When Jesus tells a parable, to understand Him rightly, you have to know where you fit in.
In the parable today, you’re not the one who’s lost something. Think about that. If that’s what Jesus means, that our primary understanding of Christian life is that we are responsible for finding what is lost, then He condemns us all, placing the burden of finding the lost on our shoulders.
The vocation of husband, wife, child or worker may not include “finding the lost” as one of its God-given responsibilities. You may encounter the lost along the way, but they don’t then become a box to be checked on your “To Save” list.
No one is saved because of your effort.
St. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
This is one reason for small churches to endure, by the way. The seed of God’s Word is scattered everywhere, though it makes no sense to do so, and God gives the growth.
If it were man’s work and man’s ways that manifested Christians, then only the biggest, most worldly-successful-looking churches should keep their doors open—but no! God gives the growth.
In the parable, you are that which is lost—or you were, before God found and saved you.
So you’re not the one with a hundred sheep.
You’re not the woman with ten silver coins.
You are a sheep. A coin.
And what do you know about them?
Sheep can be like wayward teenagers, actively finding the worst possible spot, making it worse by trying to fix it, and then sheepishly seeking guidance—all while letting you know how harsh you are.
There was a viral video a few years ago of a sheep that got stuck in a tire swing. It sort of wanted help, and it sort of didn’t. It sort of really liked it, and it sort of really didn’t. Sheep are like that sometimes.
And sheep are hunted. That I’m aware of, there are no National Geographic documentaries about sheep outrunning wolves. If left alone, in the open country, they’ll be devoured.
Regardless, in one way or another, all sheep eventually go into meat production.
And so, what do you know about coins? Money?
Money is a tool to be used for a good purpose, right?
But it also wants to be spent, right?
If a man foolishly spends his money, and quickly, you might say it’s burning a hole in his pocket.
And when you feel wonderful, you might say you feel like a million bucks.
So coins or money is a thing to be used to care for your neighbor, and, so it may seem, money has thoughts and feelings of its own. Money wants to be spent.
Regardless, you can’t take it with you. All of it’s eventually spent. Transitory. Going in to meat production.
So Jesus tells a parable, and in that parable, you are the sheep and coin, and that’s what you know about sheep and coins.
“The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled…saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:30-32).
You are neither the shepherd nor the woman.
You are lost like the sheep or the coin.
Or you were, before God found and saved you.
“He seeks the lost and brings back the strayed. He binds up the injured and strengthens the weak” (cf. Ezekiel 34:16).
From today’s Old Testament lesson: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham” (cf. Micah 7:18-20).
God forgives sin. He shows compassion.
He remembers His promises and acts on them.
And from today’s Epistle lesson: “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15), even the chief of sinners.
And from today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8).
Jesus doesn’t ask, “Which of you do this?” He asks, “Which of you do not do this?” He implies, rhetorically, that this is the obvious thing to do.
It’s the thing that God does, but it’s not obvious.
Man, the world, and you all are quite happy just knowing that the coin is somewhere in the house.
“It’ll turn up,” you say. You’ll look after dinner, after chores, after ‘while, but it’ll turn up.
No one stops everything and searches everywhere, to find what’s not—right now—needed.
You don’t leave the ninety-nine in the open country, the desert, the wilderness. You don’t leave the prey in the domain of its predator for the sake of the one.
You don’t do that.
But that’s the wisdom and steadfast love of God.
He’s not content to save some of the world or most of it. Rather, He would seek and find and save it all.
The sheep that cries out for its shepherd, the child that cries out for Mom, has been humbled. He has repented.
God may seem to leave you in a dangerous place, but in these parables there are only two possibilities: 1) your salvation is not in doubt, or 2) your salvation is in doubt.
For the ninety-nine, God leaving them to find the one may seem like a raw deal. But they have nothing to fear: for them, “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
These are the repentant faithful.
God promises that you will bear a cross, and He gives it that you would bear it faithfully—so the unbelieving world would see your hope and the reason for it.
For the one, God leaving the ninety-nine is God’s grace and mercy defined.
God desires not the death of the sinner but that He turn from his evil ways and live (cf. Ezekiel 18:23).
Jesus receives sinners and eats with them, not just once but every Sunday.
You’re still sinners, but you’ve been sought, found, brought back, bound up, and made strong.
You’ve heard the Word of God and believe it.
You fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
You’re a repentant sinner. A found sheep. A found coin. This is what God has done, and there is much rejoicing.
“The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him” (Luke 15:1), but the Pharisees perceived no such need.
They didn’t know the voice of their shepherd.
Jesus tells this parable to teach us to rejoice in sins forgiven—whoever’s sins they are.
Because Christ died for all, and the shed blood of Jesus Christ avails for all sinners everywhere.
Rejoice—even today, “This man [your God and Lord] receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 3 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt