’t we just be glad we didn’t lose them all? And imagine the reaction of our neighbours! I can just see the eyes rolling. “Ok, so you found your lost coin. Do you really expect me to get all excited for you?”
It seems to me one of the things we might ponder as we read these parables, which is perhaps more true for us than it would have been for Jesus’ original listeners, is the fact that with all of our stuff, losing one thing isn’t really all that big a deal, unless it happens to be something unique or special to us. I’m curious how big a bill it would have to be before we’d turn the house upside down looking for it? We’re not sheep herders, so I’m not sure what the equivalent would be there, but it seems to me that we have generally lost the sense of importance of many things. It says something about our abundance and throw-away society, I think. The amount of time we would spend looking for something is probably directly proportional to the value we place on it.
But Jesus isn’t really talking about things. Luke introduces the chapter, and these parables, by telling us that the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because Jesus was hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners. Hanging out with the wrong people just didn’t look good, and besides, they were probably ritually unclean. If you wanted to have any credibility, you needed to stick with the other religious people who knew what was right and wrong. And so Jesus tells them these parables.
Because what he’s really talking about is the importance of each person. In the kingdom of God, each person is important, and as Jesus says, “there is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (15:7) How easy it is, when we don’t value things all that much, to also not value people all that much. Yet Jesus suggests, no more than suggests, Jesus says that each person is important. And I think we can apply that on numerous levels.
The most obvious, and certainly the one Jesus had in mind, was the importance of each person being invited into the kingdom, seeking those who are lost. One of the unfortunate things that has happened in the church is that for many the purpose of the church has been lost. As the church became more and more institutionalized, more and more of the efforts of the church were in keeping the institution alive, rather than going about the mission that God gave to the church, namely to make disciples of all nations.
Oh yes, we sent missionaries to those far off countries that we considered full of sinners, but we tended to think that everyone around us was already Christian, or wasn’t worth the effort. We, like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, were concerned to keep our image clean and not associate with the wrong people, the sinners of the world. Paul, using himself as an example in I Timothy, reminds us that we are all sinners, saved by God’s grace. We’re much better at labeling other’s sins, than in acknowledging our own, which puts us all in the same boat.
God’s love extends to all, a theme we noted as we remembered Charee’s life this week. We dare not write anyone off as not worthy of our time. Back in the 70’s there was a movement called the Church Growth Movement, which said that if you want your church to grow, then you should concentrate on people that were just like you, because they were the most likely to respond. Don’t waste your time on others, the authors said, because they probably won’t come anyway. And while that may have made some churches bigger in numbers, they certainly weren’t following the great commission.
Seeking the lost means putting in some time and having patience. Again in I Timothy, Paul talks about the patience of God in bringing him to understand the faith. Sometimes we won’t even see the results of our efforts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. Some of you have asked about the bicycle chained to a tree outside the church. It belongs to a street person named Wolf, who comes by occasionally to say hi, to ask for a bit of help, and sometimes just to chat. He suggests that sometime he might come to church. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I want him to know that the church is a welcoming and friendly place and that God loves him just as much as he does everyone who does come to church.
Applied on a broader scale, this passage and others like it, should remind us of Jesus’ words about loving our enemies. If, indeed, each person is important no matter who they are, then we can’t write off whole groups of people as unworthy, and seek their deaths. Capital punishment goes by the wayside, and war becomes unthinkable when we understand that God cares about each person and anyone is capable of coming to faith.
One of your inserts today tells of Donna Entz’s ministry among Muslims in North Edmonton, a ministry supported by your contributions to Mennonite Church Alberta. It’s a ministry of valuing each person, of patient sharing of God’s love, and of watching the Spirit move among the people.
And we should be rejoicing with the angels when people are found. Something we perhaps overlook in the passage we read is that the religious people only grumbled and murmured because of what Jesus was doing. They had lost the ability to rejoice, it seems.
And let me stretch the lesson just a little more, given the start of a new program year. Not only is each person “out there” important, but each of you in here are important as well. Just as the shepherd and the women missed the sheep and the coin, so you are missed when you aren’t present. We recognized the SS teachers this morning, who will be giving of their time and effort to prepare lessons. They value each student in their class, and when you aren’t there, you are missed.
What difference would it make if we each thought that our attendance at church was just as important to the congregation as our attendance at a sporting event was to our sports team? What we spend our time on speaks volumes about what we think is important. Something to think about.
Jesus teaches us that each one is important in the kingdom of God and that we never waste our time when we are seeking those whom others might call sinners, those who are on the margins of society, that others shun or write off as a waste of time. Just as Jesus sought out the lost, eating with them, so too we are called to seek out the lost. Sometimes that means others will grumble and say we’re wasting our time. But that’s ok, we’re in good company, because we’re all just sinners too.
Our starting point is to say with Paul, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost” (I Tim. 1:15)