Who belongs next to Jesus? Who belongs next to us? In a first reading of Luke 15:1-10, these questions may guide you as you interrogate this scripture for Sunday. In the opening verses, Jesus’s fame has now spread, and people are surrounding him to listen. There is a mix within this crowd, tax collectors and “the others,” SINNERS, and the “good guys,” the religious elite, Pharisees and The Scribes (great name for a band) all together, listening. The listening party ends, because the good guys decide they shouldn’t be in this crowd, among this kind of people. The “good guys” decided that the caliber of the crowd was beneath Christ, and expressed this opinion in a loud whisper, with rolling eyes, and all manner of negative gestures towards “the others. “ They signaled to all that some changes needed to be made, and even more there are proper answers to the aforementioned questions.
Many persons use this passage, and its two parables, to encourage evangelical actions and mission work. It is good that we seek and desire to be near those whom we feel are separated from our faith bodies. Yet, there is an arrogance that can easily and innocently attach itself to our good works. We can often assume, that WE know what is best, WHO deserves to be with us, and WHO God has determined, née predestined for God’s grace and salvation. With this motivation, we engage along a worthiness spectrum with “the others,” that limits their access to sanctuary and without a permanent place to be developed as disciples. As Sunday’s preacher, the first two verses are a deep well for a well crafted sermon to challenge the acceptable divisiveness in our congregations. It may be a daunting task to attend to some of these divisions, yet trust that if the Spirit of God is leading you down this path, you will be in good company, as you operate through the prophetic office.
The two parables offer just as much theological and exegetical fodder to encourage deeper reflection on this well known passage. Both parables deal with loss, and the actions of discovery and reclaiming the lost. These parables draw our attention not only to the importance of lost things to God, but that there seems to be a preference to leave those accounted for, in order to find (at all cost) all who are lost. Again, those of us who are safe within the body of Christ, may struggle with the idea that God would leave US to find, collect and bring back any one who may be lost. Shepherds are hired help, whose only job is to, protect that which is entrusted to them, the Master’s sheep. Money is important to any household, and in this parable, an unnamed woman tears up the house in order to account for one coin. In both cases, the shepherd and the woman call together a crowd of friends and neighbors (the safe ones) to celebrate the fact that the lost sheep and coin were found.
In preaching these parables, move past your immediate understanding of these stories to see other meanings and the various roles in which one could operate. Yes, it may be powerful to experience a sermon that reminds us of our former status, as “lost sheep and coins,” prey to coyotes and wolves or sofa cushions. Yet, perhaps you could take a different approach, by offering a Discipleship sermon, that urges listeners to realize that not only does God engage in search and rescue operations, but we who are safe, and connected, are required to do the same. As disciples, those who understand and are seeking to be like Christ, we act as “first responders.” First responders are those who are not removed from there previous lost state, but understand that if God thought they were worthy of being found, than that testimony might lead someone else to realize the power of God’s great love. Again, this love is open to all, and is not limited by our human allegiances. The fact that the lectionary ends this passage at verse 10, and the parable of the prodigal son is not the Gospel lesson for the next week. Perhaps another approach is to compare and contrast the parable of the lost coin to that of the prodigal son. Either way, there is more than enough to whet your hermeneutical whistle, just let the Spirit lead you to that which will encourage and broaden the understanding of your congregation.