ood morning my friends. It is truly wonderful to be with you here this day. Though it is not officially a holiday in the church, I always look forward to the first Sunday of the fall program year. I look forward to it because it is fantastic to see and hear the children back in Sunday school. I look forward to it because I truly love the moment in the service when the children join us in worship. From where I stand, it is like watching a stand of reeds at the water’s edge, swaying to and fro as waves pass through on their way to the shore.
I look forward to this day because it means that the choir is back to lead us in praise and thanksgiving as they share with us their gift of music. Most of all, I look forward to it because after a summer of vacations and travel, it is wonderful to see all of you again. For those of you who are a part of this community, you are missed when you are not here, because you are valued. For those of you who are new, you are noticed and you are wanted.
As I say this, know that I truly mean it. It is not intended to make you feel guilty when you miss a Sunday. Neither is it a secret growth strategy disguised as hospitality. It is simply that you are valued. You are wanted. Whomever you are, wherever you are on the walk of life, and whatever questions are on your heart, there is always a place for you here.
It is a message that we do not hear often enough in our world. Divisiveness seemingly reigns supreme all around us. We are quick to judge and condemn those who disagree with us or stand on the opposite side of the aisle from us. We turn our backs on and cast out those who do not comply to the mold of our own moral codes. We despise and fear those who look differently than we do, those who view the world differently than we do, those who worship and believe differently than we do. It is an increasingly rare thing to hear that we are wanted and that we are valued just exactly as we are.
But we should, for that is the good news that God wants us to hear. Indeed, it is the good news that we find in our reading from the gospel this morning.
Jesus had a habit of keeping the company of the sorts of people whom others would have rather kept at arm’s length. He sat with sinners. He ate meals with tax collectors. He touched the unclean. He taught widows. He healed gentiles. Those who watched him were shocked by his actions. Those who watched him did not approve of the people with whom Jesus surrounded himself.
Hearing their distaste, Jesus justified his actions by asking them two questions. “Who among you, having one hundred sheep and discovering that one was missing, would not leave the other ninety-nine in the wilderness and immediately search for the missing sheep until it was found?” And then another, like it, “Who among you, having ten coins and discovering that one was lost, would not immediately light the oil in the lamp, sweep out the whole house, and search high and low until it was found, and then invite all your friends to come and celebrate with you that the coin had been found?”
They seem like two relatively straight-forward stories, but when we dig into them even just a little bit, we see that there is something disjointed about them. There is a deeper truth revealed to us about God and God’s relationship with us.
After all, who among us, having a hundred sheep would even notice if one was missing? You know what sheep look like—they all look rather the same. When you have a hundred of them, it is an amorphous crowd of dirty white wool and bleating mouths. What’s more, they move around enough that counting them with any certainty is near impossible. The same thing goes for the ten coins. After all, if I had ten dollars in my wallet and one was lost, I doubt I would notice that it was gone, because I rarely take the time to count my bills. Even if I did, I would be hard pressed to come to the conclusion that a dollar was missing rather than spent.
Sometimes it can feel like we are but one sheep in a great herd or but one coin in an overflowing purse. It is easy for us to feel lost in the crowd. It is easy for us to feel overlooked. It is easy for us to feel unimportant. It is easy for us to feel unvalued.
But God is not like us. God does notice each and every one of us. And should one of us be lost, God will come and seek us out until we are found. The God who is revealed to us in Jesus is a God who actively desires us, each and every one of us. It is a God who actively pursues us, each and every one of us.
It does not end here, for if we dig a little bit deeper into the stories, they make even less sense, and they reveal to us something even more profound about God. After all, who among us, having one hundred sheep and noticing that one was missing, would leave the other ninety-nine alone in the wilderness? I mean, sheep are not that smart—when they are not busy wandering off and getting lost, they are basically walking meals for any nearby predators. If you are upset about losing one sheep, it seems an odd solution to leave the other ninety-nine alone to their own devices so that they too can wander off and become dinner.
For that matter, the story of the ten coins doesn’t add up either. Even if you go with the idea that maybe this was a poor person for whom a single coin was of great value, the economics just don’t work out. Because you know what is expensive? The lamp oil required to light the house while you sweep it top to bottom, looking for the lost coin. And you know what is even more expensive? The party that you throw for all your friends when you finally find the coin. By the time it is all said and done, you have spent the other nine coins so that you could find the one that you lost.
When you really examine these stories, they don’t make any sense. They are bizarre stories that reveal to us a bizarre God. But God’s wisdom seems foolish to us and God’s foolishness is far wiser than our greatest wisdom. They reveal to us a God who risks everything for us; a God who risks everything for you. They reveal to us a God who spares no expense if it means that even one person be found.
And they foretell the path on which Jesus now walks. For Jesus stops to pose to us these two stories even as he is on the road to Jerusalem where he will risk his own life for us. He is on the way toward the cross where he will give far more for us than we could ever give back; where he will give God’s own self so that we might be found.
Oh my friends, this indeed is the good news that is cause for great joy. God knows you. God desires you. God will pursue you relentlessly until, at last, you are found. For God loves you and there will always be a place for you at God’s table. And God will not rest until that day that we all take our seat at it together.
Preached by Adam Yates