If you’re lost but don’t know it, Jesus has a story for you, and a hope, and a promise.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 25 C
Text: Luke 16:1-13
Note: In many ways this sermon follows directly on last week’s sermon, “Found,” from 15 September 2019, and that sermon might be a helpful introduction to this one. – JGC
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
But what if you’re lost, but you don’t know it?
Jesus actually tells five parables about the lost being found. Today we’re continuing in the same scene from last week, even if someone centuries ago said a new chapter starts here. The same players are still here: Jesus, a group of people on the margins who are drawn to him, a group of religious leaders who are offended that Jesus welcomes those marginalized folks, and a group of Jesus’ disciples.
In response to the religious criticism, “you welcome sinners and eat with them,” Jesus told the leaders three parables, about lost, precious things. A lost sheep, a lost coin, and two lost sons. (We only heard the first two last week.) And in these parables, except for the coin, the lost ones eventually knew it. We assume the sheep realized it couldn’t get home, wherever it was lost. The brothers had to learn it. The younger brother figured it out in the muck of a pigsty. The older brother figured it out when the resentment over his life and his belief that he wasn’t loved overwhelmed him in anger.
Now, Luke says, Jesus turns to his disciples to tell a fourth parable. And unlike last week’s parables, a key problem today is that no one in this parable thinks they’re lost. And everyone is.
Listen to this, my followers, Jesus says. Listen.
In this strange story, everyone is dishonest. Everyone.
The owner is dishonest, because he knows his manager has cheated him, and all he can do is chuckle in admiration at his self-serving dishonesty? The manager’s dishonest. He squandered property he was supposed to steward, and when caught, doubled down and squandered more, hoping to entice one of his bosses’ debtors to give him a job. And those debtors are dishonest, delightedly agreeing to cheat their creditor by as much as half of what they owed.
They’re all playing by the rules of the world’s game, Jesus says. They know the rules and they play it well. Get what you can for yourself, throw ethics out the window if you have to. Don’t worry about harming others, you take care of you. Vote for politicians who pander to you rather than those who want all to do well. Ignore your neighbor’s problems because they’re not yours. That’s the game, and they think they’re winning it.
But Jesus says, they’re actually surrounded by wolves, they’re stuck in the pigsty, they’re deeply lost. They just don’t know it. The world’s game they’re supposedly winning is a game of death.
This is what Jesus turns from the leaders to tell the disciples.
It’s as if he thinks they’re the ones in trouble. The lost ones who don’t know it. He’s worried.
These followers have been with him a long time, have heard a lot about living as a child of God, a child of the light, as Jesus says today. But as his impending death looms ever closer, Jesus sees they’re still not getting the challenges of following the way of God’s reign, the way of the children of light.
I’ve told you, he says to them (as we’ve heard all summer and fall), to count the cost before following me, don’t start this project if you can’t finish. But I don’t think you’ve counted at all. I’ve told you, don’t start plowing if you’re going to look back, but your rows are like a toddler’s drawing, lines and circles everywhere. I’ve told you to stay awake for God’s coming in your life, and you’re sleeping through all this. I’ve warned you about building silos for the gain you hope to get, as if you’re in control, and your wealth will protect you, but you’re still playing that game.
You want to keep playing the world’s game and only partly follow me? he says. Fine, but this story is what that game looks like. And if you want that, then you have to trust the world to bring you to whatever eternal homes their game gets you. The fifth parable, about a rich man who ignores a poor man outside his door for years, shows that the eternal homes of the world’s game are, well, suboptimal.
But you do know the way of the children of light, he tells his disciples.
You’ve heard it all, Jesus says, and this summer and fall, so have we. Children of light go into the ditch to help those thrown aside like highway trash. Children of God go into the world declaring God’s peace on all they meet, with their lives and their words showing God’s reign has begun. Children of light, of God’s reign, live out that God’s grace overrides the law, offer healing even when some find it inappropriate or wrong. And most of all, children of light, children of God, are lost ones who are found and who then rejoice in seeking and finding all God’s lost ones, all the time.
Life as a child of light is a very different game than what these dishonest creeps in my story live, Jesus says, because it’s not a game. It’s life, and it’s joy, and it’s peace, and it’s fulfillment.
But it’s hard. And if you don’t want that, Jesus says, if you still want to keep your hand in the world’s game, you’re actually lost, in the pigsty, and the tragedy is, you don’t even know it.
But, . . . if after hearing this story, now for the first time you realize you’re lost, trapped in the world’s game, know this, too: you will be found.
That’s the glory of Jesus’ grace, the welcome of the Triune God he comes to bring. Jesus wants his disciples to be found; today’s parable was meant to shake them up a little to see it. To come to the realization of the younger brother in the pigsty and the elder brother outside the welcome-home party. Jesus, God’s Christ, wants to find you and bring you home into God’s love.
He was a little worried you might not think you were one of the lost ones. Hence this story.
But now here’s the question arising out of your joy at being found: what’s next? In these first four parables, Jesus leaves that open. That sheep might get lost again. Maybe the woman always loses her coins or her keys. We don’t know if either brother goes on to live in contentment and peace in his father’s love. And as far as we know, today’s cheaters just keep cheating.
But now that you know God finds you, wants to bring you into the light and love of God, what’s next for you? Will you still hold back and try to stay in the world’s game, just in case? Will you go back to the pigsty or simmer in your resentment, or whatever it is that got you lost, and pretend you’re just fine?
Just remember, Jesus says, the world’s game ends in the woods with wolves, in the pigsty, in being outside the party. The world’s path ends in eternal homes that aren’t anywhere you want to spend eternity.
Or, Jesus says, you could stay in the light, even though it’s a challenging way to live, and live in God’s reign, even though it looks like a harder path than the world’s path. You could be found, and live in joy.
Before you decide, remember that Luke has more story to tell you.
It’s not just the warnings we’ve heard from Luke about how hard following God’s way is, or the joy of what children of light are like. Luke is the only evangelist to tell the Pentecost story, the only one to write a sequel. Because Luke believes what happened after Easter is also deeply important for your life today, as much as the story of Jesus that led to Easter.
That story tells of Jesus, the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit from conception onward, Spirit-empowered to do wondrous things, even rise from the dead. But Luke says, wait: there’s something else you should know. Pentecost means you all will be filled with the Spirit just like Jesus.
All the things Jesus did, all that God’s Spirit-filled children do, finding the lost, going into the ditches, proclaiming and living peace, all that is yours to do with the power of God’s Spirit in you. The way of light, the way of God, is your gift from God’s Spirit, so you are able to live it.
And that, Luke says, that’s the book of Acts. And that’s your life!
In the name of Jesus. Amen