Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Third Sunday after Trinity, 2014
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Today, we hear once again the parable of the lost sheep. We also hear yet again the parable of the lost piece of silver, a parable that is often called the parable of the lost coin. These parables are very familiar to us. They are easy to understand; so easy that even the youngest child can comprehend the message. We want to find that which is lost. If it is something we hold very dear, we will search for it until it is found.

 

But that is only part of this story. The parables are the simple part. So simple that the commentaries devote very little space to helping us understand them. We get it. But the question that is always there, the question that God always asks of us is this: if you truly get it, will you truly live it?

 

Let's set the scene. There are two groups of people represented in today's reading from St. Luke's gospel. There are the publicans and the sinners. These constitute one group. Then there are the Scribes and the Pharisees. They are the second group. Jesus, of course, is there, too.

 

There is quite a difference between these two groups. In the first two sentences, we learn that these two groups behave very differently toward Jesus. Those publicans and sinners come close to Jesus; they draw near to him in order to hear what he has to say. The Pharisees and the scribes, whether they hear the words of Jesus or not, seem to stand apart from Him. They focus on something else entirely. They criticize him for receiving sinners. This man, Jesus, sits down with sinners. He not only sits down with them, he breaks bread with them, sharing food and drink. He has fellowship with them. How shocking! And also, how ironic.

 

Jesus, Himself a Pharisee, was criticized by his own people for finding fellowship outside the tribe. "Jesus," they might have said to Him, "come to your senses; these aren't your people; you'll get a bad reputation hanging around with these people. Besides, it could be dangerous. After all, they are sinners."

 

And so, for a time the two groups stay apart. And Jesus tells the story of the parable of the lost sheep. And I suspect that both groups listen. Simple as this parable is, it is still an excellent story.

This evening, as I reflect upon the gospel message, the neighbors across the street are having a Fourth of July bash. They are setting off firecrackers. Some of these firecrackers sound like the blasts from sixteen inch guns. Rockets are going off every minute or two. It's hard to concentrate with the siege of Constantinople going on in your back yard. Sure, it's the Fourth of July, but I might be more forgiving if those folks weren't such sinners. I know. I know. They don't belong to the meditative tribe like me.

 

I have to say, though, I judge them pretty harshly when the final salvoes knock down the battlements and the city falls to the Sulieman the Magnificent. (that's what I get for reading so much history while on vacation).

 

But the scribes and the Pharisees judged the publicans and sinners pretty harshly. And they judged Jesus even more harshly. "Look at who God is having lunch with," they might have said. They might have said that if they had recognized God. But they didn't. They didn't see Jesus for who he really is. Perhaps if they recognized God they might have come closer; they might have listened to the Word of God.

 

Instead, they stood aside. Those publicans and sinners just weren't their crowd. They were too old, too young, went to the wrong universities (or not at all), belonged to a different political party, wore different clothing...Well, they were different. And, above all, they were sinners!

 

They just didn't get it, those Pharisees. The group doesn't matter. God matters! God doesn't go where its fashionable; God goes where He is needed and wanted. And He also goes everywhere necessary to find the lost sheep. And sometimes those lost sheep don't even know they are lost.

 

The scribes and the Pharisees stand outside the group that listens intently to the words of Jesus. They hear the words that the publicans and the sinners receive with such eagerness. They watch as the sinners and the publicans accept that they are lost without Jesus. They see the transformation that comes about when the lost sheep are returned to the fold. They understand the rejoicing of the shepherd.

 

Perhaps now they draw a little closer. Jesus tells the story of the lost piece of silver. At one time, there were ten pieces of silver. One is lost. Those nine that are left is a substantial number. Why bother with the one odd coin? But for the woman who has lost it, that coin is truly valuable. And she searches until it is found. Saint Augustine compared that coin to faith in God. When it is lost, life has no meaning. When faith is returned, the reward is priceless.

 

Did those Pharisees who stood afar off know that Jesus was speaking directly to them. Did they know He was seeking only to find them; to bring them back; to rejoice over their return? Did they know this?

 

And do we, who hear the words of St. Luke's gospel, know that Jesus is speaking directly to us; that Jesus want us to return to Him; to know Him; to know how he searches for us; to know how He will rejoice when we find our way to Him. When we, along with all the publicans and sinners and perhaps even the Pharisees, when we draw near to Him and hear once again the simple words that speak to the truth of the God who loves us.

 

The siege of Constantinople is over. Praise God! The guns are silent. The warriors are likely sleeping.

But through it all, God has been searching for the lost. And rejoicing when any are found.

Amen.