The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19C (9/15/2013)

Lessons:Exodus 32:7-14 Psalm 51:1-10 (1) 1 Timothy 1:12-17 St. Luke 15:1-10

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 Psalm 14 (2)

Prayer of the Day: O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray. Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

15.1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that 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 of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

St. Luke 15:1-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Joy in Heaven

Triangulation in social systems thinking takes place when person A has a conflict with person B, and rather than work it out directly, draws in person C, forming a triangle (an unhealthy system of relationships) between the three of them. It is to be avoided at all costs.

Triangulation in geometry is when two angles or three points of a triangle are used to determine location or distance. It is a principle used in navigation, meteorology, astronomy and model rocketry. It is extraordinarily useful.

The use of triangles to estimate distances goes back to the 6th century BC, so it is likely Jesus understood this principle. One wonders if he had it in mind when he (or St. Luke) placed the three images found in St. Luke 15 back-to-back-to-back.

Jesus is again at odds with the Scribes and Pharisees because he is disobeying the traditions of his faith. He is spending time with (even eating with!) tax collectors and sinners. Dirty people. Defiled people. Unfaithful people. People whom no good, respecting religious person would ever be seen with. But here is Jesus: not only talking with them and laughing with them, but even eating with them! It is scandalous. According to the traditions of the day, those Scribes and Pharisees are “right” to speak out against him.

But Jesus is not interested in what is “right” according to the traditions of the day. He is interested in what might draw people’s souls back to God. He is interested in helping those who have been distanced from God to come near once again. At the heart of his ministry is the attempt to bring back to God those who have gone astray. And that doesn’t mean hanging around with good, proper, theologically correct believers. It means hanging around with sinners. People who need God’s grace. People who need to be forgiven and welcomed back.

So he offers three images: a shepherd who rejoices at finding a lost sheep, a woman who rejoices at finding a lost coin, and the forgiving father with his prodigal son (we’ll deal with that image at another time). When you triangulate these three images, you see the central message: there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when something (or someone!) who has been lost is found.

The sad thing is that those Scribes and Pharisees are more interested in doing what the tradition of their day says is “right” than doing what that tradition intends to do. And far too often, throughout history, the church has followed their example: drawing lines that include those of us who are in the church, and exclude those who are different from us. Social lines. Racial lines. Economic lines. Theological lines. Political lines. Lines our Lord tried to tear down. Lines that offend the nature of his mission. Lines that keep others from God (and keep “insiders” from realizing their need for repentance).

We live in the midst of a world filled with lost sheep. There are even times when we ourselves are the lost ones. May the ministries of the church continue to draw home those who have strayed. May we be found to be both the seeker and the sought. And may the actions we take as followers of Jesus Christ cause there to be joy in heaven. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were the Pharisees and Scribes upset with Jesus?
  2. Why did he continue to meet with “tax collectors and sinners?
  3. What do his parables have to do with the conflict between him and those religious officials?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who, in my world, is lost – living apart from the transforming grace of God?
  2. When has my own life cried out for God’s redeeming and transforming power?
  3. How might I be more aware of those God would have me touch, and more aware of my own need to be shaped by God’s presence?