Luke 15:1-10 – The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

Parable of the Lost Sheep by Sieger Köder (1925-2015)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So, Jesus told them this parable: “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? Then 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.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (New English Translation)

Lost people matter to God… a lot. They matter so much to the Lord that one lost soul who is found is the grounds for a big celestial party. 

Please note this simple observation of today’s Gospel lesson: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents, then it is God who is doing the rejoicing. The Lord is absolutely giddy with joy over a lost person being found.

Jesus told two short stories, each teaching the same thing, so that we will be absolutely sure to get it: A loving God has unbounded joy over lost people being found. These parables of Jesus give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. The Lord would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile that person to right relationships. 

God would go dumpster diving and wade through stinky nasty garbage to find just one lost valuable person.

Restoring lost people is such a high priority to God that the Father sent the Son to this earth. Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.

I have not always been a devoted follower of Christ. I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the church – it was lonely and awful, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help. 

But God mercifully sent people into my life to share good news with me and help me out of my prodigal way of life. I once was lost. But now I am found. When I turned from my path of destruction and embraced Jesus Christ, there was a big party in heaven.

Lost Sheep Parable by Thomas Bertram Poole

God gathering wayward and lost persons is a gracious activity, seemingly free from criticism. But there was. And because there were complaints leveled at Jesus for purposely going after the lost, it therefore needs to be asked: 

Where do we locate ourselves in these parables? 

The two stories were downright offensive to many of Christ’s original hearers. Those upset with Jesus were so inwardly focused that they believed ministry ought to revolve around them and their needs.

And, what’s more, the religious leaders were offended because they thought all the fuss about sinners would only highlight their sin. In other words, there ought to be no party and no rejoicing for people who have lived an ethically and morally dubious life.

Preaching grace is always offensive to people who work for their salvation. It is scandalous to such persons to hear that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 

If we hear Christ’s parables and the concern for lost sinners who don’t know Jesus and say, “Well, all this talk about outreach is well and good, but what about us?  What about me? After all, I never went down a path of immorality or hurt anyone. I’m a good person. Where’s my party?” Then, we must locate ourselves as the lost persons in need of being found by God’s grace.

Consider for a moment the worst sinner you can think of – a person for whom you would label as being akin to the devil…. Now picture that person being found by God and becoming a follower of Christ….

Would you attend the party to celebrate that person’s repentance, reconciliation, and recovery? 

If any of us feels justified in our hate, then we are the lost one in need of turning from our sin.

In leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the flock and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost…. Can you live with that? 

These parables of Jesus have significant meaning for church programs, budgets, and committees. By most estimations, only one-in-five lost people in America even knows one Christian. Statistics like that are what keep me up at night; it deeply saddens me. It drives me to prayer.

God’s unconditional mercy and amazing grace is what makes all the difference. 

If we lose the sense of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, then there will be no outreach. Finding lost people is not dependent on completing a class on evangelism or getting training in how to answer every question.

Outreach is fueled by passion and desire. Healthy Christians reproduce themselves. I assume you didn’t take a class on how to procreate – you just had the desire and the willingness; and then, you celebrated nine-months later, the birth of new life.

New life always needs to be celebrated because that’s what God does. Yet, the party cannot commence until the lost are found….

O God – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – sanctify all believers everywhere with your abiding presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the Gospel. Bring lost people to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you and straying from the flock. Increase in us your grace and love so that we may participate with you in finding the lost. Amen.

Leviticus 5:1-13 – The Problem of Guilt

“‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.

“‘If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt—when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.

“‘Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. They are to bring them to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He is to wring its head from its neck, not dividing it completely, and is to splash some of the blood of the sin offering against the side of the altar; the rest of the blood must be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.

“‘If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring as an offering for their sin a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour for a sin offering. They must not put olive oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering. They are to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the Lord. It is a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering.’” (New International Version)

“Indifference is the sign of sickness, a sickness of the soul more contagious than any other.”

Elie Wiesel

Guilt comes in two forms: overt speech or action which wrongs another person; or the failure to speak or act when it was necessary to do so.

Oftentimes we think of sin as exclusively wrongdoing – an overt act of disobedience or evil. Yet, sin primarily manifests itself through indifference. The sinner is mostly one who doesn’t get involved. He walks on the other side of the road to avoid unwanted entanglements.

What’s more, sins of the tongue are much more common and prolific than sins of the body. Although hurtful words abound in this fallen world, it is also the absence of speaking up and naming falsehood for what it is that is an egregious sin before God.

The Lord will hold responsible those who are silent in the face of observing injustice.

And, if later, someone becomes aware they were complicit with an injustice through a failure to speak up, they are also guilty.

The Old Testament book of Leviticus is all about maintaining the purity and holiness of God’s people. So, the book is filled with detailed prescriptions on how to handle guilt. Going through a specific and laborious process of dealing with guilt, communicated to the people that this is important. It’s a big deal.

We need, however, to ensure we aren’t using the terms guilt and shame interchangeably.

Guilt is a function of our conscience. It lets us know when we have said or done something wrong or hurtful, or failed to provide help. It’s specific to a particular action or lack of action.

Shame, however, is a function of the “inner critic.” It interprets bad words or actions as we ourselves being bad. It focuses not on actions but on our very personhood in the form of judgmentalism leveled at myself.

Whereas guilt says, “I have done something bad,” shame says, “I am bad.” Guilt serves a redemptive purpose through alerting us that we need to deal with a wrong. Shame, however, damages our spirits through telling us we are flawed and unworthy of love and connection with others.

Because guilt and shame are not the same, they need to be dealt with in different ways:

  • Guilt, if not faced and dealt with, becomes gangrene of the soul. Over time it festers and poisons our spirits, leading to significant emotional and sometimes physical problems. Forgiveness is the primary tool in dealing with guilt. It begins with self-forgiveness and then offering an apology to another and asking for forgiveness.
  • Shame is a vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets. If shame persists, we withdraw from others and experience grinding loneliness. Therefore, the path out of shame is to openly name our shame and tell our stories. This takes power away from shame and gives it to yourself. In other words, the practice of vulnerability erases shame.

For the Christian, Jesus is the once for all sacrificial offering which forever takes away both our guilt and our shame.

Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22, NLT)

We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2, ERV)

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6, NIV)

Guilt and shame are not erased by either ignoring them or by dismissing them as negative emotions. They are handled through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is grace which grants us amnesty from shortcomings, failures, and sins.

Thanks be to God! Believe this gospel and live in its peace.

Holy and merciful God, in your presence we confess our sinfulness, our shortcomings, and our offenses against you. You alone know how often we have sinned in wandering from your ways, in wasting your gifts, in forgetting your love. Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we are sorry for all we have done to displease you. Forgive our sins, and help us to live in your light and walk in your ways, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – When Will We Engage in Our Ministry?

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

When will we engage in our ministry? The short answer: Now.

The angels in this story sound a lot like my mom when I was a kid: “Why are you just standing there looking into an empty sky?  You need to quit your gawking and get to work!”

But sometimes we can be confused about what it is we are supposed to be about or when we are supposed to do it. Jesus was quite clear about what the mission of his followers is to be: witnesses.  And the angels essentially tell the disciples to quite their gawking and get to work on being witnesses.

Being a Witness Now

The mission is not simply to do some sort of evangelical job of witnessing, but to be a witness. What we do flows from who we are and what we have seen. If we have seen and experienced the risen Lord, we are witnesses. We then tell of what we have seen and heard, not necessarily because it’s our job, but because we just cannot help it.

A mom nurtures her kids because she is a mom; it isn’t just a job – it’s who she is. To be a witness involves the kind of people we are. The word “witness” is literally the term “martyr.”  A martyr, as the term has been used throughout church history, is:

  • One who chooses to suffer death rather than deny the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  • One who bears testimony to the truth of what they have seen or have experienced with God.
  • One who sacrifices all things to further God’s kingdom.
  • One who is willing to endure anything from anyone to maintain their Christian witness. 

A martyr is someone we are, not a task that gets checked off a to do list.

There is a clear mandate and mission given by Jesus, the Head of the Church: We are witnesses. We are participants in service to Christ the King, and not fans of Jesus only cheering in the bleachers. It’s a very different experience being a fan in the stands than a player on the field.

In baseball, some fans think they know what all the right calls are, then graciously let the umpire know when he is wrong. Being a spectator is significant. Yet, for us here on this earth, it is not yet our time for that. Those who have gone before us, lived in faith, and were martyrs, are testifying to us….

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect….

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [martyrs], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 11:36-40, 12:1, NIV)

The Christian fans in the heavenly stands are witnessing that they have participated in God’s mission. And they are not unruly – spilling their beer on people and getting kicked out of the stadium. Instead, they are encouraging us who are here, right now, on this earth, seeking to fulfill Christ’s mandate.

Those who have gone before us are passing the baton of leadership and the message of good news to us – and they expect us to run with it – not to try and sit in the stands as spectators because it is not yet our time.  They are cheering us on, letting us know it’s all worth it.

Now is the time to be witnesses of what God in Christ has done and is doing. God created a perfect world. Man and woman fell into disobedience and sin. Now, God is in the business of restoring and renewing all creation. So, we are to witness to what God has done, and is doing, because our identity is thoroughly in Jesus Christ. It is our heritage and our privilege.

“Let God be the Judge. Your job today is to be a witness.”

Warren Wiersbe

In the 1990s a Christian prisoner in Cuba was asked to sign a statement containing charges against fellow Christians that would lead to their arrest. He said, “The chain keeps me from signing this.” The communist officer protested, “But you are not in chains!” “I am,” said the Christian. “I am bound by the chain of witnesses who throughout the centuries gave their lives for Jesus Christ. I am a link in this chain. I will not break it.”

Christ’s words are directed to us: “You will be my witnesses,” you and me. If we look at this as merely a task, we will likely give up and whine, saying, “This is too hard. It takes too much time. There’s too much suffering. This isn’t for me!” 

If we understand our identity as being a witness, then we will love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We willingly abandon our own personal agendas and adopt the will of God for our lives. And the will of God is that we embrace our identity as witnesses to the redemptive events of Jesus – Christ’s incarnation, holy life, compassionate ministry, suffering and death, rising from the grave, and ascending to heaven.

What do you have to witness to? Here is a teenage girl’s witness when he stood glaring at her, his weapon before her face, asking, “Do you believe in God?” She paused because it was a life or death question. “Yes, I believe in God.” “Why?” asked her executioner. But he never gave her the chance to respond. The 17-year-old girl lay dead at his feet. 

This scene could have happened in the Roman coliseum, in the Middle Ages, or in any number of countries around the world today. People are still being imprisoned, tortured, and killed every day because they refuse to deny the name of Jesus. This particular story, though, did not happen in ancient times or in another country. It happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.

Being a Witness Everywhere to Everyone Now

The original witnesses of Jesus Christ embraced the mandate of being witnesses. Not far into the New Testament book of Acts, 3,000 people in Jerusalem were converted to Christianity through one sermon from Peter’s witness. Philip broke all kinds of taboos by going to Samaria and being a witness to the half-breed Samaritans. Peter broke all convention by going into a Gentile’s house and seeing the Spirit come on them. Saul, who became Paul, was dramatically converted and went on three separate missionary journeys so that he could take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

We are to be witnesses wherever we go with whomever we encounter. We will be witnesses in Jerusalem (our families); in Judea (our community); in Samaria (other races and people different from ourselves); and, to the ends of the earth (overseas).

Being a Witness Through the Spirit’s Empowerment Now

Only after giving the mission to his followers did Jesus ascend to heaven. The ascended Lord is to be our confidence and our hope. We are not alone. We possess Christ’s authority and the Spirit’s help. The power to be a witness is not generated from within us but comes from God’s Spirit.

Jesus will return. Until then, we are to be his witnesses. It’s not the time to sit in the bleachers. We have been given power to accomplish the mission before the end of this world comes, and before Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Being a witness is not a one-time, one-size-fits-all work. Our own witness is just that: ours. We all have our own stories of faith and experiences of the risen and ascended Christ. There’s really nothing flashy or sexy about being a witness. Rather, it mostly entails a consistent and patient witness of love. It’s a lifestyle and a way of life in which our love for God pours out of our heart and soul and is expressed with all our mind and strength.

Every Christian can witness to what God is doing in their life – to tell our story of what God has done and is doing with us.

Holy God, you are making all things new through your gracious reconciling and restorative work. Grant us, your people, the vision to see you at work in our world healing our brokenness and making us new. Grant us the wisdom to hear your voice through the noise that surrounds us. And grant us the courage to bring to fruition the world you are creating, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 4:42-44 – Holding onto Jesus

Journey with Jesus by He Qi

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (New International Version)

A domesticated Jesus is nothing more than a fictional character, part of the panoply of old classic literature, and just another person in the Christian writings of the New Testament.

Many so called Christians want to control Jesus, to have him serve their purposes. Like some magical entertainer, they want to hold onto him, keep him around, trotting him out occasionally to impress friends and family.

Such persons have not yet come to terms with the spiritual reality that Jesus belongs to others, to everyone, not just me or people I like.

Whenever we grab hold of Jesus to keep him from going to others, we play the role of Mary Magdalene, who did not recognize her Lord when he was standing in front of her face. Then, when realizing who he was, did not want Jesus going anywhere. Yet, the Lord responded:

“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17, NRSV)

Mosaic of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Washington National Cathedral

Jesus did more than proclaim good news; he was the good news itself, embodied, for the life of the world – and not only for the life of a particular race or ethnicity or gender, or even religion. As the Lord of Life, there is enough Jesus for everyone.

Maybe the true mark of a Christian is not having bumper sticker messages or a bobblehead Christ or an impressive Bible on the living room coffee table or erudite theological ideas. Maybe its in telling others about Jesus from our own mouth, from a heart that overflows with the gospel of grace.

We must let God be God. Yes, there is a very important place for us to ask, seek, and knock on the door of heaven. And there is also an equal necessity for solitude, silence, and patience, in waiting for the Lord to say, “Come here to me.”

The wisdom to know when to practice solitude, and when to actively seek, arises by purposely engaging in both. We must have an action/reflection model in which we seek to do the will of God, then step back and reflect upon the experience and learn from it. And, at the same time, we are to practice a contemplation/response model that communes in solitude with God, then responds with active involvement of just and merciful acts toward others.

Our Gospel lesson today highlights the need for solitude as a Christian spiritual practice because our Lord practiced it. The solitude, however, is not to be unending. At some point, we must descend from the mountain peak and enter the valley, just as we ascended it from the activity below.

Good news needs proclamation. And for that to happen, it must be proclaimed from both the top of the mountain, as well as the lowest valley. The gospel cannot be chained so that it is tethered for only my group of cronies. No, Jesus is for all, and so, good news is meant to spread to every corner of the earth.

Perhaps we need to sit still long enough, without allowing our inner anxiety to rule the day, to let Jesus call to us and invite us to come. Then, maybe we will be able to hear the gracious words of the Lord:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, CEB)

Come Unto Me by Wayne Pascall

There’s no need to break down doors, trying to squeeze ourselves into the kingdom of God. We need only respond to the gracious invitation of Jesus and let him invite others. Truly receiving amazing grace changes us, and we then do not seek to keep Jesus from leaving.

“How amazing, amazing that the one who has help to bring is the one who says: Come here! What love! It is already loving, when one is able to help, to help the one who asks for help, but to offer the help oneself! And to offer it to all! Yes, and to the very ones who are unable to help in return! To offer it, no, to shout it out, as if the helper himself were the one who needed help, as if he who can and wants to help everyone were nevertheless in one respect himself a needy one, that he feels need, and thus needs to help, needs those who suffer in order to help them!”

Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity

Coming and going, silencing and proclaiming, holding and letting go. We allow Jesus to do it all. And we simply follow in his footsteps.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Humanity, your presence here on earth never becomes a thing of the past – thus never becoming distant. Our faith and experience of you is very present and very much real in the here and now.

Might all people see you in your true form and in the way you walked this earth – not in an empty or meaningless way of mere thoughts or distortions. May all people see you as you are, a lowly man, yet the Savior and Redeemer of humanity – who out of love came to earth to seek the lost, to suffer and die, to call the straying soul, and to absorb the opposition of others without raising a hand in defense.

Would that we might see you in this way, and not be offended at you and your gracious gathering of all kinds of people into your glorious kingdom. Amen.