TEXT: Luke 15:1-10
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? (Luke 15:4)
Labour Day weekend has come and gone. September is in full swing. This is the time of year when churches wake up from a long summer nap and get moving. Vacationers return. Committees resume their work.
The church board starts meeting again. The choir starts practicing again—and singing again—after a long summer absence. Organizing is underway for the turkey supper … and some of us are even beginning to plan for Advent and Christmas!
And you know, it’s very satisfying to look around and see the church doing what the church is supposed to do. The flock is in good shape. Lots of people are helping out with this or that, taking responsibility and sharing leadership. We are grazing in the green pastures right next to the cool still waters.
Then we read our gospel lesson … and there’s a problem. This reading does not celebrate the flock which is all gathered together, grazing contentedly and doing the church thing.
Instead, it almost seems like Jesus cares more about the ones who aren’t here. That may seem unreasonable to those of us who faithfully show up every week and keep the institutional church humming … but it is the gospel.
God cares deeply for each of us. God doesn’t just love humanity in general; God loves each and every person. To make plain this truth about God, Jesus tells two parables—about a lost sheep and a lost coin, and about how their owners searched and searched until they found even just one that was missing.
Jesus tells us that God is like a woman who will turn her house upside down to find even just one coin. Jesus says God is like a shepherd who will search high and low for even just one sheep.
There are no thorn bushes, no deep ravines, no alleyways, no hidden corners, no closets into which God will not go to find those who are lost—even just one.
Jesus came to save the lost—lost sheep, lost coins, lost brothers, lost prostitutes, lost loan sharks, lost fools, lost weaklings. Jesus came all this way looking for them. And those we have given up on or forgotten about or dismissed because of their unworthiness are the very ones that Jesus has headed out to look for.
Here’s a story I heard once. It’s about a little girl who was looking at all the pretty things in her mother’s jewelry box.
One item particularly fascinated her. It was an opal that had once been set in a ring, but which had come loose from its setting. The little girl liked the opal a lot. She liked how it sparkled, how its iridescence gave it different colors depending on how she held it and in what kind of light.
She liked looking at this opal so much that she took it out of the box and carried it around for a while until … well, you guessed it: she lost the small stone.
When she told her mother what happened, her mother began the most thorough search of their house the girl had ever seen. Her mother looked under rugs and between the sofa cushions. She swept. She looked everywhere. She was so energetic in her search that the little girl knew that what was lost must be truly precious.
The little girl had no idea her mother owned such a treasure, and she asked: “Is this the most precious jewel in the world?”
Her mother said, “No, there are jewels worth far more, that cost more. But this one was given to me by my great aunt, and—since she gave it to me—it’s precious to me, and I want to find it.”
Jesus says God is like a woman who, when she loses one of her ten silver coins, does not say, “Well, I still have nine others, that will just have to do.”
No. The woman turns her house upside down until she finds the one lost coin.
In the parable, the woman is so excited at finding her one lost coin that she calls all her friends. “We have to celebrate! I found my coin that was lost!”
And just like that, says Jesus, the angels of God rejoice when even one person who is lost is found, when even one person repents, comes home, allows God to embrace them and say, “You are mine. I love you. I would search the whole world for you if I had to.” Even for just one.
Jesus told these parables because, at the time, a group of people were grumbling about what kind of people Jesus was busy finding—what kind of people Jesus was inviting to the table and eating with.
And the ones doing the grumbling were the good religious people—folks who were certain that they themselves were safely in God’s fold, safely deposited into God’s change purse.
They didn’t realize that they, too, were lost ones that God was trying hard to gather up. They didn’t realize that God was turning the world upside down to find tax collectors and sinners as well as good religious people. They didn’t realize that God wants to claim us all as his own sheep, as his own precious coins.
From the very beginning, God’s Spirit has been sweeping through the world seeking people—people who would rejoice in belonging to God, whether they deserved it or not. And in Jesus, God really did do something to turn the whole world upside down. The God of the universe came among us as a human baby, who lived and died as one of us, stretched his arms out to us from the cross to welcome the lost and the least. Every … single … one.
God still wants to gather us all up, so that not even one more person ever feels lost—as if they have to do it all on their own, as if they’re not worth a cent. Why? Because even just one is precious to God.
Did you notice that when the woman found the coin that she’d lost, she threw a party for all her friends? She found one coin, and then she spent who knows how many more to throw a party! Is that foolishness … or is it grace?
If we are the coins in the story, then we are so precious to God that even just one of us is worth everything. If we are the coins in the story, then the occasion of finding just one of us is cause for great celebration. We are God’s coins, and our lives are to be spent in the cause of seeking and finding and celebrating. God doesn’t just tuck us away in some safety-deposit box like a heavenly coin collection, waiting for our value to increase. No. God says, “Let’s have a party—right now!”
Even just one means everything to God. Even just one is cause for great celebration. Even just one who offers himself or herself to be spent for God’s purposes is a great blessing for the whole neighbourhood.
In our worship services, we practice God’s economics. We gather, acknowledging that all we are and all we have comes from God, belongs to God, is loved by God, can be given and offered and spent for God. We offer our time, our talents, our money, and the produce of our hands and our minds in God’s service—in our congregations, in our neighbourhoods, and out in the wider world.
Our ministries are varied, but each one is valuable, each one is important to God, because even just one enables us to continue God’s work of seeking and finding and celebrating.
Even just one. Even just you. Even just me. Precious to God. And precious in God’s family. Hallelujah! We should throw a party. Amen.