Once again Jesus is hanging out with the sinners and the tax collectors, and the priests and the most devout followers of God are grumbling.
Since the start of summer, Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, all the while eating with sinners, and he’s all about the repentance.
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.
What does repentance mean?
Does repentance mean to be sorry for something we’ve done, to ask for God’s forgiveness, and promise to do better next time? Yes, it does. But that’s not the repentance that Jesus is talking about here.
Does repentance mean to change the direction of our lives and follow Jesus as our Savior and Lord? Yes, it does. But that’s not what repentance means in our Gospel this morning.
It is a definition found only in the Gospel of Luke, as well as I can determine, and Jesus’ repentance today means this: being sought and found by God.
Repentance where the one who is found doesn’t even have to know that he or she was lost. In the15th chapter of Luke, Jesus tells three parables about the lost being found, and in each case the repentance is the result of the one who is seeking and finding and welcoming and loving. The kind of repentance that God alone does.
As Jesus likes to do, these stories, these parables of lost things found are full of hyperbole. Starting with the questions that introduce the two lost and found stories we heard Deacon Russ read.
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them--that is 1% of the flock--does not leave the 99 in the wilderness, the place with no ready water or food or easy protection, and goes after the one that is lost until he finds it?
Which one of us? None of us! None of us, but Jesus’ shepherd does.
And when the shepherd comes back with the sheep over his shoulders, he gathers everyone he knows together and tells them to celebrate that he left 99 perfectly good sheep to find one that was lost?
Which of us? None of us!!!!! Throwing a party to celebrate leaving a perfectly good flock to find one lost sheep? That would be a secret we kept. Not Jesus’ shepherd.
Or. Which woman having lost one of her 10 coins stops everything she’s doing, lights every lamp she has, deep cleans everything in the house, and doesn’t stop searching night and day until she finds the one lost coin?
Which one of us? Not likely any of us. Sure, we may search, but eventually we’d give up. Not Jesus’ woman.
And then, once again, which one of us calls together everyone she knows to celebrate the one found coin. We may post on Facebook. Tweet a photo of the lost coin. But throw a big party that may cost more than the lost coin? None of us!!!!
This is extreme behavior--which is why Jesus tells it. Because the one searching until he and she find that which is lost--whether the object of the search even knows that it needs to be found--is one type of repentance. Repentance that is a radical being found by an even more extravagant God. And in this kind of repentance, the one found has to do what?
Nothing. Not the sheep. Not the coin. Not even us.
In this kind of repentance, all of the work is done by the Great Seeker. God.
Take that lost sheep. I suspect that no sheep would ever intend to get lost on purpose.
The sheep simply wanders off, without planning to be lost, sheep not being very good planners, and before it knows it, there it is. Lost. I’m told that a lost sheep may not bah bah bah until it’s found; I’m told that a sheep, discovering that it is lost, curls up in a ball and silently tries to hide under a bush hoping to protect itself from predators.
Take a coin. A coin doesn’t even know that it’s lost because it’s a coin. Coins don’t think or have feelings. Coins are simply lost, and there they are.
Jesus wants his listeners, both those who know they are sinners and those who are grumbling members of the inner circle of faith, Jesus wants all of his listeners to know about a God, today not the God of extraordinary demands, but a God who will never ever stop seeking. A God who is so very crazy in love with each of us that our God will seek and seek and seek and seek again, until each and every beloved lost person is found.
No exceptions: no matter how full of sin we are or how holy we think we are.
No matter how lost we are, God will find us.
Many of you know that every Sunday before worship, those serving gather and more often than not one or the other of us says a prayer something like this:
Dear God. We pray that you will get those people to St. Mary’s whom you’ve called to be here. And that you will always give us the courage to say yes to your invitation.
We pray for this kind of God-seeking repentance. God seeking and God finding.
God has sought each of us and brought us here today. There is great rejoicing in heaven simply because we are here. Jesus would say that the angels in heaven are full of joy.
So like the shepherd and the woman in Jesus’ parables, we throw a great celebration. We do every Sunday. The meal we’ll serve with great joy is called the Eucharist. Eucharist means thanksgiving.
Every Sunday we rejoice over each person who has allowed themselves to be found by God and brought through our doors. To celebrate we serve bread and wine, and because it’s Jesus who has done the inviting, we have what’s called an open table. Yes, the bread and wine, the Lord’s supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist is God’s meal. Just like in the stories we read in the Bible, Jesus welcomed the priests and the most holy people as well as the tax collectors and the sinners to join him in his meals. So we are all very welcome here.
Yes, we understand the Eucharist as the meal of those who are baptized, but I must say today, that as Jesus didn’t check the credentials of those who sat at table with him; we won’t either. Truth be told, we never do.
Granted, the other two definitions of repentance--of being sorry and and asking forgiveness and living better lives; of changing the direction of our lives to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord--are true and worthy to be lived. Absolutely. But they are for conversation on another day.
Because today. In our Gospel today Jesus wants to remind us that repentance is not only about what we do. Jesus wants to remind us that repentance is also about something even bigger that God does, is doing all of the time. Seeking, seeking, seeking. That’s our God.
And this is the type of repentance which is a return to a community.
The no longer lost sheep being returned to the 99 sheep waiting in the wilderness.
The no longer lost coin being placed next to the 9 coins safely housed in the purse.
To us, a community of people who know that we are lost, and we are found.
And everytime another lost and found soul returns, we can do nothing more pleasing to God than to rejoice. And share a meal. Sinners and holy people that we are. People who are lost and people who are found.