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Archive for September 12th, 2016

Luke’s Gospel begins with a narrative of someone lost, in chapter 2 . It was Passover and Joseph took his family and with a large party of pilgrims from Nazareth went up to Jerusalem.  Joseph’s stepson was separated from them.  Joseph and Mary looked high and low for their Son. He was lost but He was always found, as they found Him in the Temple where He said He must be in His Father’s House.  Finding Jesus…we hear people say, I found Jesus.  Yeah, He was wandering down highway 60.  I found Jesus: no He was not lost in the first place!  All of Luke chapter 15 is about one Person who does the seeking, the searching high and low and the finding.  Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.  He is the treasure that’s always been in the field.  He is the pearl of great price.  He found a congregation that day in Palestine:  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  It was the lost being found in His unchanging grace for sinners.  They knew they  were lost, the Law told them again and again and heaven came a knocking:  the Messiah, the Christ.

But what was the Pharisees and scribes’ deal?  They took umbrage that He ate with them which meant acceptance of them, but it did not. It meant repentance, God’s forgiveness for those who like sheep had gone astray each to his own way. The good Shepherd came searching in the fields of the world, and the woman householder in her own home.

But why their umbrage? The Pharisees and scribes revulsion?  They were the good people of Israel.  They were waiting for the Messiah, and if the Messiah is actually Jesus, He is literally going to all the wrong people.  Their math was simple:  the Messiah, the Christ would come for the good people.  After all, they kept the Law of God, they had accrued a favorable balance of good deeds on the Almighty’s ledger sheet and expected a big dividend for their work:  the Messiah.  I’ve loved God and my neighbor.  I’ve been a mission trips to Haiti. I’ve kept my nose clean.  I have earned my cosmic merit badges.    Their  statement to the Lord was in effect: You are in our debt.  Their prayer was not “forgive us our debts”.  “Karma” is just a name for pernicious works righteousness.  This is the ecumenical religion of the old Adam. Do enough good and salvation is accomplished.  Then when things go wrong, God stiffed me for all my good.  In verse 4 we are told that the Shepherd left the 99 in the “open country”, and that Greek word is usually translated, “wilderness”.  Wilderness think of God a wandering Israel led through the wilderness.  Christ is the One who found them to begin  with!  And the coin lost in the woman’s house may be a way of saying:  the self-righteous are lost even in the Lord’s House as we can be as well.

When Joseph and Mary found Him, they said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”  “Great distress” sums the feeling of losing anything, especially someone.  Jesus knew what his mother and father went through when they thought their firstborn was lost!   We all know the great distress.  Where did I leave my car keys? Where’s my wallet, purse, billfold?  What did I do with that check?   On busy city street, where’s my daughter, she was just here?!!  Altzheimers is a disease that makes one forget where one is.  Where am I? Worse is the Altzheimers of the soul:   Wandering about alone. Lost at home…lost at home in the utter separation caused by going off on one’s own alone. Yes, lost is great distress to say the least.

 Why do we go through such consternation when something or someone is missing or lost?  Answer:  it is of value to the owner.  The Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus (notice not to His face) with an accusation:  He receives sinners and tax collectors and eats with them.  They were lost, no ifs, ands and buts about it.  He went searching for them like a shepherd, like the woman who lost her coin. They are His. They were and are of great value to their owner, their shepherd. When we are worried about will we have enough food, clothes and even a home, Jesus said, Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! He went in great distress and in the joy of finding them. He ate with them, not to win their votes but by His love and mercy they repent and know the joy of being restored to the communion. Sin like disease has us by ourselves, clean cut-off. The Pharisees and scribes were aghast that Jesus ate with them which meant table fellowship and equality.  They considered them persona non grata. 

The Latin phrase, persona not grata, generally means unacceptable persons, but literally the Latin is persons without grace and so they sorely were without grace.  Yes, yet Jesus was no equal to the sinners and tax collectors and neither to the Pharisees and Scribes! He is the Lord but any good teacher stoops down to the child to teach her, Jesus went all the way, from heaven to earth I come: grace alone.  He ate with them and they could bring nothing to the table except their various conditions and manners of lost. No amount of keeping the Law of God perfectly could do it and the Law rightly pointed out how they were lost.  The Lord heard the cry of the Psalmist in their hearts and mouths:  “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”  I seek you I Myself, says the Lord, and no other.

The shepherd goes high and low in the heat of the day and cold of the night of Middle East.  A sheep when it gets lost will find itself and alone and just freeze, not move a muscle…probably in fright. The sheep can do nothing to save itself. Bleating and hiding behind a rock.  These icons illustrate this so well:

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he finally finds his lost sheep, he hoists the 70 pound beast on his shoulders, a wool sweater on 90 degree Middle Eastern day for the long trek home.  Like the father in the third parable when he tells the eldest son begrudging the celebration for his younger brother’s restoration, we had to celebrate. A necessity.  The shepherd had to celebrate.  He gathers friends and neighbors for a dinner.

The coin probably was a string of coins that was customary to give as part of the dowry and the wife and mother used those coins in cases of financial emergency.  St. Ambrose preached that the Father in the parable of the prodigal son is God the Son, the Shepherd the Son of God and the woman the Church.  As the woman was blessed with the crown of coins, wed to her husband, the Church is the bride of Christ.  From heaven He came to seek her to be His holy bride and for Her live he bought and for Her life He died.  The early church met in homes. The new family of God hears and does God’s Word.  Jesus Christ found them as they were lost.  The coin cannot find itself, save itself.  Now the woman’s coin is lost in her own home.  Many become lost right in the Church, with schisms rent asunder and heresies distressed.  Folks become lost to the Church because of the same attitudes exhibited by the Pharisees and scribes looking down their noses at others. When we look down our noses at others, we don’t look up to heaven and pray: Lord, have mercy.  Making church into a club with a little religion thrown in.  Someone lost, or seeking,  comes into a church and a member says, that’s my pew.  Or the those lost and lone don’t want to come in because as I heard, church is for the good people.  The woman lights a lamp to search.  We have such a lamp, the Lamb of God.  Oh, to rejoice because the lost is found, Rejoice with me…is not the relieved cry of the redeemed heard much in the house of the Lord. 

What about the 99 sheep and 9 coins?  The righteous who have no need of repenting.  Is Jesus being ironic?  Maybe.  The righteous in themselves thought they did not need to be found.  Yet,  the scribes and Pharisees with all of Israel knew Psalm 95 and  sung it in the Temple and in synagogue, if you will, in the Church of Israel. Psalm 95 begins, let us make joyful noise to the Lord, and it’s repeated in verse 2. Why joyful noise?  What is the cause of joy? 

For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

They forgot they too were sheep.  They also did not find the Lord.  It was the Lord who found them.  They thought they made a decision for the Lord, by their scrupulous following of the rules and regs, they thought they had the good sense to be Jews. “How odd of God to choose the Jews”.  Only if I think I’m better.    They forgot they were the chosen people not because of anything worth choosing but that God chose them…like a lost sheep they needed finding.  Finding them is the cause of joyful noise daily. In fact, Psalm 95 is the opening Psalm for morning prayer every day. Joy is the serious business of heaven. The Pharisees and tax collectors could not share in the joy of finding the lost. 

His Cross is His Shepherd’s staff by which He calls the church to preach and teach and so find the lost and keep the found found in Him alone.   It is written, We preach Christ and Him crucified  (see 1 Corinthians 1:22-24), Not, we preached Him crucified and now we are over that.  This is the Biblical reason a crucifix is a crucial illustration of the Lord’s call to the Church.  We are as hymnist sang, prone to wander, prone to leave the one I love, Lord, I feel it, take my heart and seal for Thy courts above. Our preaching of Christ and Him crucified is always in present tense.  Today’s Epistle is major example of a lost sheep: Saul of Tarsus on a murderous rampage to arrest Christians. He was so good at it, Saul took his ability on the road…to Damascus.  He was there when the first martyr was stoned to death, Stephen, consenting in Stephen’s death.  St. Paul wrote to Timothy that “I am the chief of all sinners”, present tense. Look at what I did. Paul the Pharisee was faith less, love less and joy less…but after being found, he did not write, I was a sinner. The present tense Savior is for present tense sinners to live faithful lives in Him, His Body the Church.  Found in Him every day.  Repentance is not a one time deal, but a daily life of dying and rising in Him. (see Matthew 16:23-25) Like the Shepherd, our repentance, our return is founded as we are found in His rescue  the Cross.His forgiveness, by the sign of His Cross, is our daily nourishment to live with ourselves and each other. Yesterday I received a phone call at 12:30am from Pr. Phil Carr’s hospice nurse that Pr. Carr was throwing and he asked Lisa to call me.  I went to the nursing home to see him.  By the time I arrived, he was clean, awake and sucking on a lollipop.  Lisa had already left.  It is remarkable what a hospice nurse does!  Just think of police and firemen seeking the lost. Think today, on 9/11, firemen going up those stairs to save people.  He was not talking, but enjoying his lollipop.  After I prayed a few psalms, I told Phil I was leaving.  He put up his right hand and made the sign of Cross over me. I thanked him for the blessing.

 All three of the parables end with rejoicing and rejoicing means only one thing:  a supper, His meal, His Body and Blood  His daily nourishment that heaven wants to rejoice with lost being found, the dead alive, by His Cross and the Word of His cross given to us daily,  in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

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“…what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” St. Luke 16: 15b

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