God’s love is the only factor that matters, and it’s all-inclusive, all-loving, nonsensical, and the best news you could ever have.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 24 C
Text: Luke 15 (adding the third parable to the reading)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This time, Jesus told a story.
Sometimes when faced with opposition, Jesus might rebuke or lecture. But this time, criticized for “welcoming sinners and eating with them,” Jesus wanted to see if he could help these leaders open their imaginations. So they might see the truth about God’s love for them. So he said, “Let me tell you a story.”
The religious leaders can only see stereotypes here. All these people drawn to Jesus are “sinners,” not individuals with lives and stories. They’re broad-brushed as a dismissable group. Bad, to be avoided. We do the same with the Pharisees and scribes, seeing them as a stereotype – they’re all bad, they’re ignorant, let’s all boo whenever they come on stage.
But Jesus – God-with-us – doesn’t see stereotypes. He sees with the eyes of the Triune God, eyes that lovingly see each child of God. So he wants to tell you a story. Maybe two or three. So your imagination can expand, and maybe you can see as God sees, and find good news for you, too.
The first thing to notice is these stories are all about God.
These stories have nothing to do with repenting. Luke has added a little tag verse about sinners repenting after each of the first two parables. But those verses have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’ actual stories. The sheep does nothing to help itself, it’s just found. The coin is inanimate, it literally can’t repent. And neither of the two lost sons repent, at least not that we hear from Jesus.
Sometimes Jesus does invite repentance. Just not today. Not in these stories. Today, Jesus just wants you to imagine how astonishing God’s love for you and for all really is.
Jesus says, can you imagine a God who sees all as precious and treasured?
A shepherd who loves his sheep so much he risks life and limb to find it. A woman who treasures her meager wealth and desperately searches until she finds what she lost. A father who loves his two sons no matter how they treat him or each other.
Jesus is brilliant here. He completely ignores the question of whether his companions are sinners, or even if the Pharisees are. Most Christians claim these stories say God loves you even if you’re a sinner.
Not Jesus’ way. Not God-with-us. Whether you’re a tax collector or a Pharisee, someone who’s a known screw-up or someone admired, someone with privilege or someone cast aside by your world, you are precious to God. Period. End of sentence. Not in spite of who you are or in spite of what you’ve done. Or only if you confess and do better.
Jesus tells these stories of precious things in order, so you understand this. A sheep that does nothing to help itself. A coin that can’t. Then a last story is about people like us, but they’re the same as the sheep and the coin. Even people are loved by God simply for being who they are, not for what they have and haven’t done.
And that’s really good news for you, treasured child of God.
But Jesus isn’t finished. He says, can you imagine a God whose love for everyone is non-negotiable?
Every shepherd in thousands of years of human history has expected some losses. Sheep get sick, get lost, wolves eat them. But Jesus’ shepherd isn’t satisfied with writing off losses. No. All one hundred must be found, all one hundred must be home. It’s not God’s will that a single little one be lost, Jesus has said.
And of course this woman needs all ten of her coins. Wealthy people can write off losses, but she needs to look until she finds her lost coin. Every one is precious to her, every one means life to her.
And this father doesn’t write off the younger son who despises him and leaves with his inheritance. He keeps looking, searching, watching, waiting. And he isn’t satisfied at the celebration party when he notices his older boy is not there. He leaves the party to search for his other lost son. This father loves his sons beyond everything and will not be satisfied unless both are at home.
Jesus says, can you imagine that even when you fear you’re worthless, or regret what you’ve done, or feel you’re not appreciated, or others diminish you, can you imagine God isn’t complete if you aren’t home? No one gets written off by God. Not tax collectors or Pharisees. Not you. God will only have one hundred out of one hundred.
And that’s really good news for you, who might sometimes feel you’re not in the count.
And Jesus says, wrap your mind around this: God’s love makes absolutely no sense.
It’s not rational. It’s foolish. Any shepherd listening to this story would laugh. None of them would leave ninety-nine alone to look for one. Ridiculous.
And this poor woman throws a party when she finds her coin? How many of her precious coins did that cost? Ridiculous.
And this deluded father, how foolish is he? He lets his younger son treat him as if he’s dead, and, splits his estate in two. He welcomes the boy back with no conditions, no required groveling, ignores the manipulation, and throws a huge party. He risks offending his cranky older son and breaking that relationship to get them to reconcile. This father so loves his sons nothing can get in his way. Ridiculous.
Can you imagine that? God’s love is so expansive, so strong, so deep, so risky, it makes no sense? God will risk everything to love everyone home, will go to a cross to prove it. Ridiculous.
And can you see why that’s good news for you?
These stories don’t really end.
We don’t know if the shepherd loses more sheep, or how the woman copes with poverty, or if the younger son is changed, or if the elder son ever reconciles with his brother.
But look at how these stories do end: celebration and joy that the sheep is found. Celebration and joy that the coin is found. And the last word of the last story is the utterly beautiful statement of a father’s love: you are always with me and everything I have is yours, but we also celebrate because your brother was dead and now he’s alive.
Imagine that, Jesus says to you. Imagine that God’s first word to you is a love that will always seek you out wherever you are, and God’s last word to you is joy and celebration that you are found. Can you imagine what your life could be like if you could trust God’s foolish, absolute, starry-eyed love is for you? Can you imagine how this world could be healed if everyone could imagine such love from God for them and for all?
Jesus can imagine it. Listen to him. He’ll tell you a story. Maybe you’ll see for yourself.
In the name of Jesus. Amen