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1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
My dear friends, I don’t know if you noticed. It was subtle. But in a few of our readings this morning, something very, very precious was lost. Something so important, so crucial to our everyday life that without it, none of us would be here. Something that without it, I’m not sure life would be worth living.
What was lost this morning wasn’t a sheep who wandered away. It wasn’t a coin that rolled off the table and in between the floorboards.
No, what gets lost today…is God.
The first time God gets lost this morning is in our Old Testament reading from Exodus.
As the story goes, the people of God have just been set free from Egypt and have gathered at Mount Sinai. They’ve been claimed by God and have just received the covenant of the 10 Commandments from God. Moses and God are having a chat up on the mountain, meanwhile all the people are at the bottom of the mountain waiting to hear from Moses. But then they get afraid. Moses, their spiritual leader and the visible image of God for them, hasn’t shown up in awhile. And so, desperate for some image of God to worship, they melt down so gold, turn it into a golden calf and worship it as the image of God.
And God gets angry. And understandably so. I mean, God had literally just given them the 10 Commandments, and the first commandment says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods and not make an idol of God.” So here they received these freshly chiseled 10 commandments on stone tablets, but the people of God couldn’t get past lunch without breaking the first commandment. So, yeah, God gets angry.
But then God gets so angry that God is ready to cut them to loose. Did you hear what God said to Moses? Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;
God’s totally disowning God’s people and pushing them off on Moses. Which is just a classic parenting move, right? Anytime Elliot does something really reckless or destructive, I have this bad habit of saying to Lauren, “Do you know what YOUR son did today?”
And then to make it worse, God tells Moses to leave God alone so that God’s anger can burn hot. God even says that God wants to destroy the people and start all over again with Moses.
And it’s in that moment, when God wants to break the covenant and give, when God first gets lost today. Or, I should say, when God loses God’s self. It is then that God forgets who God is. And the covenant that God made with God’s people – to be their God.
The next time God gets lost today is in our gospel reading. It’s right at the beginning, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The Pharisees and scribes want nothing to with the tax collectors and sinners, and want to give up on them. And the Pharisees and scribes are so tied into the life of God for the community that therefore they think God wants nothing to do with the tax collectors and sinners. That God wants to give up on them.
And it’s in that moment that God gets lost for a second time today. The Pharisees and the Scribes have lost sight of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who makes promises – promises to be our God and us as God’s people. The God of Moses who rescues the people from slavery, the God who gives laws for the sake of life, not the sake of obedience. The Pharisees and the scribes are so caught up in God’s law that they’ve forgotten who God is. A God of relationship and life; not a God of judgment and death. But that God…that God is lost to them.
But my dear friends, the story doesn’t end there. I don’t know if you noticed. It was subtle. But this morning, something very, very precious was found. Something so important, so crucial to our everyday life that without it, none of us would be here. Something that without it, I’m not sure life would be worth living.
What was found this morning wasn’t a sheep who wandered away. It wasn’t a coin that rolled off the table and in between the floorboards.
No, what was found today…is God.
Back in our Exodus reading, when God is so lost God’s own anger that God has lost God’s self. When God is ready to throw in the towel and scrap this group of people and start over with Moses, forgetting that God promised at the end of the Noah story never to do that again.
It is then that Moses, like a shepherd who has lost his sheep, finds God and brings God back to God’s self. Moses says, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
Do you see what he’s doing there. YOUR people. The ones YOU brought out of the land of Egypt. He’s reminding God of the relationship. Of the promise.
Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”
And in the very last line of our reading it says, “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
And in that moment, God was found. God was lost, but now God has been found. Thanks to Moses. In the end, God finds God’s self – a God who chooses not to destroy, but to be faithful to the people.
And then in our Gospel reading, when the Pharisees want the God of revenge. The God who brings punishment down on sinners. When they want to build a wall around who Jesus can spend time with and they want Jesus give up on the lost causes of this world. When they have lost God…
It is then that Jesus, like Moses, helps us find God again by telling parables about God. A God who will risk everything for God’s people to be whole again. A parable about a shepherd (perhaps reminding them of Psalm 23 – the Lord is my shepherd) who doesn’t discard the lost. Who doesn’t punish the lost by leaving them out on their own. But a shepherd who goes to find the lost sheep. A shepherd who leaves the rest of his flock unprotected in the dangerous wilderness (and therefore risking his whole life) just to find that one sheep who is lost.
Then a parable about God as a woman who will search and search and search, doing nothing else but looking for that one coin that was lost. And then when she finds it, will invite everyone around to celebrate.
In telling these parables, Jesus reminds them of who this God really is.
And did you notice that the parable is in the form of a question? Which of you would leave your 99 sheep to go find the lost one? Which of you having lost one of your ten coins would search and search and search, and then throw a party after finding it? And the truthful answer is – none of us would do that. It’s crazy. Risking 99 of your sheep just to find one sheep? Searching for one coin and then throwing a party that probably costs twice as much when you find it? None of us would do that! It’s bad economics. It isn’t worth the risk.
And in that, the Pharisees and the scribes learn that they are not like God. That the Pharisees’ ways and the scribes’ ways are not God’s way. Jesus reminds them of the God who will risk everything, even God’s own life, for God’s people. It is foolish and crazy, but in God’s eyes, it’s worth it.
In the eyes of God, without that sheep, there is no flock. Without that coin, there is no treasure.
And in that moment the God who was lost was found again. A God of mercy and grace. A God of relationship and promise.
So what do we make of all of this?
What I learn from all of this is that it is easy to lose sight of the God who will not lose sight of us.
It is easy to lose sight of the God who will not lose sight of us.
And in the midst of the harsh realities of this world, can we hold onto the God of who offers such amazing grace? A God of wild, crazy, endless love for all people.
When the harsh realties of the world come knocking, can we hold on to our faith in that God. Because to be honest, when we remember the atrocious attacks on our country 15 years ago, and the unjust wars that followed…when we grieve the loss of Jacob Wetterling and shutter at the truth of his final days…when our politics seems just filled to the brim with venom for each other, it feels like we all are at such high risk of losing sight of this God. When our grief and our fear comes out as demonizing hatred and a thirst for revenge. And not only do we lose God, but we lose ourselves too. And I’m left wondering what does our faith in a God who stands on mercy and grace and forgiveness have to say about this? I’m not always so sure, but I long to live out of that faith in moments such as this. Not for the sake of our salvation or of being good Christians, but for the sake of the world. Because there is nothing healing in hatred and there is nothing redemptive about revenge. There is no life to be found there. Everyone loses. And the greatest loss is faith in a merciful and gracious God.
You know, we call these parables “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” But those titles miss the point. These parables aren’t about the sheep or the coin. They’re about the shepherd and the woman and the truth about God. This God works under an entirely different economy than we do. God sees value where we do not. God offers grace and mercy where we cannot.
This is our God. A God we too often lose sight of, but who never loses sight of us.