Decision on Earth, Joy in Heaven

September 12, 2010

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Luke 15: 1-10

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1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
2
And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

3So he told them this parable:
4
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?
5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which 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 coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.'
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

 

 

This morning our topic and our title is:  Decision on Earth, Joy in Heaven.

 

I am so excited about the Gospel that we are looking at today. Jesus is giving us a special glimpse into the heart of God in this powerful, powerful Gospel. It contains a pair of parables that give us a look into the heart of God, the feelings of God. It is an amazing passage, let us study it together.

 

Jesus was teaching and all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. What do we mean by tax collectors and sinners?  It means the rejects of society, mistake-makers, sinners like you and me. It means the common folk, the disenfranchised people, the people who feel on the margins of life. It means the people who didnít feel part of the temple ďIn crowdĒ. They heard something wonderful in the words of Jesus. They heard something powerful in his message, and they were drawn to Him.  They began to draw near to listen to these words of encouragement and hope, and the amazing words about Godís love that Jesus had to teach to people. He told them that God loved them and they were amazed.

 

However, the Pharisees and the Scribes were grumbling.  They were the temple ďIn crowdĒ, the rule keepers, who did everything just so because that is what they thought would please God.  They were grumbling and said this fellow Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them!

 

 What does that mean? In the thought processes of Jesusís day, to eat with someone is to be reconciled to them, to be united with them, to be together in spirit. That is what it means to share a meal, no mater how simple the meal may be.

 

Did you know that if you watch TV, a station like CNN or MSNBC, you will not see the leader of Israel and the leader of Palestine sitting down together at a conference and a bowl of fruit on the table.  There will be no snack food on the table that may be common to a situation like that. You wonít see it. Why?  If the people of the Mideast see any type of food on the table they will say Aha! There is some kind of collusion going on. There has been an agreement that we donít know about - they're sharing a meal! So you wonít see any food on the table when leaders, opposing leaders especially, are sitting down together.

 

So when the Pharisees and the Scribes saw  Jesus not only meeting with these people, but eating with them-they thought He is connected to them, and how can this be?

 

 How kind our Lord Jesus was to these insecure, judgmental people.  Jesus told them two stories. He told two stories because he wanted to drive the point home. Two stories, for double emphasis.  He wanted to enlighten the Pharisees and Scribes about God - a principal part of Jesus purpose. 

 

In the first story he compares God to a shepherd. A shepherd is an image that they knew very well, and would be quite comfortable with.  They surely knew the 23rd psalm - "The Lord is my shepherd."  So, that's where Jesus starts.

 

In the second story he compares God to - a woman! Now if you thought that eating with sinners was rattling the cage of the Pharisees, now their eyes were probably spinning like those slot machines in Atlantic City. He compares God to a woman intentionally because there is a special place in Jesusís heart for women.  Jesus proclaimed the greatness and dignity of women throughout His ministry.  In the words of a beautiful hymn, Jesus knew that:  "Father-like, God tends us and spares us, well our feeble frame he knowsÖ Mother-like, God gently bears us, rescues us from all our foes." ("Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven", UMH # 66)

 

Jesus said that God is like a woman who had ten silver coins. What is that about? In Jesusís time when a single woman wanted to be married, she wore a headband which was decorated with silver coins of high value. That was her dowry, the money she would give in exchange for the opportunity to be married. A woman who lost one of the coins was somehow devalued, diminished in some way.

 

Now please watch this - something amazing is taking shape here - Jesus is implying that somehow the Lord God Himself is diminished without the completeness of our connection with Him!  Breathtaking isn't it?  Are we loved that much?  Are we that valuable to God? Jesus says so.

 

 Jesus says the woman lights a lamp and looks until she finds it. Why does she light the lamp?  In the time of Jesus, homes were made of thick stone. The windows were very small. Small windows were the security system, because then no person could climb in through the windows. That is the way the home was protected. The house was dark even on the brightest day. So the woman had to light a lamp in order to look for the lost coin. Jesus goes on to explain that when she finds the coin, she calls her neighbors together, puts the coin back in the headband and says Look! I am complete now!  Rejoice with me, the coin that was lost is now found!  That is what God's love for us is like.

 

The other story that Jesus told was about the shepherd. He said, "Who of you having a hundred sheep, if one wanders off, will not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go look for the one. And so it is with the Good Shepherd."

 

Letís talk about this. How very subtle of Jesus.  He was saying, "Why, of course!  All of you are such dedicated shepherds that you would certainly do thisÖ right?  Right?"

 

I will bet their heads were spinning when Jesus spoke about leaving the ninety and nine.  A female sheep is worth about $300.00. Female sheep are valuable because they provide milk, cheese, and ensure the future of the flock. By contrast, the male sheep is $100.00. So on average, sheep are worth about $200.00. This means that the total flock was worth about $20,000. The shepherd left the flock worth $18, 800.00 to go chase after one sheep worth about $200.00.

 

 Does that make sense? The shepherd didnít leave the flock with another shepherd, he left them in the wilderness - which is full of danger. Wolves and nasty large wild cats love the taste of sheep. The good shepherd knew that if he didnít go after the missing sheep, that sheep would be a goner.  But that's where he went. That's what the Good Shepherd is like.

 

The good shepherd also knew that the ninety and nine were not entirely defenseless.  They would join forces, face the center of the circle, and kick at any predator that bothered the large group. There were also guard dogs that would help them out. But the one sheep was helpless on its own. The good shepherd goes and looks and looks until he finds the one sheep and then puts it on his shoulders and rejoices all the way home. That is the way God feels, that is what is in Godís heart, when someone who has been away from Him comes on home again.

 

That is the way God feels about you. My dear friends, there are three things I would love for us to learn from this wonderful Scripture.

 

 First of all it is very clear that there is a God-shaped emptiness in our heart. This emptiness can only be filled by the presence of God. We are not home until we are home with Him again. We are away until we say yes to Him again.

 

However, there is also a you-shaped emptiness in the heart of God, that space can only be completed by your conscious decision to turn to God. There is rejoicing in Godís very heart, as it says in both parables, when we make a decision to return to Him.

 

Second.  God is looking for us. Both the woman and the shepherd went looking for the lost. Our job is to simply stop running. I donít know why the sheep left the flock. Was the grass greener over there? Did he want to make more friends, did he want an adventure? I donít know. But when we stop running and turn to Him, we let God find us. God is looking for us.

 

Third. A decision for Christ is a decision for joy. Salvation is not just about assuring a place in heaven.  It assures us of that, yes, but it is also about Joy. There is joy available to us, and joy available to God when we say yes to God. The woman who found the coin and the shepherd who found the sheep were singing for joy.  There is joy in heave when a decision is made, or remade, for Christ. 

 

I donít know what your decision needs to be. Maybe it is a first time decision to say yes to Jesus Christ and to pray that prayer that says Lord I need you in my life, come be my friend forever. If it is, let it be so and let your coming forward to Holy Communion this morning be your gesture of accepting of Him.  Maybe it is simply a drawing closer to Him and finding more joy in His love. I donít know what the decision is for you.  But I know that God is looking for you. He will be more complete when He finds you and you will be more complete when you find Him. Let your decision be a yes for God.

 

 Because - God loves you; I do too. Have a wonderful week. Amen

 

 © 2010 Anthony J. Godlefski