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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Luke 15:1-10
“Sheep, Coins and Sinners”
September 15, 2013 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

         You are at the gate, handing over your boarding passes when you hear the cry that strikes terror into your heart. “Wait! Where’s Mr. Big Nose?” Your 3 year-old has just discovered that his most favorite and beloved companion is not there in his red Spider Man backpack. His tattered, stained, gray-flannel-covered stuffed elephant, without which he cannot ever, ever go to sleep, is nowhere to be found. You can see the tears coming before they even start to fill his little eyes.

         You are a super parent. So you tell your spouse and the rest of the family to get on the plane. “I’ll find Mr. Big Nose,” you promise. Then you turn around and rush back out into the waiting area. Up and down the seats you hurry, you look underneath, you look behind, you look down the vent by the window where the little boy was watching the planes. No Mr. Big Nose. You are getting frantic and the boarding line is growing shorter.

         Then you run down the terminal back to security. You stop at the end of every conveyer belt to ask the TSA agents if they’ve seen an elephant. No, no, no. By then you’re a little wild-eyed and you don’t even stop to worry about the TSA guy who is eyeing you strangely and talking into his shoulder microphone.

         You are about to give up and run back to the gate when you remember that agonizing trip to the restroom. Your son was sure he had to go…  until he saw that strange potty with the plastic cover that rotated around the seat. Then he was sure he didn’t have to go, that he could hold it. You of course knew different, but there was a five or ten minute little discussion and altercation there in the stall before wee-wee was made and all was well again. And… now you recall, clear as day, Mr. Big Nose was hung by his naming appendage on the coat hook while all this was going on.

         So it’s off at a dash to that restroom. Out of the corner of your eye you see the last passenger boarding, the waiting area empty. You crash the door. Fortunately that stall you were in is vacant.  You push the door back and look behind it, but your heart sinks, no gray elephant hangs there. You check every stall to make sure, but it’s gone. Your mind begins to picture the crying boy, the long plane ride, the sleepless night when you’re back home.

         Despondent, you make your way out of the restroom and turn to run back to the gate. All of a sudden, the other restroom door opens and an airport cleaner pushes her cart out. And lo and behold, there he is, his trunk wrapped around a mop handle, Mr. Big Nose. You grab him, give the startled cleaner a hug, and bolt toward the plane.

         From ten yards away you see the gate agent unlatch the door to close it. “Wait!” you cry. She turns and frowns as you arrive at the last second. She lets you on and as you walk down the jetway you can hear him crying even though they’re seated in row 24. So you step quickly onto the plane, nod to the flight attendant, and wave Mr. Big Nose aloft as make your way down the aisle.

         Your family spots you and the crying stops. A smile and joy replaces the tears. And then the whole plane cheers and applauds as you arrive at your seat and hand over that cherished creature to his small owner. Crisis averted. The lost has been found.

         That, says Jesus, is just how they cheer and applaud in heaven whenever He finds and brings back to Himself another lost sinner. He didn’t talk about stuffed animals, but He made that same point with two little stories about a real lost sheep and a small but precious coin. He told those stories to people who didn’t seem to understand.

         Picture some grouchy business passenger on that airplane with your family. He’s in first class and he doesn’t care about the crying kid back in the cheap seats. He was hoping the plane might take off a little early so that he could get to his next appointment in the next city. When everyone else was clapping for the arrival of Mr. Big Nose, he’s just shaking his head and complaining because the flight attendant told him he had to wait until after takeoff for another drink. That’s how the Pharisees and scribes in verse 2 responded to what Jesus was doing.

         They grumbled because Jesus sat down to talk and eat with “tax collectors and sinners.” We know who the tax collectors were, mercenary Jews who collaborated with the occupation force from Rome to cheat money out of their own people. “Sinners” is a bigger category. It probably includes some obvious candidates like prostitutes, but also those Jews who simply didn’t or couldn’t live a more religious life. They didn’t have the inclination or perhaps the time or money to eat a kosher diet or make the proper sacrifices on the holy days. They didn’t wear the right clothes or wash their hands the correct way. So they all got lumped together under that ugly term, “sinners.”

         Jesus’ stories here invite you and me to consider where we are sitting in all this. Are we back in economy cheering when the lost toy comes down the aisle, or are we sitting in first class grumbling because the plane isn’t leaving when we want? Are we seated among the good, decent, comfortable religious people, glaring out at all the poor, dirty, sinful folks around us, or are we clapping our hands in celebration every time our Lord finds and redeems another lost person?

         Jesus told two stories to the Pharisees and to us. The lost items are a sheep and a coin. The searchers are a man and a woman. The emotions are pain and passion and joy.

         The pain comes first. It would have been obvious to the people who first heard these stories. The sheep herder and the housewife searched for precious possessions. A lost sheep was a significant capital loss. You who grew up on a farm or ranch know the kind of grief when you lose an animal. You may have hundreds, but losing one is painful.

         The coin was one tenth of a cherished collection. Perhaps they were strung on a necklace or a headband. Those coins may have been the woman’s life savings. But she was poor, and even one coin would be irreplaceable. Her loss could mean poverty at some point in her old age.

         Jesus wants us to make the jump from lost things to lost people. If losing a possession can hurt so much, then what about a lost person. God hurts for the lost people of the world. We may not think about it much, but God has feelings. God suffers when He sees people losing their lives, losing their souls in all the ways it happens in our world. But that pain doesn’t just make God sad. It makes Him passionate, passionate to find the lost.

         The shepherd’s passion is there in how he focuses on the single lost sheep. Verse 4 tells us the other ninety-nine can be left behind. All that matters is bringing back the lost one. Jesus said he would go after that sheep “until he finds it.” He will not stop, he will not rest, he will not worry about the rest of the flock. Everything else takes second place to this search. His passion is all consuming.

         The woman’s passion is in her thorough search in verse 8. She abandoned other work. Her house probably had only one opening for daylight through the door, so she lit a lamp in the middle of the day. Then she swept the entire floor, inch by inch, waiting to see the gleam of her coin shining in the light. Just like the man, Jesus says, she will  search “until she finds it.” He added for her the adverb, “carefully.” She is passionate to find what’s lost.

         We have a God who is passionately looking for lost people. He won’t stop while any are still out there. He doesn’t give up. He goes where he needs to go and does what He needs to do to bring sinners home. He lights a light into the world and then sweeps through it until that light has touched every corner. God’s pain for those He loves drives Him on and on to find them. This is God’s passion.

         How far would God go to find the lost? Until His pain and His passion came together. Jesus came looking for sinners even when He had to look at them from a Cross. He searched for them in the dark corners of a tomb. He brings them home even if He has to bring them back from the dead. Jesus came to seek and to save sinners. He came for us.

         Some teachers of religion talk about how faith is a search for truth, a search for meaning, a search for God. But our faith, our faith in Jesus Christ is the conviction that God comes searching for us. We don’t find God. The lost sinner doesn’t find her way home. God finds us. God reaches out and picks up His beloved children and carries them home.

         You have been found. Hear these parables and hear that if you hear nothing else. Jesus Christ came to seek you out and bring you home. If you believe that, then all is well. You are already home. You are found. If you don’t yet believe, then it is still the case that Jesus has come to you, that His search has located you, and that all He wants is your willingness to be found. Being found is what it means to be a Christian.

         Many years ago now, while I was in college, there was an evangelism campaign with the slogan “I found it!” Rallies and bumper stickers and tracts and lots of encouragement to go out and invite others to “find it” too. I am sure that many people were brought to Christ in that program. I certainly won’t dismiss the sincere efforts of all the Christians who shared their faith because of it. But Jesus didn’t invite people to find Him. He found them.

         One of my professors was a Lutheran. His bumper sticker proclaimed, “We never lost it!” But that wasn’t quite right either. It’s not what we’ve found or what we have or anything we do. What we needed was a bumper sticker which read, “I was found.” That’s it. Jesus came looking for us. That is the testimony we can honestly share. “Jesus found me and He is looking for you too.”

         Think about being found and we start to move into the third and greatest emotion of these parables. We discover our own joy and we discover the joy of God. Searchers rejoice when the lost is found. God rejoices when He finds one of us.

         Forget the simple relief you feel when the car keys or your glasses finally turn up. God’s joy calls for celebration, for calling friends over, for hugs and tears and pats on the back and congratulations of every sort. It is the time to say over and over again, “I am so glad. Oh, I am so glad! I thought she would never be found. And now, here she is!”

         There’s a scene like that in heaven every time one of us is found. God and His angels are line-dancing and singing “Hallelujah!” for every new Christian. Jesus is saying, “I am so glad. Oh, I am so glad!” And on earth there is one more sheep for whom He came looking who is so glad to be found.

         God searches for the lost. His pain, His passion and His joy are all there. Jesus told these stories to invite you and me to feel those emotions too. Sinners were being found as Jesus ate with them, but the Pharisees felt only anger and confusion. Instead, Jesus taught them—and us—to feel the joy God feels.

         If you haven’t found Jesus yet, rest assured, He’s found you. He came and took part in all your pain, even all the pain caused by your sins. And He found you and He’s just waiting for you to look up and accept that, to let yourself be found.

         And if you’re worried about someone, someone who seems either a little or a whole lot lost—I know what that worry is like—rest assured. He’s already found him, found her. Jesus came and died and rose again for that person you care so much about. He’s found that lost sheep. May you one day have the joy of seeing Him carry that person home.

         But these parables aren’t really so much about the lost. These two and the next, the Prodigal Son, are about those already found, about most of us. Jesus wanted those who already seem to love God to have a part in His love for those still to be found. He wanted them, wanted us to feel the pain, the passion and the joy of finding His lost sheep.

         That search is why we do so much of what we do. It’s why we talk about missions and support missionaries. It’s why we teach Sunday School for children. It’s why we’re providing an office for Love In the Name of Christ. It’s why a home group is studying a book about how to help others in the name of Jesus. It’s why we open this space for lost souls to sleep on cold nights. Sometimes people complain, “You just do that because it makes you feel good.” Well, yeah. To join in God’s search for the lost is to have a chance to share in His joy when they are found.

         So join in the pain and the passion and the joy. Because those come out of a deeper emotion. They come out of love, out of God’s love for those who are lost.

         Let me tell you about the first day of our marriage. Three months before, on her birthday, I gave my wife pearl earrings. At the time, they were the only earrings she had ever worn, clip-ons because Beth still can’t stand the idea of getting pierced. She wore them for our wedding. In our hotel room that evening, she realized they were missing.

         The next morning we searched every inch of my 1971 Vega station wagon. We found one earring down in the carpet. That was it. We had stopped to cut off the pop cans her brothers tied to the bumper and we assumed the other pearl fell on the street. It was gone. Beth cried and cried to think she lost this gift I gave her. I didn’t feel as bad. It was just an earring. We’ll buy some more. We’ll get another one made. Forget it. This our first day of marriage. Let’s quit looking and have some fun! More tears.

         I love her. What could I do? I kept looking. We got in the car and drove back to the street where we stopped to remove the cans. We weren’t quite sure where we stopped, so we walked a whole block, peering down at the asphalt. I’m sure the people who lived there thought we were nuts. I thought so too. We didn’t find it.

         Our search was fruitless, but I had to look. I didn’t care much about the earring. But I cared about Beth. I love my wife so I looked. If we love God, then we will join Him as He looks for the lost. Even if we find it hard to care, even if the search is fruitless, we will join in because we love the One who loved us and came looking for us. And we may be surprised.

         The second day after the wedding we drove back to my in-laws’ home. Beth’s mother met us at the door… with the earring! After the wedding, Laura, her maid-of-honor found it, found it… well you ask Beth where she found it. I’ll just say that it fell off when Beth gave Laura a hug. The lost was found! You should have seen the tears of joy that fell then.

         Tears of joy will fall when God surprises you by finding someone you helped search for. You will share the celebration of the angels. You will share the joy of God. Jesus still goes out looking for the lost. Sometimes He will use your eyes to do the looking and your hands to bring them home. Let’s keep looking. Let’s share in the love and share in the joy.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated September 15, 2013