Sermon for 15 Pentecost Yr C, 12/09/2004
Based on Lk 15:1-10
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Lost and Found”
Lost and found. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. Who or what do we value in life? Joy and celebration over the lost. Our gospel today consists of one of Luke’s favourite themes. One of Luke’s favourite pictures of Jesus is Friend of Sinners. Today we learn that the setting of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin is Jesus’ answer to some Pharisees and scribes “grumbling” that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners and ate with them. I think that these stories or parables remain so popular among us because everyone can relate to them—everyone has been lost and or found at one time or another; or everyone has lost someone or something and looked for it and found it. We can all probably tell stories about this. Here is one of my stories.
On one occasion a few years ago, when Julianna, Anna, our dog Patches, and myself were travelling home from a quick trip to Edmonton; we stopped for a break at Red Deer.
After having some tea, I went out to the car to put Patches on the leash for a short walk. All seemed to go okay. After the walk, we all got back into the car and started driving home to Calgary, where we lived at the time.
However, five or so minutes down the highway I happen to notice that my wedding ring was no longer on my finger! After much upset, fretting, panic, and self-recriminations—we decided to turn around and retrace my steps in and around the restaurant where we had stopped for our break. We also searched inside the car. Unfortunately, to my dismay and consternation, we were unsuccessful in finding the ring on all counts.
So, with much regret, we left once again for Calgary. While we were travelling, I still had this strange hope that the ring was hiding somewhere in the car. When we arrived home, we searched the car again.
This time, much to my relief and joy, I found the ring inside a bag on the floor in the back where it must have fallen off while I wrestled with Patches to remove her leash at the end of our walk.
So, too, is God’s joy over one repentant sinner who was lost, but found by our Lord.
These beautiful parables of Jesus are so rich and deep, we could mine them forever and still come up with wonderful insights and inspiration. This time, as I read and studied our gospel, it occurred to me how the parables help us to ponder what or whom we value and treasure. It seems that what some of the Pharisees and scribes valued and treasured was not what or whom Jesus treasured. They seemed to have valued and treasured people of their own kind—not tax collectors and sinners, not the outcasts of society. What about us? What and whom do we value and treasure? Do we, like some of those Pharisees and scribes, tend to avoid the poor, the homeless, the street people, the unemployed, the outcasts in our society? Do we, perhaps like they, tend to blame the outcasts for their problems and troubles—saying they’re lazy, rebellious, terrible people? Or do are we, by the grace of God able to look at such people like Jesus did? Do we too, like Jesus, see them as of immeasurable value and treasured by God?
Here are a couple of contemporary stories that might help us to treasure and value the outcasts among us more:
When (the Rev. Dr. William Willimon) was a graduate school student at Emory, he supported himself by serving two difficult little rural churches on weekends, many miles outside of Atlanta. It was a difficult experience. Here he was, freshly graduated from Yale Divinity School, finding himself in the wilds of rural Georgia.
When he arrived at one of the churches for the first Sunday, there was a padlock on the door, put there by the local sheriff. It seems that some of the saints had gotten into a bit of an argument during the board meeting the week before. Things got rough. People started ripping up carpet, dragging out pews. The sheriff had put a padlock on the door until Rev. Dr. Willimon could get there and try to settle things down.
He was miserable that entire fall. Nothing went well. He was so depressed. One afternoon, he poured out his story to his professor of pastoral counselling, Dr. Rodney Hunter. He told Dr. Hunter about the fights after the board meetings. He told him about the messes that those families had made of themselves, the difficulties of their marriages.
“Can you believe people, calling themselves church members and Christians, can sink to such behaviour? Isn’t it outrageous?”
Dr. Hunter agreed. He said that it was outrageous that a person of Willimon’s gifts and graces should be trapped out there with people like these.
Then Dr. Hunter said, “And the most outrageous thing of all, is that Jesus says that they get to go into God’s kingdom before us good ones!” [i]
That’s most likely difficult on our pride, isn’t it? Yet, according to Jesus, everyone—especially the lost and the outcasts are treasured and valued by God. The following story as told by a pastor concerning their congregation’s change of attitude and practice to reach out to others is instructive for us and every congregation in that it cause us to think and ask whom and what we value and treasure:
“We used to reserve parking spaces for some of our older and valued members. Now we reserve parking spaces for visitors, for those who are not members.
“We used to give meals on Sunday after church for those members who signed up in advance and paid in advance. Now we only serve meals on Sunday after church for those who are either visitors or who live on the streets around our church and have been invited to join us for worship and a meal by one of our members.
“Parking places, meals, they are small gestures. They are gestures meant not so much to tell our guests something about the church but rather to remind those of us in the church of something about the church.” [ii]
So today we rejoice with God in heaven whether we are doing the losing or the finding, we too, with Jesus are invited to be inviting towards the lost, the sinner and outcast in our community—ourselves included!: for “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Amen.
 Cited from: Wm. H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No. 3, Year C, July, August, September 1998 (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc.), p. 45.
2 Ibid., Willimon, p. 46.