Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 – My people are stupid children with no understanding, who know how to do evil, but not good. The whole land shall be a desolation.

OR

Exodus 32:7-14 – Moses pleads with God to turn back his wrath against the people.

Psalm 14 – The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” You confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

OR

Psalm 51:1-10 – I was a sinner from my mother’s womb. Create in me a clean heart, O God…

1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost.

Luke 15:1-10 – Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin.

September 11, 2001 is the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center (Resources available).

September 13, 2008 is the anniversary of Hurricane Ike, which devastated Galveston.

Fall at-a-glance

Epistles: Beginning September 15, we get carefully chosen 1 Timothy texts the rest of September, and then 2 Timothy in October (starting September 29), until Reformation Sunday when of course we get Romans. November 1 is all Saints Sunday. November 10 and 17 we get 2 Thessalonians and then the 24th is Christ the King, the end of the church year.

Gospels: September 15 we begin with four weeks of parables, most of which are incredible stewardship texts:

1. Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin

2. Parable of the Shrewd Manager

3. Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus

4. Parable of the Mustard Seed (undeserving slaves) – October 6

The rest of October we are in Luke 17-18: Healing of the Ten Lepers, Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart), and Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (warning against hypocrisy). That last parable is on Reformation Sunday, so most of us won’t get to it.

October 4 is St. Francis of Assisi. October 6 is William Tyndale, if you want an early run at Reformation stuff. September 29 is also Saint Michael and all Angels.

The parable of the Shrewd Manager, also known as the Dishonest Steward (September 22) is one of my favorite stewardship texts. Use your filthy stinking money to do some good in this world. Make friends for yourself in this world by means of unrighteous mammon. Yikes. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus turns up the heat. If you think of the story of the 10 lepers as a kind of parable, it’s all parables through September and October.

I would consider a 6-week series on the parables: “Stories that Teach and Challenge,” or “Jesus the Storyteller,” “Stories for Life,” or something. Everybody loves a good story.

9/15 – Finding What is Lost

9/22 – Heavenly Investing

9/29 – Rich Man/Poor Man

10/6 – Mustard Seed Faith

10/13 – Giving Thanks

10/20 – Persistent Prayer

So let’s jump into the first parable from Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

I spent a lot of time in Lent pulling apart the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, with the help of Timothy Keller and his book “Prodigal God.” If you would like to revisit those, go to my blog BishopMike.com, and type “prodigal” into the search bar. Look at Ash Wednesday, the five Sundays of Lent, Passion/Palm Sunday and Easter 2013 posts.

Luke 15 verses one and two set the tone:

Now there were tax collectors and sinners gathering around to hear him, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

What follows in Luke chapter 15 are three stories about lost things. There’s a story of the lost sheep, then the story of the lost coin and finally the story of two lost sons. These stories serve to explain why Jesus is spending so much time with sinners.

It’s very hard to pull any of these parables out and deal with them separately in my opinion. These three stories about lost stuff build to a climax in the story of the Prodigal Son. The shepherd goes to look for the lost sheep. The woman goes to look for the lost coin. Who goes to look for the lost son? No one.

And of course, there are two sons who correspond roughly to the tax collectors and sinners (younger son) and the Pharisees and teachers of the law (older son) in verses ones and two, above. All three stories have rejoicing when the lost is found. Only the last story shows, using a family systems story before its time, why some might not actually want the lost to return. It is a critique of the Pharisees. Chapter 15 is one piece.

All three lost stories in Luke 15 are unique to Luke. If we did not have the Gospel of Luke, we would not know these stories today.

David Jeffrey (“Luke”) reminds us that showing hospitality to Gentiles was an offense for observant Jews. Table fellowship was out of the question. These stories go to the heart of Jesus’ critique of his own religious system. Nothing is quite so central to Jesus’ ministry as commensality: table fellowship with all, especially with those ostracized from the religious community. Jesus’ ministry is not only to the religiously observant. “I have not come to call righteous, but sinners.”

So lets hear the story as it is written in Luke. Five verses (Luke 15:3-7):

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 people who need no repentance.

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep. When found, the lost sheep is not scolded, whipped or punished. Jeffrey quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa:

But when the shepherd has found the sheep, he did not punish it, nor did he get it back to the flock by driving it, but rather by placing it upon his shoulder and carrying it gently he united it to his flock. (Aquinas Catena Aurea, 3:2:525)

The shepherd gently shoulders the the sheep and rejoices. Rejoicing is the proper response. Then comes the party. The shepherd calls together friends and neighbors and celebrates. All heaven rejoices. As in so many stories, things end with a heavenly party.

Hear now the second parable. Three verses (Luke 15:8-10):

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.’

It would be a shame to not have a small group study on these texts. Let people dwell on the passages and reflect. This will bear much fruit.

It’s hard for people today to imagine turning the house upside down for one coin. These stories make sense in developing countries where the situation is much closer to the life of poverty people lived in Jesus’ day. You might tell a story closer to the cultural and economic milieu of your folks.

This past week I got an email from my brother asking if we had gotten the Amazon gift card he sent in the mail, for our anniversary. We had not, though the web page told him it had arrived at 2:57 pm on Monday. So we turned the house upside down. (Never found it.) This was a very real lost experience we had this past week, but it still doesn’t rise to the level of a first century Palestinian widow desperately searching for a drachma that might represent several days with no meals. Perhaps you have a story of misplacing a wedding ring with both monetary and emotional value? How did you feel when it was found? This is how heaven rejoices when one wayward wanderer returns.

I would be tempted to approach these texts as evangelism texts and my message as an evangelism message. The preacher may want to invite listeners to consider how they relate to outsiders, those who are not observant. How does your congregation as a whole interface with those who are not actively part of any church? Is your orientation angry critique, or compassionate welcome with subsequent rejoicing? In Bible study, some questions might be:

When have you lost something of value and searched diligently for it? Did you find it?

When have you felt the most lost in your life?

How did you come to the Christian faith?

Were there times you walked away from God? The church? What brought you back?

What might this story suggest about how we might relate to the “nones” in the most Christlike way?

What do unchurched folks need most from the church?

What’s our strategy for welcoming those outside our community of faith?

Although Psalm 23 is not appointed for this day, Psalm 23 hymns like “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” and “Shepherd Me O God” would make fitting sermon hymns. “Amazing Grace” has lost/found themes. There are many versions of this hymn, as well as the most favorite hymn in the US. “O Zion Haste” also embodies a message of evangelism. I leave you with a stanza of that hymn:

Proclaim to every people, tongue and nation

That God, in Whom they live and move, is love:

Tell how God stooped to save His lost creation,

And died on earth that we might live above.

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace

Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

Yours in Christ,

Bishop Michael Rinehart