Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you O Christ 

Reflecting on September 11th

I had been planning for a humorous and light hearted sermon to go with the Lukan text that was given for Sunday September 16, 2001. But all of my thoughtful illustrations had to be put aside in order to speak words of comfort and strength in the aftermath of the tragedies of September 11.

A time that I could never have prepared for, but the Gospel provided a most gracious message for the Church and all people who would listen.

This morning we are keenly aware of the power of the Gospel as it comes into our lives at a time of national crisis and personal distress. Because of the events of this week-- we experience Jesus' words as though they were brand new in our hearing. Are hearts and minds are open and we listen carefully in order for Jesus' words to touch our lives and restore our hope.

It is a wonder that these words from the Gospel have not been lost to the progress nor the "digression" of the human experience, but Christ's words come to us today with deeper meaning than we have experienced in many decades in our nation.

In today's lessons there are words about the Searching nature of God. We are sought after in all of the aspects of our life experience, good and bad--right and wrong. Jesus is teaching us about the Caring attributes of God. God is described in human terms of endearment--like a conscientious worker who goes above and beyond his normal job expectations even at great risk in order to do the best job possible or like a woman who barely survives from pay check to pay check -- who has still managed to develop some meager savings and diligently hangs on to this small treasure: The caring of God is like the best attributes of men and women.

But this week we have been confronted by the greatest degree of human evil. Un-utterable callousness has displaced charity at a most horrendous level! . . . And yet the light of Christ will overcome the devastation, the vitality of Luke's words provide hope for us.

In the first parable that Jesus is sharing, God's Love is like that of a hard working Shepherd who works to care for and preserve his flock. This shepherd carries out his task with a depth of concern that far exceeds the average expectations of most shepherds. This shepherd has a devotion to his sheep herding that goes way beyond any financial reward. Consider for a moment that the shepherds of Jesus' time were more likely to have been in the employ of a greater land owner. Also consider that in this writing Jesus uses the example of the shepherds who were considered to be unclean and not to be "associated with" as far as the Pharisees were concerned.


And so we have here a blue collar worker who we, within our habit of stereotyping, would not expect great things to come from. But that is not an accurate representation of a blue collar worker who has been consumed by the Love that comes from Yahweh-God! For in this story the shepherd is representative of the Loving God who will go to extraordinary measures to save his people, or even a single person. Jesus wants all people to know that the true God of Israel is a God of extraordinary passion -- so much so, that His immeasurable love is not bounded by laws of purity or human judgements about acceptable appearances, or about having the "right" foods to eat, or whether or not we have cleansed our bodies properly or have touched others who are not "up to the standards" of our religion or society. No, the passion of this Shepherd-God is not contained by class, or race, or any other humanly constructed pattern of superiority.

We gain an even deeper insight into the extraordinary heroism of the shepherd figure from the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas' gospel, of course, is not part of our canonical scriptures, but is a useful commentary from the early Church. Through this writing we can understand the high significance and radicalness of the image that Jesus wants us to perceive in the shepherd. Thomas says that the Shepherd in this story has exhausted himself with the effort that he expended in rescuing the strayed sheep. And, to add even more drama to the story, Thomas says that the sheep that went astray from the fold was not the sweet little lamb, but the biggest one in the flock!!

Each of us here today may imagine our-self as being this big sheep! But the greatness of the story is that the Shepherd drops his care for the ninety-nine, and pursues us with an "irrational determination." This is the passionate Love of God that Jesus conveys to us. Indeed, this is the same type of determination that we witnessed during the tragedy of this past week as the hundreds of rescue workers, police, doctors, nurses, and citizens worked frantically to rescue and aid the victims of the attacks on the Twin Tours and the Pentagon. They went about their tasks without regard to their own well-being. They went with great determination to save, to comfort, and to mourn with and for the victims of these horrific crimes . . . . Through these acts of human experience -- God's Love is exemplified . . . . God's compassionate concern is present in the midst of our suffering.

The Love of God comes to us as Luke goes on to speak to us with an exemplary level of inclusivity. The second story that Jesus tells is about the woman who searches for her lost coin. This story also reveals God's determination . . . "If she loses one of them, she will search carefully until she finds it."

God does not give up on you or me!

Through the woman's search for a lost coin, Jesus delves deeper into the intensity of God's caring and concern for us. God is like a woman who searches for her lost coin with an irrational passion. The woman's methodical search for the penny that was misplaced, lost, or hidden from her sight becomes a teaching tool for us. The woman's story sets up conditions so that we can discover the determination of "This God" who consistently seeks to recover us from our lostness or despair, . . . and this God sweeps over us to reveal the preciousness of the relationship that is to be found through Christ our Lord.

Consider again the woman in this story . . . notice her poverty. She had ten coins that were worth about a day's wage a piece. We don't know what she was saving them for, but we might imagine that she needed this money to buy food for her family, or it might have been the dowry money for her daughter, it might have been the month's rent -- real-estate was in short supply in those days! Nevertheless, we do know that the missing coin meant a great deal to her, and Jesus makes this perfectly clear by describing the level of desperation in her search. Note how methodically she searches: She "lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully.

We can't help but think about God's need to search through the business and the busyness of our lives. For all too often we clutter up our lives with "things" and we allow the cares of this world to distract us from our relationship with God. And then the time passes so quickly that God's Spirit can no longer compete with the "dust" of our busyness that settles all around us. Like the terrible dust that has settled over Manhattan and like the dust that hides the woman's coin, so the dust of our worries, fears and preoccupations can cover the spark that is our relationship with God. But Jesus will not allow even this to cover his love for us.

Jesus says that "the Shepherd goes after the one that is lost until he finds it" and the Woman searches for her lost coin with persistence, she sweeps the dust of her dirt floor until she recovers that which was lost.

When the shepherd has recovered the ewe or the ram or the lamb -- the Shepherd will celebrate! He will get together with his fellow sheep herders, they will sit around a campfire and celebrate his accomplishment.. We can imagine the laughter, we can visualize the smiling faces that come from exaggerated stories of great heroism in the story telling!! "Left the ninety-nine sheep to fetch the one! What a great tale!"

And the woman, when she finds her lost coin, she calls to the other women of her village, "Come and rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost!!" The laughter, the smiles, the pleasure to be known in the simple triumphs of life. This is what we need to return to in these desperate days.

This past week we have been reminded of the importance and the preciousness of life. Our faith has been challenged and we have been drawn to God and to one another. Today we are mourning for our people, we are mourning for our nation, we feel a great loss for humanity and peace and we are forced to ask why such tragedy has happened?

But we are also reminded this morning that, like the rescue workers in Washington, New York, and Somerset County, God made God's self vulnerable and came to rescue us from a life of alienation and striving. By the living words of scripture and the faith that is given us from Beyond, we know that our Christ comes to us--we are found!! We are assured that we have a purpose and direction in life no matter what should befall us. Today let us CELEBRATE this great love of God. Amen

May the Peace of God which utterly surpasses our human understanding -- fill our hearts, our minds, and our spirits both now and forevermore.


Read more writings of Pastor Jon