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Proper 19C r – September 11, 2022

St. Paul’s, Bellingham– Proper 19C r – September 11, 2022

Luke 15:1-10

The Rev. Rachel Endicott

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

At the Episcopal Church I visited this past Sunday while on vacation – thank you so much for the time off! – I heard a reading from the Gospel of Luke which centered on disciples and discipleship. I’m presuming you also heard this same passage as we share the Revised Common lectionary and its cycle of readings with our sister churches. This morning the Gospel of Luke transitions to three related stories, the first two of which we hear this morning. He recounts Jesus telling the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and – we won’t hear it today – the story of the lost son. These are stories that we are familiar with, that even young children can retell. And this first story prompts lots of people to ruminate on their own encounters with shepherds and sheep. An encounter I read about a few years ago comes from James Martin who several decades ago worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi, Kenya.

He wrote, “My job was to help refugees begin small businesses to help them support themselves and their families. One day I was driving my jeep outside of the city, near the Rift Valley, to visit a farmer who had started a cattle farm with some assistance from JRS. As I wound my way up a steep mountain pass, I was transfixed by the verdant green grass that carpeted the hillside. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, a lone white sheep clambered down the hillside and darted in front of my car. I swerved to avoid hitting it (there were no other vehicles around). Then I watched the sheep gingerly climb down into the valley on the right side of the road.

Just then, from my left, a figure darted across the road. It was a young Maasai shepherd. In the Maasai culture the youngest boys, sometimes as early as five, tend the sheep; the older ones herd goats; and the oldest, including men, take care of the cattle. The shepherd dashed in front of my idling car. Barefoot, he smiled and waved to me as he passed. He scrambled down the side of the hill in pursuit of the sheep, raising clouds of dust, calling loudly all the while. I watched him climb down the hill for a few seconds. Then I looked up and saw the rest of the flock, about twenty or thirty sheep, up the hill on my left.

How stupid! I thought. He is leaving behind the whole flock for that one sheep. Then something dawned on me, and I laughed out loud. It was the parable of the lost sheep in action! … If God pursues us with even half the energy as that young Maasai boy, then humanity has nothing to worry about.” 1

And so James Martin reflects on both the stupidity of the shepherd, at least stupidity from a numerical or economic perspective, yet he shares a secondary reflection on the energy of the shepherd which he parlays into a comment about God’s energetic love for all of humanity, for each one of us.

But there’s more to these stories than this. Concentrating on the two we heard today, rather than the third story which we don’t hear, the story of the lost son, I want to look not so much at what is lost and what is found, but concentrate on the other parts of the passage, what we often pass over as “simply” commentary about the action parts of the story.

While the first of these two stories Jesus tells in Luke’s Gospel about sheep shares a parallel in Matthew, the second tale about the coin is unique to the Gospel of Luke. We have two stories, one in which the main character is a male, the shepherd, and the other in which the main character is female, the woman with the coins.

And we have foreshadowing early on about the reason that the stories are told. In the introduction, Luke tells us specifically that the tax collectors and sinners were listening to Jesus. And yet, the scribes and Pharisees were not. In fact, they were grumbling and griping to others rather than listening to Jesus. And what they are complaining about is that Jesus is hanging out with sinners. He’s socializing with, preaching to, and engaging with sinners, those who were deemed not the beloved faithful. I wonder, my friends, whether we might consider ourselves the sinners who were listening or the scribes and Pharisees (the churchy folks) who aren’t hearing the words of our Savior? Hmmm.

Now Jesus presents this triad of parables in a certain way. Each of the segments have three parts. The first part is the telling of the story that is central to the parable, so the actual story about the lost sheep or the lost coin and the search for and finding of the precious animal or valuable money. But this is only the first part.

The second part is the emphasis on the rejoicing, the great joy, when what was lost was found. It isn’t simply that the sheep or the coin is returned to their peers or other objects. Rather, there is celebration – we’re told friends and neighbors are invited to come and celebrate. It’s announced on Facebook, an evite is issued, groups texts are sent out and there are lots of exclamation marks about the return of the lost sheep or coin.

The third and final section in each of these parables further spells out what has been foreshadowed earlier with similar – if not identical wording at the end of each parable – “Just so, I tell you, three will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” and “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Today we particularly need this message of hope from the Gospel as a contrast to the Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah which outlines the ways in which humans do not follow God’s wishes: they are stupid, evil, and do not do good. Psalm 14 goes on basically to say we are fools and not wise ones who seek after God. So perhaps, it is providential that the lectionary makers paired up these other lessons with this Gospel passage with its emphasis on hope and an encouragement that even one person who repents, which simply means to turn their life around, is reason for celebrating by the heavenly beings, by the angels.

Are you being called to turn your life around? Is there something in your life which you carry which is keeping you from God? Are there ways that you are asked to do good and are not doing so? Have you wandered from the flock? We are each called to think carefully about this.

So, today is a day to do two things. One, it is a day to repent, to allow God once again to lead you as you ought to go. Liturgically, we have a chance weekly to do so in the General Confession where we mark that turning point. But, more importantly, each day our actions and behaviors need to demonstrate, to show, that turning around. If, for example, we repent that we have sinned in not helping our unhoused neighbors to the degree we could have, we need to today and tomorrow work to find housing for the homeless, support organizations that do so, and advocate for change locally and nationally about this issue. While I am not saying that each unhoused person is a sinner (please don’t hear that), I am sure that God rejoices in each one that we can help find a place to call home.

And secondly, besides repenting, today is a day to celebrate for all who have been lost, but are found – all those that we would dance and party with, rejoice with.

Friends, we are all sinners. But we – thankfully – are chased down by a loving God and are given the chance to repent, to change our tune. Let’s make that change and let’s rejoice!


1 James Martin , Jesus: A Pilgrimage (N. Y.: HarperCollins, 2014), p. 203 as from Synthesis, 9/15/19, p. 3.

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