Meditation on Luke 15:1-10 – Bates College Chapel – 9/16/07

chapel-small.jpgMy first thought after reading the scripture was to recall getting lost while driving between Grand Rapids, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois this summer. On the drive, I learned that there are two signs you are lost:

 1) absolute confidence that you are going the right way and hence are not lost, and

 2) the subsequent slow realization that your confidence might have been misplaced, as you are not nearing your destination, and are hence lost.

What has this memory to do with Luke 15?

The passage is the next phase of Jesus’ attempt to explain the Kingdom of God He has come to establish. His audience, comprised of everyone from the world’s most esteemed theologians to the very scum of the earth, hasn’t been able to understand Him.

First century Jews had been awaiting a Messiah, the man who would overthrow and punish their enemies once and for all, and re-establish the glorious political and economic justice of King David for all eternity.

But Jesus hasn’t been talking about doing anything remotely like that. Instead Jesus has been telling them quirky little stories that are supposed to clarify what the Kingdom of God is like.

Most recently, Jesus has compared the Kingdom to a Great Banquet, but a banquet not for the esteemed invited guests, but rather for the town’s tramps and vagabonds. Then He announced the price of admission to this Heavenly Kingdom Feast – everything you’ve got!
The crowds are baffled. The crowds are restless. This is not what they have been expecting. It seems the he more Jesus tells them, the more confused and lost they get.

So Jesus decides to tell a series of three more parables, this time about “lostness” itself.

First he tells of the lost sheep and the shepherd who leaves his flock to pursue the one missing sheep. Jesus deliberately draws upon Ezekiel’s declaration of God’s intent to “search for the lost and bring back the strays” and Isaiah’s “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;”

Everyone knew Israel was God’s lost beloved sheep and that God was searching for her. And everyone knew Israel was God’s precious lost coin and He would search until He found her.

Nothing new here: The Pharisees and teachers of the law were well aware of the historic metaphor of God the Shepherd and the tribes of Israel as his flock.

But the occasion of Jesus’ decision to tell these parables of lostness, suggests that Jesus was up to something bigger than just restating one of Israel’s cherished metaphors about itself. Jesus  was about to do nothing less that redefine the identity of God’s chosen people, to proclaim a new and larger flock, beloved by God.

Jesus uses the occasion of “muttering” by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about the people Jesus has been associating with – the tax collectors, the sinners, the unclean, the outcasts, the social misfits, the politically incorrect, the unrighteous,  – to tell the parables of lostness.

By so doing, Jesus corrects the religious community’s notion about God and His Kingdom: God loves all people equally, not just the children of Israel, but also the dreaded collaborators with the occupying imperialists, not just those keeping the law, but also the most notorious criminals themselves!

And God is seeking all people – not just the religious folk who claim to love and seek Him, but also those heretics, and atheists, and rebels, who deny Him, mock Him, ridicule Him, and even hate Him.

Jesus says that God wants the bad people at His great Kingdom banquet as much as He wants the good people.

Jesus says that God loves and desires one great sinner who changes course as much as He does the ninety-nine upright people who believe they have lived just about perfectly all their lives-

Who, he says (perhaps with a smile), “need no repentance.”

So, what does it mean to sin anyway? Or to repent?

To sin simply means to miss the mark. To repent simply means to change course.

To sin means to end up in Gary, Indiana instead of Chicago, Illinois. To repent means to get off of Route 20 back onto Route 90 where you should have been in the first place!

In other words, God is after those who are aiming for the wrong thing, those who are heading in the wrong direction.

In other words, God wants those who are lost, whether they realize it or not.

And that is where I think these parables find a contemporary application for us.

Here among a wealth of human intelligence:

Could you be lost?

Here with more social services at your disposal than anywhere on the planet:

Could you be lost?

What does it mean to be lost?

Jesus deliberately uses sheep in His story, not just because 1st century Palestine was a sheep raising community, but, I believe, because of all animals on earth, sheep most resemble human beings in ways most important to God:

For example, no sheep ever believes he is lost. In fact, sheep deeply resent being found. A sheep, if it falls onto its back, is unable to right itself; the sheep will actually die within minutes if not set upright. Nevertheless, the sheep will fight to the death any and all attempts to put him back on his feet!

Sound like anyone you know?

Furthermore, a sheep’s self- reliance is a profound mark of its ignorance. A sheep will eat grass right up to the edge of a cliff and beyond, right off the cliff to its own death.

And, a sheep, all the while believing it is acting of its own free will, will follow other ignorant sheep in a crowd, rather than his loving shepherd, who needs a rod and staff to keep the sheep from making foolish death-choices.

Sheep are lost and don’t know it.

And that is the way God sees us.

I know. I was lost for 50 years and, not only didn’t know it, but sought to rescue others I thought were lost!

What does being lost feel like? If you really want to know, let me recommend a respected and influential manual on getting and being lost, which has influenced Americans profoundly, especially New England Americans. It is Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

To be self-reliant is to be lost.

To be God-reliant is to be found

From God’s view, to follow your own best analysis and understanding is nothing less than being lost.

And to be lost is to be outside the Kingdom of God and absent from the Great Banquet He has prepared for us.

We chose self-reliance at the very beginning: Long ago at Eden University, Professor Satan propounded on the theory of self-reliance to undergraduates Adam and Eve, they majored in it, and were booted out of the Kingdom of God, and into This Present Evil Age, as St Paul labels it. They became lost.

We have followed their footsteps to where we are this evening, Bates College.

But what then does it mean “to be found”?

First, to admit that we are lost, that we have missed the mark, and then to change direction, to repent.

It is to ask Jesus to take over the wheel of the car known as our life, to let Him drive it, according to His road map.

It is to pray and live as Jesus taught us; to ask God that “THY (not my) kingdom come, that THY (not my) will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

To rely only on God, and not on ourselves.

That is to be found.  That is Kingdom living.

To seek His will, not our will. That is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

 To have God as the Lord of your life, rather than oneself as the Lord of your life. That is freedom. That is healing the brokenness.

So tonight Jesus asks each of us: Am I the Lord of Your Life or Not?

But even if we answer “yes”, we may still be lost:

 The Pharisees and scribes knew more about God and His plans than any other people on earth, but they couldn’t have been more lost.

 Jesus’ closest followers thought they knew Jesus and understood His Kingdom, and the path to it, but they didn’t have a clue either.

Tonight we worship God at a place where “education” happens.

“Education” from the Latin “e-ducare:  to lead or bring from.”

 So, who is leading you in your education? If you are an educator, who leads your mind? You, your profession, or Jesus Christ. Are you leading students toward or away from the Kingdom of God?

If you are a student, who leads your studies. Your professor or Jesus Christ? Are you being led toward the Kingdom of God or away from it?

Jesus offers to be Lord of all we are, and all we do, and all we have.

We cannot select which parts we will rule and which parts He will rule.

Not if we want to avoid becoming lost.

Is He the lord of your Life? Or are you?

Is He leading your education? Or is someone else?

He is seeking you right now. If you turn around, and accept His offer to be the Lord of you life, He has this to say to you, through the prophet Jeremiah:

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.

“When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.

“I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the places into which I drove you” – God’s Decree – “bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”

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