Finding the Lost (Luke 15:1-10)

Luke 15 lost 07

Jesus had a habit of upsetting the respectable, religious people of his day. We heard about one way he did is a couple of weeks ago when he healed a disabled woman on the Jewish day of rest. Here, in Luke 15:1-10, Jesus is doing it again. We read that he was welcoming tax collectors and sinners who came to hear what he had to say (v1). This upset the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they determined peoples’ value by how well they kept their religious rules. Jesus, however, used a completely different standard to measure people’s value.

We can see the way Jesus valued people in the stories about the lost sheep and coin in Luke 15:1-10, and the next story about the lost or prodigal son. Jesus didn’t determine people’s worth by what they did or how well they kept the rules. The point of the stories of the lost sheep and coin is that each and every one is valuable. The shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep because he values it, even though it is just one and he has another ninety-nine. In the same way, the woman swept her whole house and searched carefully for her one coin, and then celebrated when she found it with her friends and neighbours, because it was valuable to her.

In these stories, Jesus is teaching us that each and every person, no matter what their lives look like or how lost they might be, is so precious to God that he would enter into our world as one of us in Jesus to look for us, to seek for us, to search for us, to find us. And when he does, and when we turn back to God in faith, heaven parties like you wouldn’t believe!

Over the last couple of years, our congregation has been using Growing Young from the Fuller Youth Institute to help us in our ministry with our young people. Their research found that there are six core commitments which help churches in their ministry with young people. One of these is to take Jesus’ message seriously. This might sound obvious until we start thinking specifically about how we do that. With these stories about the lost sheep and coin, for example, what does it mean for us to take Jesus’ teaching about God valuing and searching for people who are lost seriously?

Firstly, we take this message of Jesus seriously when we identify as people who were lost but have been found. We might sometimes have a tendency to behave more like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in the story and primarily see others as ‘lost.’ However, we can all identify as people who are lost because we all tend to want to go in our own directions, do things our own ways, and think that we can do life on our own. This leads us away from a relationship with our heavenly Father. We can also get a sense of being lost in the times of life when we feel like we don’t know where we are, how we got there or where we’re going.

However, God values each of us so much that he comes looking for us in Jesus the same way the shepherd searches for his sheep and the woman looks for her coin in Jesus’ story. When we identify as people who are lost, we also find a greater sense of value because Jesus came to look for the lost and return us into a loving relationship with God. We take this message of Jesus seriously when we recognise that we are lost so that we can find greater love, value and identity in Jesus as people whom he values enough to look and bring back to God. We take this message seriously when we admit that we can still get lost, and look to Jesus to lead us back into a renewed and deeper relationship with our God.

The second way we can take the message of the lost sheep and coin seriously is to trust that Jesus is still looking for people who are lost and have wandered from a trusting relationship with God through him. When we think about the people who have disconnected from our church, people in our own families who have walked away from a relationship with God, or the young people in our church who are in danger of leaving our community of faith, what are we willing to do in order to help to find them for the sake of Jesus? Do we run the risk of behaving more like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who criticise people who don’t do things the way we think they should be done, or who expect others to measure up to our standards? Or are we more like the shepherd who values the one sheep so much that he is willing to search until he finds it and brings it home? Are we like the woman who cleans the whole house and searches carefully until she finds what has been lost? What do we really value more – our own traditions, behaviours and expectations? Or the people that Jesus values enough to die for?

To take this message of Jesus seriously means recognizing that the way Jesus continues to look for people who are lost is through us. As the body of Christ in the world, he has commissioned and called us to search for and find those who have wandered away from a relationship with him or have got lost along the way of life. One of our most important roles as Jesus’ followers in the world is to be joining him in his search for those who are lost. The message of Jesus is good news for our world. The emphasis in Jesus’ teaching isn’t to tell people that they’re lost. Instead it’s to look for people who are already feeling lost and to help them find their way back to a loving relationship with God through Jesus. When people hear the good news of Jesus and turn to him as the one who leads them into a better life, there is such joy in heaven that it is hard to imagine.

Jesus welcomed the lost and brought them home through a new relationship with God. We take this message seriously when we recognise that we are among the lost, and when we join with Jesus in searching for others who are lost as well. Who is one person you know who might be feeling a little lost that you can connect with this week? Go looking for that person, sit with them and listen to them. In simple ways such as making the time for people who are lost, maybe Jesus will find them and bring them home, as the angels celebrate their return.

More to think about:

  • Have you ever lost something that was so important to you that you looked everywhere until you found it? What was it? Why was it so important to you?
  • What do you hear Jesus teaching us in the stories about the lost sheep and coin?
  • How might you take his teaching seriously in your own life?
  • Have you ever felt lost in your life? What happened?
  • What was it like for you to be found? If you’re still feeling lost, what might it mean to you that Jesus is looking for you & won’t stop until he finds you?
  • Do you know someone who is feeling lost for some reason? How might you be able to be the way that Jesus goes looking for that person?
  • How might your church be different if together you took seriously that Jesus wants to find people who are lost through you? What might need to change for you to do that faithfully & effectively?
  • Can you imagine what the celebration in heaven is like when someone who was lost finds their way back to God through Jesus? Describe what you think it might be like…

Jesus’ Guest List (Luke 14:1,7-14)

Luke 14v12-14 banquet 05

If you were throwing a party or having a dinner to celebrate a special occasion, who would you invite?

I’m guessing that there are a few different ways we might decide on a guest list. We might think about people who have invited us to their homes or special events, or people with whom we have a close relationship, or people from whom we might hope to get a return invitation. But would you ever consider inviting people who could never invite you back?

It is natural for us to want to invite people for dinner or to a party that we like, are close to or might hope for a return invitation. The same was true in Jesus’ day. As Jesus sat at a dinner with a leader of the Pharisees on a Sabbath day in Luke 14:1-14, he watched people turn an opportunity for generosity and community into an exercise in social status. Some guests tried to sit in the most prestigious positions. It seems like they were using the dinner as an opportunity to make themselves look more important and climb the social ladder in their community. It might even be possible that the Pharisee, by inviting Jesus, was trying to make himself look good in others people’s eyes by inviting the Teacher into his home.

However, Jesus used this as an opportunity to show that the Kingdom of God doesn’t work in the same way we do. Whatever the Pharisee leader’s reasons were for inviting him, Jesus turned the human desire to look good in front of others on its head by teaching that God will reward people who don’t invite friends, relatives or rich neighbours to a dinner. Instead, God will reward those who invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (v13), in other words the people in society who are most destitute and in the greatest need. Instead of inviting people with the hope or expectation of receiving a return invitation, Jesus teaches us to invite people who have no hope of repaying us with a return invitation. In other words, Jesus is teaching us to make the act of giving generously without any thought of what we might get back in return our priority.

Can you imagine doing that? If you were going to invite someone over for dinner this week, who would be someone you normally wouldn’t invite? It might be someone you don’t get along with, someone from a different cultural background, someone with a disability, or someone who is socially isolated and lonely. There might be a range of reasons why we can find it difficult inviting people over for a meal. But if we are going to take Jesus’ message seriously, would we consider inviting someone with whom we would find it hard to share a meal, someone in need, or someone who couldn’t invite us back?

To be honest, I’m feeling a pretty uncomfortable as I write these words. In our home, with the number of evenings I’m out visiting people or going to meetings, we find it hard to invite people over at all. To then consider inviting people who we normally wouldn’t invite, then, is very challenging. But maybe that’s Jesus’ point.

One the one hand, like with all of Jesus’ teachings, we can hear these words as something we should be doing. Jesus’ teachings challenge our priorities and values as he shows us something deeper about ourselves through them. Jesus might be showing us that we naturally prefer to invite people we like or people who we hope will invite us back. To give an invitation to someone who might be hard to share a meal with is difficult and can go against our natural inclinations. We can’t ignore that and we need to take responsibility for that. The path to a better way of living begins with acknowledging that Jesus’ teachings confront our natural inclinations while at the same time pointing us to something better.

In this case, Jesus is pointing us to a better reality in God’s Kingdom.

When we gather in God’s house in worship, he is effectively inviting us into his presence to share a meal with us. We might like to think about ourselves as good people who somehow have right to share in the meal God invites us to. When we take Jesus’ teaching seriously, however, in all of its confronting brilliance, we can see that we can be the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind that Jesus is talking about. We can be poor in good deeds because we would rather share a meal with people we like or people we hope would invite us back. We can be crippled because we still tend to be tied up in our own self-interest rather than live in the freedom of faith and love. We can be lame because we find it difficult to walk in the way of life that Jesus teaches. We can be blind because we often can’t see others how God sees them, as valued and loved because of the presence of God in them and Jesus’ death and resurrection for them.

When Jesus throws the eternal banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, he doesn’t invite the people the world would naturally tend to invite – the wealthy, the successful, the beautiful, the popular and the good. Instead, Jesus invites people who are in need of what he offers even though we can’t repay him for his generosity. Jesus invites those of us who are poor, crippled, lame and blind in body, mind or spirit. Jesus invites us to his table, to share his meal with him as he gives himself to us in self-sacrificing love, not because we deserve it or because he wants something from us, but because we need what he has to offer and because he wants to bless us with his gifts. He invites us as an act of complete and total grace because, not matter how poor or crippled or lame or blind we might be, Jesus reckons we’re worth it.

It would be easy at this point to throw out the challenge to think about who might be the least likely people you’d invite for dinner and then ask them over this week. I’d feel bad, though, if anyone in our church who has heard this message received that invitation and thought of themselves as ‘needy’ in our eyes. So I’m not going to do that, but instead ask you to consider a broader guest list than you have in the past next time you throw a party or hold a dinner.

I want to remind you, though, about who Jesus invites to his meal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus doesn’t invite us to his table because we deserve it or because he wants something from us. Jesus invites us because he has something good to offer us – his own self as his act of self-giving, self-sacrificing love for us. As we join Jesus at his table, let’s remember that we come purely because of God’s grace for us in Jesus. And then let’s show that some grace to the people around us.

More to think about:

  • If you were going to have a dinner or party, who are the 3 most likely people that you would invite? Why would you want to invite them?
  • Who are the 3 least likely people you’d invite? Why would you not want to invite them? (you don’t need to share publicly if it will embarrass someone)
  • How is Jesus’ teaching about inviting people who are in need or who can’t invite you back sitting with you? Are you feeling comfortable with his words? Or are they making you uncomfortable? Can you explain why?
  • What do Jesus’ words tell us about the Kingdom of God?
  • When Jesus invites people to his table at Holy Communion (or the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, etc) do you think he invites them because they deserve it or he wants a return invitation? Or does Jesus invite those who need his grace? Maybe talk more about your understanding of the Lord’s Supper and what you believe happens in Jesus’ meal of bread and wine…
  • In what ways might you be physically, emotionally or spiritually ‘poor, crippled, lame or blind’? If this is who Jesus invites to his meal, how can sharing in his meal help to shape your understanding of God’s grace for you in Jesus?
  • How might you be able to show that same grace to someone else this week?

Highly Inappropriate! (2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19)

dancing man

This is a pretty famous picture in Australia’s history. It is of a man dancing through the streets of Sydney at the end of World War Two. After nearly six years of fighting, the arrival of peace brought this man such joy that he danced through the city. It’s interesting to look at the people’s reactions around him. Some of their faces reflect his joy, while others are confused and a bit surprised at this actions. I wonder if anyone disapproved of what he did.

What motivated King David to start dancing in 2 Samuel 6:1-19 was the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. The Ark had been made almost five hundred years earlier by Moses when the Israelites had left slavery in Egypt and were camped at Mount Sinai. It contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, a jar of manna – the food God had provided for the Israelites during their forty years in the wilderness – and the staff of Aaron, Moses’ brother (see Hebrews 9:3,4). For the Israelites of the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. They believed that wherever the Ark was, that was where they could find God to give them blessing and peace.

We don’t know whether David’s dance was premeditated or spontaneous. There is also a bit of disagreement among biblical scholars about what the ‘linen ephod’ (v9 NIV) was that David was wearing. Some argue that is was a garment that priests wore (see Exodus 28:6,7). It would have been extremely controversial for the king to be dressed as a priest. They were two very different roles in Jewish society. If the ‘linen ephod’ meant that the king was dressed in a ‘priestly garment’ (NLT), effectively bringing the two roles together in one person, then this can point us to Jesus, a descendant of David, who functions as both our eternal King and High Priest.

What was most scandalous about David’s dancing was that he was ‘shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls’ (v20 NLT) while he danced. Michal in particular was upset as she looked down at the spectacle from her window (v16). David’s relationship with Michal was already complicated. She was the daughter of Israel’s first king, Saul, who had given her to David in marriage as part of his reward when David killed Goliath (see 1 Samuel 18:17-29). Saul had then married her to another man when David had fled from Saul’s court (1 Samuel 25:44). David reunited with Michal when he took the throne (see 2 Samuel 3:12-16) but I can imagine that their relationship would have been strained after Saul had died and David took his crown. Their relationship hit an all-time low when Michal watched David dance through the streets of Jerusalem in what many interpret as his underwear, and ‘she was filled with contempt for him’ (v16 NLT).

Where might we find ourselves in this story? Can we picture ourselves in the procession, dancing with David, celebrating the presence of God with us? Or would we be more comfortable upstairs with Michal looking down on something we think is an inappropriate, unacceptable, or even blasphemous expression of worship?

I guess most of us have ideas of what we think are acceptable worship practices. I grew up in a church culture where there were very strict expectations and unwritten rules about what a person did or did not do when we came to services. In my ministry, I have often seen disapproving looks or even outright condemnation because of how people might be dressed (including myself as the pastor!), how they might be behaving, or the amount of noise their children are making (again from personal experience). If we are going to approach worship with a set of rules and expectations, and if we are going to look down on people who do not live up to them, then what makes us any different from Michal, sitting up in her room, looking down with contempt on what she saw happening below her?

When Michal challenged David about his dancing, however, he explained that he was celebrating what God had done for him by making him king (v21). David’s dance wasn’t a choreographed performance for him to look good in front of others or somehow gain their approval. Neither was David dancing because he thought it was fun. David danced because of his joy in God’s goodness to him and to celebrate God’s presence with him. His dance was all about God: it focused on the goodness of God and it celebrated God.

We have even better reasons to celebrate like David. God has made us his ‘royal priests’ and is forming us together into the spiritual temple where God’s presence resides in the world (1 Peter 2:5) through the grace of Christ Jesus. We have not just been given an earthly kingdom like David, but an eternal kingdom through Jesus’ death and resurrection and our adoption into the family of God. We don’t serve at a temporary altar like in the Tabernacle in ancient Jerusalem, but we have access to the throne room of heaven to present our prayers, praises and thanksgivings (see Hebrews 10:19-22). God’s presence isn’t hidden behind a veil, obscured by rituals and religious observances, but we have his presence with us in the nitty-gritty and messiness of life through the Holy Spirit in God’s Word, in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and the body of Christ that is the community of believers. David celebrated the presence of God who was still obscured to a large extent. As God’s New Testament people, we celebrate the God who is fully present with us in Jesus through the Holy Spirit!

This doesn’t mean that worship can become a self-indulgent free-for-all or a chaotic exercise in self-gratification. There is still a time and place for reverence, humility and good order in worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:26,40). Maybe what this story can do is broaden our understanding and expressions of worship to include a greater sense of celebration and joy, not at the expense of reverence and good order, but alongside those times when it’s appropriate to be silent before Almighty God and always to build others up in their relationship with our loving Father through Jesus.

Not everyone celebrated the end of the Second World War by dancing in the street. In the same way, not all of God’s people need to celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus by dancing. For some of us, we will celebrate by dancing on the inside. However, if people want to celebrate God’s goodness to them in Jesus by dancing, I’m not going to look down on them like Michal. Instead, we can give thanks that God is at work in each other’s lives through Jesus, making us his royal priests and giving his full presence to us in the Holy Spirit.