Luke 15:1–10: The Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church over the Internet.
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Such a sensitive and lovely time this morning. Our reading from the Bible we’ve heard in various forms today is from Luke 15:1-10. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and then The Parable of the Lost Coin. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable, “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? When he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me, I found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The parable of the lost coin. “Suppose,” says Jesus, “a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me, I found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
At Main Street, I think there’s something that we have in abundance. I’m sure I’ve said it before because I believe it to be true. It’s worth realizing that, surprisingly, not every church has it. It’s a warm welcome to all who come through our doors of our building. It’s one of the things that I’m very keen we readopt once our doors are allowed to fully reopen safely, a welcome for all who want to come.
I hope you sense a warm welcome when you gather with folk that you know, perhaps on a Sunday morning. Of course, you do. Many have been attending Main Street for years. Part of the feeling of welcome and acceptance is because you’re comfortable with those that you know so well. As you know, I’ve been away this week, and my holiday cabin overlooked the lovely little River Clun in Shropshire on the little stretch that my veranda overlooked, had a couple of geese and some ducks.
Every now and again, I would hear some squawking. As I looked up from my book or my cup of tea, I’d see one goose snapping its beak at another goose. I have no idea what had upset it, but obviously, it wanted to be top dog or top goose of the small brood. I think in nature this is called the pecking order. In most places of society where there are people we’ll find a pecking order.
Of course, it’s an unspoken order, but nevertheless, we have a sense of who’s the most influential, richest, best looking, intelligent, or whatever type followed by everyone else, and then perhaps those who feel that they’re at the bottom of the pile. There ought not be any kind of pecking order, I know, especially in a faith community, where maybe we aim to ensure everyone ought to be treated with the same love and the same respect.
I’m very sorry if you don’t get that sense of acceptance or welcome or if you feel that you’re at the bottom of the queue because it shouldn’t be like that. I wonder whether Jesus had a similar sense of preaching to those at the bottom of the pecking order as he spoke about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and, as we will discover next week, the lost son. Luke makes it plain that Jesus is talking primarily to those whose lives, livelihoods and credentials aren’t by social and religious standards of the day, acceptable.
Time and again, the term used for these kinds of people are tax collectors and sinners. They could be like you and me. They could be in the wrong job, they could be disabled, they could have the wrong faith or no faith. They could have a distorting skin disease or not have the money to make a sacrifice at the temple. There’s a whole manner of stuff that prevents us from getting to God, and so we figure that we’re at the bottom of the pecking order. Sheep are two a penny.
There are loads of them, as Beth showed us earlier. Coins, yes, there are lots of those, too. Who would want to go looking for those things that aren’t very valuable? That’s the point that Jesus makes to the tax collectors and sinners. Just as the Pharisees are in earshot, Jesus has good news for those towards the bottom of the pecking order. It’s those that are beyond the pale that these parables are being told to as well as the Pharisees.
God is seeking everyone. Instead of saying, “What’s one lost sheep? I’ve got 99 others,” the person who loses the one knows its importance and goes off in search of it. When he finds it, he gathers his friends and family around and there’s so much rejoicing. For the Jewish Pharisees listening to this story, they know about sheep and those that look after them. It’s a parable, perhaps even about Israel. Their whole history is scattered with stories about shepherds and sheep.
Look, for example, at Ezekiel 34:11-12. “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says,” says Ezekiel, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks for his scattered flock when he is with them, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.”
Similarly with the most famous of David’s Psalms, Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Yes, those who were at the top of the religious pecking order knew all about the importance of shepherds and sheep. Jesus was talking to the tax collectors and sinners about their worth and place within creation and about how God sought them and when he had found them, there was a party.
Nobody partied with tax collectors and sinners. That’s the point that Jesus was making, those that don’t party with tax collectors and sinners are exactly the ones that God especially wants to party with. The story of the poor lady who had lost her coin somewhere in the house, possibly part of her dowry. You can imagine her beating herself up, remonstrating with herself about how utterly stupid she’d been in losing such an important item.
Of course, this coin is so much more precious than one sheep from 100, but when she finds it, says Jesus, the result is still the same, rejoicing and partying. The woman who we know would have such little social standing in such a male-dominated nation was there front and centre because she, relieved as she was at finding her coin, wanted to invite all she knew to rejoice in her joy as well.
There is much made of seeking and finding. The punch line at the end of both parables is that there is much rejoicing. Let’s look at this. Much rejoicing. About whom? The answer comes from the one who is forever getting in trouble for partying with the wrong crowd. It’s this. There is much rejoicing over one sinner who repents. We remind ourselves that Jesus’ primary audience here are the tax collectors and sinners, the ones Jesus is always, in Luke’s gospel at least.
Always hanging around with, enjoying their company, getting to know. They’re the ones that are beyond the pile at the bottom of society’s pecking order. You know ones. Maybe you don’t. Maybe we excuse ourselves from those at the bottom of the pecking order because we don’t know how to help or what to do. In both of these short parables, Jesus ends up saying that there is rejoicing in heaven or in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. There’s a word, repent.
We know what that word means, right? It’s about someone who hears the gospel message, goes to the front of the church in penitence and asks Jesus into their lives, receives God’s forgiveness from the sinful ways, as they say, the sinner’s prayer and receives the Holy Spirit as they are changed into newness of life. That’s what repentance is all about, isn’t it? Or is it? Is this what Christianity has made repentance? Repentance is simply turning back, it’s turning around. Tom Wrights’ For Every One series on the New Testament have really got some helpful glossaries at the back of each tone. They’re there to remind the readers of what the words mean rather than maybe what we think they mean. Tom Wright says that repentance indicates turning back and is both a personal turning away from sin and the Old Testament corporate turning away from the idolatry back to God. For the Jews then, this returning is a return from exile, it’s a homecoming, more about that next week.
“This returning is what repentance means for Jesus and for Paul,” says Tom Wright. Repentance means to return to Jesus because we all need to do that, to return to Jesus. Not only morally and ethically but spiritually, to understand and appreciate what it really means to be loved and accepted wholeheartedly. Repentance, according to Tom Wright, is not turn or burn as we Christians like to make out, but it’s about returning home.
It’s about being found by a God who delights to seek potentially worthless treasure that turns out to be a pearl of great price, like a sheep, like a coin. Over such small items, there’s a party because we are each worthy of celebration. You see, quite simply, you and I are the lost sheep and the lost coin. However high up or low down the pecking order we think we are, we need to be found.
The seeker in the stories is always God, taking time and effort to find that which seems so worthless to others is actually worth leaving the other 99 sheep. Worth sweeping out the whole house to find the tax collector and the sinner and the Pharisee, to find us. Maybe you are seeking God, but maybe he’s already sought you, but maybe you don’t feel the value that is placed upon you.
Or maybe you know you have been found but find it hard to believe that there’d be a party in heaven over your repentance, you’re turning back home to God. That’s the thing about parties. If everyone’s invited then it wouldn’t be the same without your presence. We don’t want to miss you out. Perhaps I’m being insensitive about talking about celebrations and partying.
These past weeks and months have been particularly difficult for us as a congregation, especially in the week that we have said farewell to Jennie. We remember during springtime the losses over recent years of Jean and Carol and June and Margaret. Maybe I’m being insensitive when I talk in a celebratory fashion. I’m grateful to say that all these lovely people were found by God. We believe that they are now safe in God’s eternal care. In effect, they have returned to the God who loves them and gave himself for them. They are safe.
Of course, we miss their presence in our lives, we do miss them desperately. Some might suggest that they are partying in celebration with their Heavenly Father, though those of us grieving might not find this too easy right now. Thankfully, we can put our trust in the party host, our gracious Lord, maybe the most we can do is hold on to this truth right now. The parables we’ve heard today, have those at the lowest parts of the pecking order in mind, the widows and orphans, the women and the shepherds.
To God, status doesn’t matter. God seeks us anyway, wherever we are, whoever we are. The truth is that God seeks us. Of course, there is a third story that completes the trilogy, the most famous one of the lost son. I’ve saved that one till next week. For now, let’s reflect with gratitude that God sought and found us. As we do so, let’s think like Jesus. If he’s seeking us and has found us, what does that mean for others?
We’re no longer lost if we’re found but there might be others out there who don’t know that they’ve been found by God, so who am I seeking now? Is it too wide a swoop to say, well, I’m seeking everyone who’s not found Jesus yet? Am I able to maybe narrow it down to my neighbour? Can I love them? Because that’s what Jesus calls the second most important commandment, to love your neighbour. Isn’t this the purpose of the church because it was Jesus’ purpose to seek and save the last.
Let’s start wherever we are. When we begin to open our doors again, whether they’re doors of our homes, or of our church, or our workplaces, or wherever we are, let’s be that place of welcome to anyone and everyone. Yes, even to the tax collectors and sinners, or the equivalent of them today, let’s not enforce onto them the values that we as Christians have, but let them see the love of God and the welcome we offer in His name.
As we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and justice, it means that we too take on the seeking role of God. We become like God to those around us because I was once lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. The pecking order is a-changing. Jesus surprises all those listening, that people are accepted and loved without all the religious trappings.
Nobody wants to hear that they are a sinner but rather, everyone wants to hear that they’re invited to a party to celebrate that they’ve been found. This is where the rubber hits the road because sinners can come to the ball. They’re the guests at the party. It’s a wedding feast, in fact, where the bridegroom which is Jesus shows, off his bride which is the church, the people of God.
We are invited to turn around, to repent, and to follow the way of the bridegroom Jesus. Let’s do that, and in doing so, invite all the tax collectors and sinners with us, what a privilege to be known as a church that gets down with the lowest of the low. Let’s just get on with loving everyone.
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