(A sermon for the Word Zone at Liquid Church)
What was special about that sheep?
Was he (or she) especially cuddly, like a pet? Or particularly meaty, and so would give succulent lamb chops? Or perhaps with lots of wool?
No. The reason the sheep or lamb is the centre of the story is that it is lost. All of a sudden it has become the centre of attention for the shepherd. The sheep is lost and there is no alternative for the shepherd – the sheep must be found.
In the same way the coin really matters. It seems almost certain that the set of ten coins was a headdress presented to a woman when she became a bride. To lose one coin was like losing a wedding ring. She was compelled to find it. Every piece of furniture was moved, every corner was swept, she kept looking and looking until – she found it.
What is the point of the stories? That God is a God who rejoices when what is lost is found, when what is bound is released. We rejoice today at the news that the Archbishop of the Niger Delta, the Most Revd Ignatius Kattey, has been released. In the same way, God rejoices when we turn to him.
There is a challenge though. God is most welcoming to every sinner who repents. This does not mean that in a syrupy way he will accept any and every one without question. Those who persist in sin and enjoy sin do not see themselves as lost. Indeed they are usually the first to be upset at any suggestion that they need to amend their ways.
But God rejoices over each and every sinner who repents. Each of us who would like to be good, who wants to turn away from being evil and self-centred, who is seeking after God: each and any of us who realises that we are lost will be found.
Not everyone believes this. Jesus told these stories (and the one immediately after this about a son who ran away) precisely because he was being criticised by some so-called righteous folk who disliked the people he was mixing with. As far as they were concerned, there are some people who are better than others. People like ‘us’ do not mix with people like ‘them’. Not so! Jesus makes this very clear. God chooses whom he will welcome and accept, and he seems to want to accept everyone. The only people who seem to be outside of this acceptance are those who see themselves as so good and upright that they do not need to accept the forgiveness that he offers.
There is another group who struggle to accept Jesus’ message. Often I meet people who say, in effect, I would like to start coming to church when I get my life sorted and I am living better. In other words, I am a bit lost at the moment but when I find myself and get my act together, then I can come to Jesus. The problem is that we are lost and we cannot find our way back with outside help.
The step forward comes when we accept that we are lost, and allow Jesus to find us.
It can be as simple as praying a prayer, asking Jesus to reveal himself and to forgive us and to come into our lives. Then, Jesus tells us, the celebrations start!
2. I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent. What do you think this means?
3. there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God Who do think is doing the rejoicing? How can we join in?