Luke 15:1-32           Rev. Keith Sweat

The title and closing of this message are inspired directly by a rhetorical device found in, At Noon on Friday: Lenten Series on the Seven Last Words, Richard C. Hoefler, C S S Publishing Company, Jan 1, 1983

 Those of us on the inside—those of us who spend a lot of time hanging around churches—know these stories as The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal So.    We have analyzed them one-by-one, dissected them, and as a result we’ve learned a lot together over the years about sheep, ancient coins, and first century rabbinical inheritance laws. The first audience didn’t have to pull out reference books to know what Jesus meant. With each story, they could say, “Yeah! I’ve done that.”, or “Hey, I know someone like that!” Perhaps by the end of the last little story, they knew something of the perfect love of God, the perfect charity of which we are capable even in this life, and how far we are from it. There is something Jesus is trying to awaken in us through these stories:  Something too beautiful and too hard for some of us to hear directly.  It’s not about sheep, or coins, or inheritance laws: I suspect it’s not even altogether about repentance.

He begins by speaking of things outside the house (even in first century Israel sheep were not regular house guests).  Then he brings the problem a little nearer.  It is a coin–inside the house–but it is still a trinket:  nothing really personal.  Then there is the child; someone in our house and in our hearts.  In his special way Jesus is trying to tell us something difficult to hear.  Gradually he brings it home.

Let’s hear the common experiences and everyday problems of 21st century people in the language of the first century church.

 Which of you have awakened in the morning to hear news of a whale stranded on a beach.   As we go about our day, we hear reports on the situation through the radio or from friends and co-workers who have been keeping track of the story.  Almost against our will, we begin to get caught up in the events ourselves.  We hear of how crowds of people have come down to the shore, leaving their work and their homes behind to volunteer for bucket-brigades to keep the whale wet.  Fishing boats and tour boats leave their charter schedules to come the aid of one stranded whale.  The marine biologists and the oceanographers leave all the safe aquatic animals in their aquariums and come to the aid of one lost whale.  We know that if we lived anywhere near that beach, then we would be down their in the bucket-brigade with the rest. Towards the end of the day everyone is home for supper.  The television news in the background is showing the lost whale headed out to sea escorted by a parade of local boaters.  Its just one of those moments!  Mommy and daddy and brother and sister…..Everybody Hug!  And back on the beach it’s, “Break out the champagne because its time to party!”

Jesus tells us:  In heaven, that’s what it’s like when one lost child begins to head home.  When lost sinner just starts to repent…We have a party!  Just like you did for the whale.

Or what about the man who loses the remote control to the television set.  Doesn’t he at once call out, “Everybody up!  Out of your chairs!”  Seat cushions are turned over, the refrigerator is searched, and he goes into rooms he has not seen in years to search for this one lost trinket.  It’s time to turn the house upside down.  He will get on the floor and grovel:  Crawl under the sofa and wrestle with the dust bunnies to retrieve this lost remote. When it is found, whoever finds it immediately tells everyone else.  Now peace returns to the home. And the person whose efforts proved successful at finding the lost remote will receive the thanks of all who are in the house.

Jesus tells us, that’s what its like in the Kingdom of Heaven when one lost sinner is found. The angels have a party.  It’s kind of like that feeling you get when you find the remote.

There was a young girl of fourteen, a child of God and a daughter of the Church…but always a little more trouble than the rest.   One day she told her parents, her youth worker, and her pastor, “No more of this pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye stuff for me thank you.  Life is short and I’m going to have my pie now!”  So she left the church and eventually her home.  With no moral restraints to bother her anymore and with no authority figures looking over her shoulder anymore she was able to pursue any pleasure she desired.  She was able to find just enough money to keep on going from day to day.  She traveled the country until, one day, bad times went to worse and she had to survive by hiring herself out to a man in a strange city far away.  The places they lived God had not forsaken—but the sanitation department had.

Together, the two of them committed a murder the details of which are too gruesome to repeat.  She was sentenced to die.  She was to wait for her death in a prison where she would be surrounded by people just like herself.  In that prison–where she endured the verbal abuse and degradation of the guards and the physical abuse and assaults of the inmates; somewhere in the stench and isolation of a concrete cell;  a memory returned to her of  a little girl in a Sunday School class with a crayon in her hand.  A memory returned to her of the day that girl told her parents, her pastor, and her Sunday School teacher, “No more pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye for me.”  And she thought to herself how in her Father’s house even the worst offenders were not so inhumanly treated. So the young woman called for the chaplain and begged, “Let me be a servant in this house.  I don’t ask to be  set free but just let me live here and be a witness where I am.”

Jesus tells us:  when that happens we throw a party in the Kingdom of Heaven!  When that happened, in the Kingdom of Heaven we got that everybody hug feeling and we threw her a party just like you did…..Wait a minute….You mean you didn’t  throw her a party?!  You didn’t throw her a party?   Do you even remember the name…Karla Faye Tucker?   (Google her after the service: not now)

But I say, “You don’t understand. That woman was evil and always trouble and she made choices and they have consequences and how are we to know if that woman truly repented?” Jesus answers, “You don’t understand.  That woman is your sister.  Now I know you’re frustration and do not hold it against you.  “You have always been with me and all that I have is yours.  But don’t come to me with any ‘that woman talk because that woman is your sister.”

You were happy about the whale; You were tickled to death over the remote control.  One is an animal and the other a mere trinket.  This is a human being—a sacred life—an eternal soul.” My sister was lost.    I did not leave my work to go help her. I did not get on the floor and grovel for her. I did not even interrupt my television program to try and bring her back.

To be able to look at others and say, “My brother,” It is that perfect love that lives in the life of God—that part of the life of Christ that Jesus offers to impart to our hearts. It is both too beautiful and too hard to hear.

Every drug rehab resident and death row inmate who simply desires to come home –Christ says, “Behold, your brother, your sister.” Every child neglected, unloved, hungry, ill-clothed, unwanted, running the streets of our cities — Christ says, “Behold your child!” Everyone who has betrayed us, abandoned us, profited from our pain who just starts to turn around– Christ says, “Behold your brother.” Every man, woman and child in the world who this day is in any kind of distress — Christ says, “Behold your family!”

Behold, the Body of Christ.

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