Friday, November 12, 2010

Devotional 11-12-10

November 12, 2010
Luke 15:1-10 “Each One is Important”

When I was a little girl I often heard my grandmother singing that old song “The Ninety and Nine”. Of course I had no idea what that hymn was about, only that it meant a great deal to her. In case you don’t remember it or have never heard it, it goes like this:. “There were ninety and nine that safely lay . . .” This hymn is about finding something that was lost.

Have you ever lost something that was really important to you? Not misplaced, but actually lost? I suppose how a person would react would be in relation to how important the thing that was lost was. If something is lost, who will go looking for it? If I said I lost a quarter in my yard while I was cutting back some herbs, someone, maybe a kid would go looking for it. If I said I lost a $100.00 bill in my yard, some of you might not read the rest of this devotional but would feel a prompting by the Holy Spirit to help with the herb drying and find that $100.00 bill. Again, the value we place on something will determine how much time and effort we are willing to go through to search for that lost object.

This is another time when Jesus was trying to get the Scribes and Pharisees to understand the nature of God. Remember, they were the religious people of the day, the ones who kept the rules, the spiritual I’s dotted and t’s crossed. They did everything the way it was supposed to be done. And they were proud of that. They did not think there was anything lost about themselves. But they were threatened by the fact that the sinners and tax collectors were coming closer to them. They didn’t want anything to do with those lost people. They couldn’t understand why Jesus was welcoming them and eating with them.

As I was preparing this week, I wondered for the first time, if Jesus acceptance of these sinners was easy for him to do. Initially, I thought, of course it was, he was God’s son. But now I wonder. Jesus was a pious Jew. He knew the laws of Moses at least as well as any Scribe or Pharisee there that day. But I wonder if, through his own prayer life and his own intimate interaction with God, God showed Him that everyone was equal in God’s sight. Scripture tells us that Jesus interacted with the lost. It doesn’t tell us whether or not he really wanted to do it from his human side. But he was compassionate, where the Scribes and Pharisees were not. Jesus wanted them to understand that God chose him to come for the lost. So he told them these parables.

A shepherd had 100 sheep. Ninety nine of them were accounted for one was lost. A woman had 10 coins. One was lost so she only had nine. The first thing these parables teach us is that god is interested in everyone from the ones the world thinks of as important to the ones who the world says are not. Everyone in the world is equally important to God. That’s an idea we still struggle with today, because, like the Scribes and Pharisees, we want to limit God’s love. We need to understand also that the lost sheep wasn’t more valuable just because it was lost. All 100 sheep were part of the flock and the shepherd, who of course represents God, was equally concerned about all of them. But the shepherd wants all 100 of them to be accounted for and when he realizes one is missing he goes looking everywhere he can think of to find it. When he does, he gently lifts it up, because sheep are notoriously stupid, and takes it back to be with the other sheep. When a sheep is lost, they don’t bleat for help, because they are afraid. They just lie down and curl up into themselves. It cannot help in its own rescue. We might wonder about those 99 sheep and what was going on with them while the shepherd was gone. They may have felt it was unfair for the shepherd to leave them vulnerable while he was out looking for the one lost sheep. After all, they had acted as they were supposed to. They allowed themselves to be herded. They did not go adventuring off to taste the grass somewhere else.

The other parable Jesus told is about the woman who lost a coin. In the culture of Jesus’ day, a woman was given a dowry. They did not carry purses, so they would keep their money in a headband or a necklace of some kind. Probably this coin had come loose from the chain or been dropped somehow. It was not any more valuable that the other coins. The thing Jesus wants us to understand here us that both the coin and the sheep are lost

The last thing I want to lift up this morning is that as the shepherd rejoiced when the sheep was found and as the woman rejoiced when the coin was found, so God rejoices when the lost are found. God searches for the lost and rejoices when anyone lost is found. “There is rejoicing in heaven when even one sinner is found.” These Scriptures teach us God looks for each and every one who is lost because each and every one is important.

Here’s the thing. We are lost in one way or another. I find it kind of tempting to take sides in these stores. The Scribes and Pharisees were doing their best to please God and they wanted credit for that. That’s me most of the time, at least on the surface. But when I look inside myself, I know that through some choices I’ve made that I knew were wrong, and plenty more choices I made without understanding the consequences, I’m a sinner, just as lost as someone who has never heard about God at all (like the tax collectors, prostitutes and so forth). In fact, I’m probably more lost because I willfully disobeyed God. I knew what I was supposed to do and I chose something deliberately. Jesus wanted people to understand that just as everyone is lost, everyone needs a relationship with God. Some people think they already have one and they’re doing what they’re supposed to, some know just how sinful thy are and are willing to admit it, and most of us in this time and in this place have a bit of both.

But the real emphasis in these Scriptures is not so much on the lost as it is in the rejoicing of the one who finds, the one who loves all of us and wants to be in relationship, in community with us. The good news of the gospel is that everyone is loved by God, held accountable, certainly, but loved and accepted by God. God, like the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, looks everywhere for us, too. Through wilderness, briars, who knows what and rejoices when we are found. God looks for us like the woman who looks for the coin everywhere and dusts it off after she has found it. We all get lost. We all need dusted off sometimes. Let us be thankful that we have a God who does that. Let us be thankful that whether we are the Pharisee or the tax collector, we have a God who searches everywhere for us, and rejoices once we are found.

Rev. Dorcas Conrad
(adapted by Kim from Dorcas' sermon)

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