We’re looking at Parables of Jesus in the gospel of Luke and here Jesus speaks 3 parables to: some people who knew they’d messed up who suspected God would never want them and to other people who were confident in their righteousness - the Pharisees, the community leaders.
3 parables back to back. 3 stories, similarly themed. In each parable 3 things happen 1) something is lost 2) the loss leads to a search, 3) retrieval brings rejoicing
- something is lost
here’s the shepherd in his field caring for 100 sheep, it’s very unlikey that they all belong to him maybe 4 or 5 of them do. The flock is the combined ownership of his village his community and his job and responsibilty is to care for them all. How regularly do you do a head count? Must be difficult.. they keep moving..
Except perhaps this shepherd doesn’t have to count - he knows his sheep -which means hang on where’s fluffy? Haven’t seen him… fluffy? fluffy!? He’s wandered off again.
Sheep are nototriously stupid and rebellious they get themselves into trouble, they need the Shepherd. A lost sheep
Then here’s the woman counting her valuable coins. My mum would always say If you count your money you’re going to lose it. One of this woman’s coins is lost! She counts again that sinking feeling of realisaton grows ….A lost coin
Then a son comes to his father - says the unthinkable in that culture where you lived with your father until he died; where you’d bury your Father and only then would you leave. He says give me my share of the inheritance now, i’m leaving now. It’s a horrifying insult. It equates to saying ‘Dad i wish you were dead.’ Incredibly, the Father rather than punishing his wayward son, beating the living daylights out of him. This father …he grants his son the freedom even to reject his Fatherhood and love. The son takes the money, leaves his Father, squanders the wealth, winds up destitute. A lost Son
Jesus makes clear that in each case the lost things equate to people. ordinary people. people like us. That we are in some way lost. And you don’t have to look lost to be lost. You don’t have to feel lost to be lost.
The Bible says that Our true human home is in God; to be with God our Maker, the source of our existence. But perversely we know that instead of enjoying God, we largely ignore Him. Instead of discovering our true purpose living his way. We say with Frank Sinatra, ‘I’ll do it my way”
Like a sheep wandering away from the Shepherd.
Or like a Son saying to his Father - I’ll take the gifts thanks - life, pleasure.. but i don’t want you. leave me alone God. Ill do it my way.
This, we know, is the bias of our hearts. And you don’t even have to be a so called immoral or particularly dysfunctional person for this to be the case. The admired, well to do person who has given their life to charitable causes but has done so completely on her own terms with no reference to God is just as rebellious and just as Lost.
We have wrenched ourselves from God who is the only life giver. And unchecked that lostness continues into eternity.
But thank God is not the end of the story.
Because the 2nd thing in the parables is that
Each loss results in a search. Loss results in a SEARCH
The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes in search of the 1. Isn’t that extraordinary? If I was looking after a hundred sheep and only one went missing id think - well i haven’t done too badly. But not this shepherd. He’s not a generalist. He cares about the one. He embarks on a search and rescue expedition.
The woman …turns the house upside down in search of the coin.
And The father ….. - implicit in the fact that He sees his returning son from a great distance and runs to him - is the reality that this Father was a horizon gazer. Every day this Father’s eyes never strayed for long from the horizon; from the road, longing for his son to come back. He’d put his office in that room and positioned his desk so that whatever work he was doing, regularly he’d break off to look out for his son. I bet people noticed him doing it. Perhaps some tried to dissuade him, perhaps you would have: “Give it up, do yourself a favour forget him, he’s never coming home. And anyway he did a disgraceful thing.”. He looks at you with tears in his eyes and says, ‘He’s my son - he’ll always be my son.” And his eyes return to the horizon.
I think it might be a sign of getting on a bit .. but i’m always misplacing things and occasionally losing things. ‘Where are my keys! Has anyone seen my keys??” And when you lose something you can tell the value of that thing to you by the manner of your search. If you turn over a few cushions and shrug your shoulders and turn back to watching Strictly come dancing - it obviously wasn’t that valuable. But if you’re missing Strictly! Urgently turning the house upside down because you can’t relax until you’ve found it, retracing your steps, you can’t sleep for racking your brains - then the thing that is lost must be of tremendous value to you! the value of the thing to you is revealed in the manner of the search.
Humanity was lost and the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ did not merely shrug his shoulders, sadly shake his head and return to creating new worlds… No, he got up , he crossed the great divide from heaven to earth to come and find us. We had ignored and offended God and yet Jesus, eternally God humbled himself to share our broken humanity. He became human. He went from Glory to a stable floor. From the company of angels to the friendship of sinners. From the throne of Creation to the agony of the cross. To pay for our offences and to reconcile us to God.
The value of the thing to you is revealed in the manner of the search. You and I have never clapped eyes on a human being who isn’t of absolute value to God. We might not know them, they may mean nothing to us. But God… he would die for them if they were the one person on earth. He would die for you if you were the one person on earth. You are infinitely valuable to God. he loves you. he came in search for you.
The three parables end on similar notes
Retrievals bring rejoicing. Retrievals bring rejoicing.
It’s Classic stuff.
When the man finds his lost sheep, when the woman finds her lost coin, when the Father finds his lost son - the pattern is the same they call their friends and neighbours, come and celebrate with me! We’re killing the fatted calf, party of the century. Come on!
Why? - what are we celebrating? It’s not your birthday? No. an anniversary? No. You’re getting married!!? No! You’ve got a job promotion? No!! What then?
I’ve found fluffy!
my lost sheep!
Oh OK… what do you wear to a lost sheep party?
Come and celebrate with me. I’ve found my lost sheep, my lost coin, my lost son
Just as we reserve the fullest searches for the things we think are the most valuable so we reserve the biggest celebrations don’t we for the times that we think are most important. Depending on whatever big story is governing our lives. If I’m living for material success and career achievement then the biggest celebrations in my life will be to celebrate promotions, contracts, awards. If it’s human relationships and families (probably a much healthier story) then it will be weddings and anniversaries.
But according to Jesus - look at what gets the champagne flowing in heaven - in God’s dimension - look at what is deemed the reason for rejoicing v7, v10 rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. One lost person who comes home. To be eternally found, eternally secure. This is the story that governs all reality. What really matters. That which energises heaven.
Actually did you notice the joy of the finder begins before the party? The party is just
the corporate expression of the finder’s already joy. The finder’s suffering joy.
Because the Shepherd’s joy doesn’t begin when he finally gets the sheep home. the shepherd rejoices when he finds the sheep - even though the sheep is still not restored and lost sheep normally need lifting out of some trouble they’ve got themselves into and lost sheep are normaly so parlaysed with fear that they don’t want to be found. Look at what the Shepherd has to do he has to carry the sheep on his shoulders all the way home. But he bear this burden willingly and with joy. The Bible says that for the joy set before him Jesus willingly endured the cross for us to carry us home. He did so joyfully.
And the Father … he knows that the returning disgraced son may not even make it into the village if he is identified by others before the Father finds him. He will be humiliated, lynched he will suffer. So the Father when he sees the Son.. he runs that gauntlet so that his child will not have to. He literally runs. At the best of time men in late middle age look ridiculous running. In this culture it was humiliating for a man of stature to run. But this Father runs to intercept his son. To interrupt his words of apology, to publicly reconcile with his son, to protect him with his robe of righteousness and ring of sonship. No lectures, no reprimands. Acceptance and joy.
It wouldn’t have been just the Father’s other son who thought the Father was foolish, outrageous, weak for just taking back the prodigal younger son. Most of the village would have thought it. what a pushover. what an idiot. They probably only went to the party because of the free food and drink.
But I don’t think that those people would affect the Father’s joy in his returning child one jot. And others would have been there saying, what a Father he is… What a Father! He suffers joyfully to bring his child home.
I wonder, How do you imagine God? how do you picture him? Do you picture a distant thundering figure, who prefers fear and respect to love. Who forgives yes but reluctantly and after making the penitent person squirm? That is not the picture Jesus gives. Jesus tells of a crazy caring shepherd; of a housewife turning the house upside down so valuable is her lost coin; of a Father humiliating himself by running to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.
This is who God is. This is how much he loves us. How much he wants to know us an bring us home eternally to himself. For we were lost but that loss led to an all out search and retrievals bring rejoicing. So come home.