Luke 15: 1-10 (Sermon 1: “Lost and Found”)
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Jeremiah 4: 11-12 & 22-28
Psalm 14 (Sermon 2: “The Fool Says There is no God.”)
On this sparkling morning in springtime, when nature bursts with new life and beauty, I greet you in the name of the risen Christ: The joy of the Lord Jesus be with you all:
And also with you.
We have come to celebrate the God of creation, the God of salvation, and the God of loving inspiration.
O come, let us bow down, let us worship God who is our Maker.
When the living God restores the fortunes of his people, we shall laugh and celebrate.
The grace of God overflows for each of us with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
To the King of all ages, immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, holy Friend, teach us to adore you without constraint, to serve you without complaint, to be in awe of you without fear, and to love you beyond all that is dear. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
“The living God looks upon the children of earth,
to see if there are any who live wisely
and with all their mind and heart, seek their God.
There are none who are really good, not even one of us.
All have gone astray, and each person has been corrupted.”
Let us pray.
We thank you, God of love, for the good things we have managed to accomplish, the temptations we recognised and overcome, and for the wrongs, small or large, for which we have been able to make restitution. It is good to know we have not always been foolish nor rebellious sinners.
Yet we have not lived, most holy Friend, with the glory you intended for us. We have not even lived up to our own meagre expectations. We fail you, we fail those around us, and we disappoint ourselves.
As you have graciously done in the past, look now upon our patchy lives and work that miracle of grace which is beyond human endeavour. Pity our folly and failure, forgive our sins; both the sins we see and the ones to which we are blind. Save us from the chronic perversity in our nature and bring us to your peace.
Thank you, loving God. We are grateful that humanity continues to be your project. Our brokenness is brought together by your almighty tenderness, our wounds are dressed by your steady fingers, our foolish moves are countered by your long sighted strategies, and our small stock of faith is tended by your patience.
Wonderful is your saving love! Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.
My sisters and brothers, it is written: “This saying is a certainty and worth our full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
God forgives all those who turn back and seek grace. Because we are God’s project, those who trust the grace of Christ shall never be defeated. God is ever faithful, ever sure.
Thanks be to God!
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
Jesus, our Good Shepherd,
we, like sheep, can be foolish things,
and getting into trouble or lost.
Please show me
that when I think I am being cool
I may be just acting like a fool.
The fool who imagines himself sophisticated,
keeps telling himself: “There is no God.”
Such fools are open to corruption,
they end up being good for nothing.
The Holy One who made the stars
looks into the lives of all earthlings,
seeing if there are any who are wise enough
to seek for themselves the truth of God.
But all people have lost their way,
each has become corrupted.
No human being can be called good,
not even one person on this earth.
They are not as smart as they think they are,
evil infects every thought and deed.
Many overeat while others starve,
not taking the Holy One into account.
Such foolishness is in for a terrible result,
but good fortune is on the side of believers.
Fools throw the poor into consternation
but God remains the champion of the weak.
O that more liberation would come soon,
salvation among the people of Zion!
When the Holy One restores our fortunes,
God’s children shall be glad and celebrate!
Ó B.D.Prewer 2006
POEM: FINDERS KEEPERS?
A foolish thing
this wandering sheep
face to the stubble
nibble after nibble;
then by its own stupidity
becomes bleatingly lost.
A well worn thing
this silver coin
from hand to hand;
then by some simple accident
becomes silently lost.
A wondrous thing
this Shepherd grace
not giving up
though bruised and torn;
then like an Easter shout of joy
heaven toasts one lost soul found!
© B.D. Prewer 1993 and 2012
God our holy Shepherd, you are the hope of those who are lost, and joy of those who are found; please give us the will to utterly trust you. Save us from the silly notion that we always know best, and call us back from those down-hill paths that lead to confusion and desolation. Bring us at last, with all your people, into that fold where nothing can ever again be lost. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.
SERMON 1: LOST AND FOUND
To be lost is not much fun.
I was a lost child.
From a vivid childhood memory, I can assure you being lost is bewildering, frightening and awfully lonely.
To be found is an incredible joy.
The fear and confusion and loneliness are banished by a kindly smile and loving arms.
Such is the joy that Jesus is emphasising in the parables of the one sheep, and the one coin, that were lost but were later found. Joy, not only on earth but in heaven, is the point he is making. Today the Gospel offers us again those famous words:
Come, rejoice with me for I have found the sheep which was lost.
Come rejoice with me for I have found the coin which was lost.
And so I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous people who need no repentance.
JESUS AND THE LOSERS
Jesus specialised in finding the lost.
Those who knew they were lost and those who did not. Especially those whom we today losers.
In the four Gospels, we encounter a Jesus who has a burning compassion for those people who were relegated to the fringes of respectable community life. He reached out to what one preacher has called ‘the least, the last and the lost’.
The ‘least’: like little children, or the mentally ill; or the woman under a taboo who dared to touch the hem of his garment.
The ‘last’: like the crippled man by the pool of Bethesda, or the man living naked among the tombs; or the lonely woman by the well.
The ‘lost’: like the despised tax collectors, or prostitutes, the bewildered Nicodemus, or the rich young man who went sadly away.
The God of the Gospels loves the least, the last and the lost. These are the special focus for Jesus ministry. Nothing gave Jesus more joy than seeing losers recover their dignity as the children of God.
PARABLES: LOST SHEEP AND LOST COIN
Now let us look at the stories of lost sheep and the lost coin.
One lost sheep is not a newsworthy event in Australia. There is nothing romantic about the way we treat sheep. For us they are just 1,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 head, to be mustered by dogs that are directed (these days)by the men on a trail bikes. Many contemporary give their sheep the best veterinary care. Other leave them much of the year to fend for themselves. A large number of sheep end their days as a pathetic mob of trembling mutton that are packed like sardines on to a ship bound for the Middle East.
Biblical times could not be more different. Small flocks, often of 20-30, each sheep with a name, each shepherd living seven days a week with his flock. One lost sheep was a significant event. The shepherd would herd the rest of the flock into the safety of a fold, and then set out to look for the missing one.
In the parable of Jesus, one is missing from a very large flock. It numbered of 100. This fellow had sheep to spare! Yet the shepherd goes off searching for the wanderer until it is found, returning home with it on his shoulders (a picture often found in ancient art). So precious is the one sheep, that they throw a party. Just think of that! A party in the honour of one recovered sheep!
God is like that, said Jesus: And so I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine people who need no repentance.
One lost coin is not a newsworthy event, either. Have you noticed how our silly little Aussie two dollar coins seem to have a highly developed aptitude for getting lost around the house? When one goes missing I look briefly, but if it does not turn up easily I ignore it. Let it stay in the dust under the frig or the sideboard, or wherever; it will no doubt turn up some day when I’m not looking for it.
Yet in Jesus’ story the woman immediately lights a lamp and goes searching. She does not give up until she has that solitary coin held tightly in her hand. Then she proceeds to go over the top! She throws a party in honour of the recovered coin. These ( the shepherd and the woman) are really the ultimate party animals, don’t you reckon?
God is like that woman, says Jesus. There is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents, than over ninety nine righteous people who need no repentance.
WHAT ABOUT A PARTY FOR GOOD PEOPLE?
At this point I must pause and acknowledge some likely protesters. Some folk object to the thought of a God who rejoices more over the recovery of one lost sinner than over the 99 righteous people who do not get lost.
Their complaint goes like this: “It’s not fair? Here are all these good, righteous, God-fearing people who by considerable effort, don’t get lost. They apparently miss out on having a party in their honour. It does not encourage one to be righteous, does it? In fact, this seems like a severe devaluing of goodness.”
Why do the wilful and the stupid get all the attention?
Why don’t the sheep that had the sense and the loyalty to stay close to the shepherd, not get given a party? Why can’t the coin that never falls away, but stays properly in the purse of the woman, get some applause? Where is the rejoicing in heaven when good, ordinary folk hang in there for God when others go wandering away or drop off?”
I find this argument compelling............ in an abstract way. But not in practice.
You see, where do we find these 99 righteous persons?
In the whole of my life, I have not come across even one of them yet. Who are they, where are they? I have certainly not found them among the ranks of the ordained clergy, nor dear congregation, have I found them amongst the laity. Putting it bluntly, I am not going to worry about the hurt feelings of the righteous until I meet one. On the day when I meet a truly righteous person, then I will give the matter more thought.
Let me say with all respect, the people who protest about the unfairness of the joy in heaven are no more righteous than I am. And that’s not very righteous! Moreover, if there actually was one among us who was truly righteous, I have a strong hunch (based on Jesus) that they would be neither aware of their own goodness nor be jealous of God’s celebrations over the recovery of the lost.
From the Bible viewpoint, we have all been numbered among the lost.
Our predicament may vary: some may end up dirtier than others, and some more bruised and torn , but in God’s eyes we are all his lost children. That is the tragedy of the universal predicament of humanity-: we all became lost in a world where God intended us to be at home.
We lose our sense of direction. We get confused by the intersections ahead of us. We take the wrong turn. We nibble our way into trouble. We slip through fingers and end up in the dark and dust. Our faith is flabby, our love is not like the love of our Good Shepherd. Who is there among us who has not at times felt a long distance from God?
Lost people bump awkwardly into each other, hurting those around them. Lost people make bad choices convinced that they are 100% right. The most brilliant mind is no more exempt than the humblest battler. What is more, we find it extremely difficult to admit we were wrong, even to those who are most dear to us.
If you doubt me on this read again Psalm 14.
As I see it, each of us should be extremely glad that God is like a shepherd, or a woman who will not rest until the lost is found. We should be most grateful that heaven throws a party when the lost are recovered. For that is our party. Ours!
THE JOY OF BEING FOUND
This God of Jesus, who loves lost things, is the God I want to proclaim. God is out in the weather each day finding us. Sometimes it is a long journey. With some people it takes a lifetime before they allow themselves to be found.
One long, summers day, when I was nine years old, I became lost in the country in the vicinity of an uncle’s farm. I did not even know whether I was missed; but of course I was. My Dad, Uncle and the farm workers were combing the countryside, searching in water holes and looking down wells. As the day wore on I was one very bewildered, terrified and desolate little boy.
When the sun was low in the horizon, I was found by one of the farm workers as he searched on a bicycle along the small county lanes. He lifted me up with his big sweaty, muscled arms, placed me high on his shoulders and rode triumphantly back to the farmhouse. Seventy decades later I can still remember my relief and joy, and that of my father and the searchers, when they all gathered back at the homestead.
That farm labourer, whose name I do not know, is metaphor to me of the God who will not let me go. This is a God of strong, muscled love; a God who can rejoice over the silliest sheep recovered, and the cheapest coin retrieved.
SERMON 2: THE FOOL HAS SAID “THERE IS NO GOD.”
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
That statement stands the widespread, popular, secular wisdom on its head.
Generally it is belief in God that is deemed foolish.
By belief I do not mean theoretical assent to the existence of God. I mean a daily trust in a living God. It such a trust in s God which many of those around us regard as naive and foolish.
However, the Bible, Old and New Testaments does not agree.
The Scriptures (and our church history) feature dozens of religious fools who against formidable odds put their trust in the living God. Fools who believed in a God who is far beyond our human understanding, yet who cherished human beings with a providential wisdom and love.
Their critics, and ours, sees this faith as nonsense.
For those hard headed people who pride themselves on being realists, such belief in God is pitiful stupidity. Pitiful stupidity? Yes. They pity us for our silliness, although if we persist they can harden and pour scorn, or maybe heap something even worse, on our heads.
Consider the Bible, church history, and the contemporary world.
It is star-studded with believing men and women whom the world regarded, at least at first, as pious idiots.
If the fashionable herd of humanity were writing Psalm 14,
it would most likely read : “The fool has said in his heart, “There is a God.”
FOOLS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
Long ago were those fools Abraham and Sarah.
They left their familiar neighbourhood and nation, and set of on a “wild goose chase” for a new land and new future that God had in store for them and their descendants. A crazy thing to do. Yet these fools found their land and future.
Those whom the world counted as fools have said in their hearts: “There is a God!”
Or that young, believing fool Miriam.
By the river Nile, discreetly watching her infant brother Moses bobbing among the bulrushes in his cute little basket-boat. Miriam did not despair when Pharoah’s daughter claimed him. She was stupid enough to intervene, and managed to have the child’s own mother appointed as wet nurse. Foolish Miriam and helped change history.
The grown up Moses, another fool.
When a fugitive in the desert of Sinai, he reckoned he heard God speaking to him out of a burning bush. O yeah? He believed that God wanted him to liberate his fellow Jews from slavery in Egypt. How stupid can you get, to believe that stuff? Yet look what happened when Moses acted on his belief!
Another fool was called Hannah.
She believed in God enough to promise that if she could bear a son she would lend him to the Lord. She bore a son named Samuel, and after he was weaned, she did bring him to the temple at Shiloh. Handed him over to the head priest, Eli. Only a fool would do that, huh?
The fool had said in her heart: “There is a God!”
Years later, when Samuel became the head priest of that shrine.
The old fool went on a typical fool’s errand to find a new king for Israel. And what kind of a guy did he select? He passed over likely candidates and, believing God was speaking to his heart, he chose a teenage shepherd and “bush poet” called David. How about that? Only one of God’s fools would make such a choice.
So the Old Testament goes on with more fools.
Those “loners” the prophets, Amos, Micah, Hosea, all fools who believed. Remarkable women fools like Esther and Judith. The reluctant Jeremiah. The visionary Isaiah who was stupid enough to sing songs about a special servant whom God would sent to save his people: “Wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.”
The fool has said in his heart: There is a living God!
What the arrogant world deems to be utter foolishness, God has deemed to be wisdom.
FOOLS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
The same theme of foolishness unfolds in the New Testament.
That lovely, sweet fool, teenage Mary.
This teenager reckoned her pregnancy was God’s gift and that her child would be God’s most special person. Her husband to be, respectable Joseph, was fool enough to believe her story and go ahead with the marriage.
Jesus, the prophet from Galilee, was the supreme fool.
After his baptism he was foolish enough to reckon the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon him. On the strength of this experience, he went off into the desert and fasted for forty days. Crazy stuff?
Then his silly ministry.
He did not cultivate the important people. He was the creator of parables for the poor, friend of the outcastes, healer of diseases. A remarkable fool who told his followers to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It still sounds crazy advice, even today.
This choice fool has said in his heart, “There is a God!”
The final gross folly by Jesus:
His last stubborn pilgrimage up to Jerusalem and certain arrest.
His acceptance of betrayal by a friend,
His refusal to argue his own case before governor Pilate,
His willingness to forgive those who crucified him.
By this world standards this Jesus is the biggest fool of all time.
Yet this glorious fool has said with all his heart:
“There is a living God who loves us. God! Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This is closely followed by the foolishness of Easter.
Disciples jumping around for joy shouting “He is risen!” Unique meetings behind closed doors. A strange but wonderful meeting on the way to Emmaus. An unforgettable breakfast on the shores of Galilee.
Then all the folly that gained mightier strength on the day of Pentecost.
Peter and John in and out of prison. Stephen being stoned to death for his belief, yet as he is dying he prays for those who are murder him, crying out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
On to the stage comes that scholarly fool, Paul,
the vicious persecutor turned mighty missionary of Christ Jesus. Preaching the foolishness of the Gospel of Christ Jesus across the Roman Empire. We see him up on Mars hill in cultured Athens, invited to speak to the high council of Athenian elders. But when he starts proclaiming Christ Jesus, crucified and risen” the scholars and philosophers are embarrassed, and quickly usher him off the podium and out the door.
Those 1st century Christian fools said in their hearts: “There is a living God!”
MORE AND MORE FOOLS
The 2,000 C/hristian story is about God’s fools.
The North African woman named Monica,
who reckoned her brilliant but wayward son, addicted to the butchery of Roman “games” in the arena, , was destined for better things in God’s cause.
The young Italian “man about town”, Francis Bernardone,
who on the whim that he has seen a vision of Jesus, gave his wealth and status away, to become a poor man among the poor. This unstoppable fool even went so far as to preach a sermon to the birds of the woodlands!
Other fools like Tyndale and Wycliffe,
paid dearly for their faith, believing that people should be allowed to hear the Bible read in their own native tongue.
John Huss of Bohemia,
a daring preacher in the “Bethlehem Chapel” in Prague, offended Rome so much that he was burnt at the stake for his reformist ideas.
Katherine von Borer, a brave nun
who was foolish enough to take church reformation seriously and even dared marry the dangerous trouble maker, Martin Luther of Wittenburg.
Susannah Wesley , a highly gifted fool,
trained her sons from an early age to be scholars and intrepid followers of Christ who would never allow convention to stifle their love of the Gospel.
In the last century fools of God like Pope John 23,
who as an old man was elected as a stop gap, but seized the opportunity and opened the doors of the Catholic Church to a new reformation.
Professor Graeme Clarke of Melbourne,
another one of God’s contemporary fools, had a wild idea about developing a bionic ear for the deaf. He faced opposition, some of the most caustic criticism coming from groups of those who were already hearing-impaired. Today, thousands of people hear voices and music because Dr Clarke dared to follow his dream and produce the cochlea implant..
More recently a foolish Christian couple in Australia, after losing precious family members in the terrorist bombing in Bali on October 12th 2002, pleaded for the tolerant treatment of the perpetrators. They agreed to a TV interview, not to vent anger or express a thirst for revenge, but to offer forgiveness. What glorious, holy fools!
Ah Yes! God’s holy fools has certainly said in his heart: “There is a God.”--
WHO ARE REALLY THE FOOLS?
But in reality who are the true fools?
Who are the ones who miss the whole point of being alive?
As the Psalm writer clearly understood, the real fools are found among those onlookers. In particular those fools who make another kind of leap of faith: jumping blindly into atheism. The atheist makes an arbitrary decision that God does not exist, and by that decision they shut themselves off from opportunity of knowing.
The Bible offends these sophisticated non-believers:
The fool has said in his heart there is no God “
WE YEARN FOR THOSE WITHOUT FAITH
In a recent novel by Dean Koontz (One Door Away From Heaven) the poor but loving aunt Geneva says to her troubled, cynical, adult niece named Mickey:
Some times– not often but once in a while– life can change for the better in one moment of grace, almost a sort of miracle. Something so powerful can happen, someone so special comes along, some precious understanding descends on you so unexpectedly that it just pivots you in a new direction, changes you forever. Girl I’d give everything I have if that could happen for you.”
That is how I feel about those who do not believe.
Like aunt Geneva, I yearn for people to find the reality of God. For a time of revelation. When “some precious understanding descends on you so unexpectedly that it just pivots you in a new direction, changes you forever. Girl I’d give everything I have if that could happen for you.”
Where there is love, there will always be such a yearning.
Girl I’d give everything I have if that could happen for you.” We cannot just shrug our shoulders. The fools of God continue to pray for others, to the God who can do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or conceive.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
For God our Good Shepherd, we give thanks,
Let us pray.
Shepherd God, always you have loved your people; Sarah and Abraham, Rachel, Jacob, Joshua, Rahab, Hannah, Hosea, Elizabeth and Mary. You are a God who goes looking for mere nobodies and does remarkable things for them and through them. We give thanks for your unceasing compassion and faithfulness.
Shepherd God, when the time was just right you sent to us one special, mature young Person, whose readiness to gather in the stragglers, the rebels and the lost, has won him the adoration of the centuries. We give thanks for Jesus of Nazareth, our Friend, Saviour and Lord.
Shepherd God, when Jesus had completed his work, you made more available to us your own Spirit, to be with us always. By your Spirit you lead us and inspire us, teach, counsel and comfort us. We give thanks for your Holy Spirit, the Advocate who never wearies, the Friend who never sleeps.
Wonderful are you, great Shepherd of the world!
Wonderful are you, great Shepherd of the church!
Wonderful are you, great Shepherd of each lonely soul!
Thanks and praise be yours forever!
We are about to pray for others. This is both a responsibility and a privilege. For in such prayers we stand in the shoes of Christ Jesus, and are called to follow up our prayers with his kind action.
Let us pray.
Home-loving God, you are like a woman who treasures all things in her household, grieving over even the smallest thing that becomes lost. Please enlarge the scope of our compassion until our prayers align with your wide love for all people on earth.
We pray for the millions in populous regions like Asia. We confess that we tend to regard the suffering or death of a few thousand as of no consequence. Yet by your will every heart beats and in your love each life is precious. Please bless them with the same favour we ask you to bestow on our dearest friends.
We pray for those citizens of our own country whom we do not know. Many are to us only statistics; a certain number with aids, a number with heart disease, a number mentally ill, and a certain number of road accidents. Please be with each individual in their trauma and grief, and bless every compassionate voice and hand that reaches out to them.
We pray for all other congregations and denominations. Some we know a little, some we pray for occasionally, and many we don’t want to have anything to do with. On this day, please grace every congregation and denomination with those rich blessings we seek for our own.
Home-loving God, we pray now for our nearest and dearest, especially for any who are bewildered, rebellious, lost, hurting, or sorrowing. Like a mother who treasures each individual and seeks the good of all, so please be with these who are precious to us.
Through Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd.
Christ calls us to share his love by offering our own, especially to with those who have scant love in their lives.
That task is not easy. It is not easy for us to know the best way, and some of those who need loving are prickly and ready to rebuff us.
May the Christ who calls you, give you the grace to make wise choices in the use of your limited time and energy, and grant you the good humour to receive rejection without impatience or anger.
God’s blessing be yours
and well may it safely keep you.
Christ’s blessing be yours
and well may it ever heal you.
Spirit’s blessing be yours
and well may it thoroughly warm you.
Now and ever more.
Now and evermore. Amen!
(Adapted from a Celtic blessing)