Lost and Found and Forgiven

11 09 2010

Text:  Luke 15:1-10

“It’s all about me!”

This is a phrase that was rather popular some ago and still pops up on occasion.  I believe I even saw a T-Shirt in one of those little shops on Duval Street with this saying on it.  In embracing this phrase, we embrace our own capacity for self-absorption, self-indulgence, our accomplishments.  “Look at what a great person I am! See all of these things that I have and how great my life is!”  When things are bad, we use it to try and make the world stop and pay attention, offer us comfort, and put everything else on hold to commiserate and help us put everything back together.

This even translates into our walk of faith as we try to “earn” our salvation.  How many of have listened to that siren song of those who say “if we try just a little harder, do just a little more, we’ll be in with the right folks and in the right situation and God will bless me.”  Earning our salvation and embarking on a self-help kind of faith is totally antithetical to what our faith is about.

In our Gospel reading today, we see that Jesus is at it again, causing trouble. He is hanging out with the lowest of the low of society and the big scandal is, he seems to attract them and does nothing about it to send them away!  In this case,  Jesus is attracting tax collectors and sinners.  Tax collectors were Jewish people who were collaborating with the Roman government to fleece the local population and seen as traitors.  Sinners in this context were religious and social outcasts of  the day.  The big issue here is one of fellowship, or to what extent Jesus is willing to fully welcome and accept other people.   Jesus is breaking every social convention here and it disturbs those who are the guardians of tradition.  Those of us who call him Lord still find his all-embracing love and compassion disturbing today.

Jesus position, as it is with everything he says or does, is rooted in love.  A love so powerful, so deep, so strong, so wide, that it risks everything, and he describes this love in the parables for today, the lost sheep and the lost coin.  In the parable of the lost sheep, we see the shepherd risking safety of his flock to go and find one that has wandered off.  A lost sheep is, for all intents and purposes, dead.  The shepherd is not only risking the flock, but his entire livelihood for the sake of a sheep that could have been ravaged by dogs.  In the parable of the lost coin, we hear about someone who drops everything to search for the missing asset, and once it is found, everyone is told about it and there is great rejoicing.  And so it is we are told that when one sinner repents, there is great rejoicing in heaven.

At first glance, Jesus appears to be saying that he is hanging out with all of these lost folks in the hopes they will turn away from the sins of their lives and clean up their act.  But this isn’t exactly the case and misses the point of the parables …

Repentance is a change of heart about your thoughts or actions.  This definition doesn’t really work here  because the lost sheep and the lost coin aren’t really capable of doing anything except hang about being lost.  Many times we talk about how in order to receive forgiveness, we need to turn away from our sins.  The whole idea of repenting first before we receive forgiveness actually goes against certain passages in Scripture.  Romans 5 says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and St. Paul also says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  There really isn’t any condition attached to it.  The sheep and the coin don’t call out saying they are lost before the finder gets about the business of finding them.  As mentioned before, a lost sheep is pretty much a dead sheep and a lost coin is for all intents and purposes, a dead asset.  The ones that are lost do not repent, but the finder risks the safety of the remaining flock and the remaining assets to find them.  So in this light, we could go as far as to say that these parables are not so much designed to encourage repentance but to show what happens when we are lost and found again, through no action of our own.

These parables are not meant to convince us that if we just try a little harder, or get to a certain level of moral or spiritual improvement, we are able to be found. It is definitely not about us. They speak of God acting on our own behalf even before we are capable of doing so.  We are all lost sheep and lost coins and dead assets.  But Jesus comes along and finds us and gives us life while we do nothing about it.  This life is a gift that we have done nothing to earn, and this is what grace is all about.

In our liturgy, we say a Prayer of Confession, affirming our repentance for things done and left undone and we also hear words of absolution, assuring us that we are forgiven.  Given the thrust of these parables, we can say that confession is not only the admission of a mistake or a flaw, but it is the recognition and admission that we are dead and lost, and how we have no power to save ourselves or convince anyone else we are worth saving, for that matter.

When we are brought face to face with the One who finds us, the One who is in the business of giving “life to the dead and calling into existence the things that do not exist,”  absolution becomes something else all together.  It is not just an acceptance of an apology.  God is not simply saying, “there-there,” that God understands our weaknesses and makes allowances for all our shortcomings. Absolution is an affirmation of one of Jesus’ last words on the Cross, “It is finished.”

“IT IS FINISHED!”  Our sins are forgiven, done away with, disposed of, forgotten.  The old life is over and dead, and in his resurrection, Jesus breathes into us new life.  The story of our faith is not so much about finding God, but it is how God comes to us and finds us in our lostness and deadness, and the joy that rings in heaven when that happens. Forgiveness, being sought out and looked for before we actually repent is at the heart of the Gospel but also its great scandal and offense.

In one of our Eucharistic Prayers, the priest says “In him you have delivered us from evil and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”  God acts on our behalf to save us in spite of ourselves, through no action of our own.

It really is not all about us at all is it?

Amen.

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One response

11 09 2010
Doorman-Priest

Pleased to see you still writing perceptive and challenging theology My Boy.

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