Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Seeking the Lost

1 Timothy 1:12-17 and Luke 15:1-10 

 Jesus was a friend to sinners.  He welcomed all who came to him, seeking God.  He welcomed tax collectors, even though they were “greedy” and “traitors to their people” for helping the Romans.  He welcomed prostitutes and others who were “outside of polite society” and certainly outsiders to the religious community.  

 That, in itself, is a powerful sermon.  How much of our time, as Christians, is spent sheltered in our “holy huddles,” only being around those who are already part of the church?  Do we have places in our lives where we intentionally spend time with those “outside of the religious community?”  In what ways are we representing the love and grace of God to those who don’t already know him?

 The Scribes and Pharisees were not fans of the company Jesus kept.  They didn’t think any rabbi should associate with sinners, and certainly not eat with them.  In their culture, eating together was a sign of trust and acceptance, equality and friendship.  No self-respecting Pharisee would ever count himself the friend or equal of a tax collector or prostitute.  

 Jesus countered this attitude with two parables.  

 The first is about a shepherd who has 100 sheep.  One of them strays away and gets lost in the wilderness.  He leaves the other 99 sheep with some other shepherds and goes off in search of the lost one, because that’s the one that needs the most of his attention right at the moment.  And each one of those sheep had great value to him.

 Each human being has even greater value.  We are each valuable because we are made in the image of God.  I think that’s what is missing in so many of our contemporary problems:  We no longer see sacred worth in each individual human life.  Partly, it’s because science now defines humanity as nothing more than “the most clever animal.”  Is there a qualitative difference between the life of a human and the life of an animal?  The Bible says yes, but many in our society say no.  

 Look at the amount of outrage that happens over the death of some animals.  There was the dentist from Minnesota who killed “Cecil the Lion” in Zimbabwe.  More recently, the gorilla in the Cincinatti Zoo that was shot and killed because they were afraid he was going to harm a child who had fallen into his enclosure.  How often do we see that amount of outrage over the death of a human being?  It’s hard to say that “all lives matter” when you look at the way we treat each other.  

 The second parable is about a woman who loses one of her 10 silver coins.  Now these coins are no ordinary coins.  They are her KETUBAH, the Hebrew word for dowry.  When she married, her father gave her these 10 coins.  Since she is married, they belong to her husband, but he can’t use them.  If he ever divorces her, she keeps them.  So this was supposed to be a financial incentive to fidelity in marriage.  

 But more than that, these are also a visible representation of her marriage.  Hebrew people didn’t wear wedding rings.  These were the equivalent.  Many women would sew the coins of their KETUBAH into a headdress or other garment and wear them as a symbol of their marriage.  So not only do these coins have monetary value; they also have great sentimental value.  They are precious to her.  If you want to say that last line like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, I understand.  I want to.  

 She loses one of them.  We know she is a poor person because 10 silver coins was the smallest dowry allowed.  Most poor peoples’ homes only had rough stone floors, and it would be easy for a coin to slip between the cracks.  In fact, when archaeologists want to date a building, they search the cracks in the floor stones for coins.  If they can date the coins, they know how old the building is.  

She searches diligently until she finds it, because it means so much to her.  One time I was playing volleyball with a church group, and one of the women lost her wedding band.  She was distraught.  We all stopped playing till we found it.  It had great sentimental value to her, so we all searched diligently.  

Both stories have some of the same elements in common.  First, the person who loses something searches diligently till they find it.  They don’t just hope that maybe the sheep will come back or that the coin will turn up.  Most Jews believed that God would welcome sinners who came back to him in sincere repentance.  But they didn’t really think of God doing anything to seek out the lost.

The second thing both stories have in common is that once the lost is found, there is great rejoicing.  God has no greater joy than when one of his lost children comes home to him and the relationship is restored.

 Earlier, we heard from 1 Timothy chapter 1.  In the verses immediately preceding what we heard, Paul is talking about false teachers and rebellious sinners.  And then he thanks God that he has been counted trustworthy and chosen to serve God, even though he used to do terrible things.  He insulted the name of Christ.  He persecuted those who followed Christ.  He

committed acts of violence and murder.  It is as if he is saying that no one, not these false teachers, not these rebellious sinners, is beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And he knows that because he has also received grace.  

 He says, “God had mercy on me because I acted in ignorance and disbelief.”  We often think of the Old Testament system being built on the foundation that sacrifice covered over the guilt of sin.  But many Bible scholars say that is not really the case.  Instead, sacrifices were meant to cover the guilt of unintentional sins, sins of ignorance.  Deliberate sins could only be forgiven by repentance.  

 Jesus came into the world to save sinners, “of which I am the worst,” Paul says.  

 Is Paul using hyperbole here? Is he just exaggerating his own sins to make a point?  I don’t think so.  I think he really thought of himself as the worst of sinners.  Why?  Because he knew his own sins best.  We all do.  We all know the deepest, darkest things we’ve said and done and thought better than anyone else.  

 I also think that a sign that we have received God’s grace is a deep awareness of how truly undeserved it is.  If we really feel unworthy of being a child of God, that’s probably a good sign that we understand grace.  Because, truly, none of us is worthy of being a child of God.  If you think you are, well, then you are behaving like those Pharisees.  

 Knowing the depths of our own sin can also help to keep us from pride.  While we don’t want to dwell on our sins in the past, it is good to remember them, so that we can stay humble.

 God’s grace also has an evangelistic purpose.  We have received grace so that others can know his grace is available to them as well.  If God could forgive the man who persecuted the early Church, and not only forgive him but welcome him and use him as an instrument of grace, then he can forgive anyone.  It’s amazing, if you think about it:  Paul was once one of the chief persecutors of the early Church.  Yet he became one of its greatest evangelists, and possibly its most important writer.  

 Some people think they are beyond the reach of God’s grace, that they have committed unforgiveable sins.  And it’s just not true.  The only sin God cannot forgive is the unrepentant heart that refuses to come to him.  No matter who you are or what you have done, you have great value to God, and he wants you to come home to a relationship with him.  Believe that message for yourself, but also share it with everyone you know.  

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