: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Theme: Seeking the Lost: Intentionally Hanging with the Wrong Crowd
Luke offers us two “lost things” stories told inside a larger narrative in which some religious experts were criticizing Jesus for spending time with tax collectors and sinners and daring to eat at their tables.
The experts knew the rules and genuinely worked hard to live by them. Jesus does not critique that here. What he critiques is their attitude toward those who did not live by the rules, indeed, those who might be called “lost.”
In their view, such persons were either lazy or weak or rebellious. In other words, it was the fault of the lost that they were lost.
The question is, what should be done about this. For them, that was clear. Stay away from them. If they’re going to “return,” that’s up to them. “Hanging with the wrong crowd” is only likely to get you moving in the wrong direction, too.
To be sure, these experts had solid biblical backing for that solution. And it’s present in both testaments, so Christians have often offered the same advice. “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16, drawing on Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, and 20:7). “Come out from among them!” (2 Corinthians 6:17, rephrasing Isaiah 52.11). “Pure religion … is to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
We know this from experience, too, don’t we? We tend to become like the people we hang around with. So if we’re working to start a new habit, or stop an old one, it helps a lot to surround ourselves with others who already have that new habit, rather than “fall in” with folks who are continuing in habits we’re trying to break or change.
Jesus doesn’t disagree about the potentially deleterious effect of “bad company.” But he also doesn’t see that as an excuse to leave the lost to fend for themselves. That only ensures they remain lost. Lost coins and lost sheep cannot restore themselves. For the most part, Jesus implies in telling these stories, neither can lost people.
So to Jesus, when people get lost, it’s up to the community, not simply to the lost individuals, to go and help them find their way home. (We’ll see this in next week’s story of the prodigal father, too– the father sees the son while the son is a long way off and goes running to greet him, and it is the father’s action, not the son’s request, that restores the son.)
Jesus takes the work of restoring the lost a step further. We seek and even “hang with” the lost, not simply to make them happy, or ourselves happy, that they become found. Jesus says the very angels in heaven rejoice whenever the lost are found. All heaven is out to seek and find the lost. (Sound familiar from I Timothy?)
That’s why Jesus eats with sinners.
That’s why we remember this every time we gather at the Lord’s Table.
And that’s why we, his disciples, should not only remember that Jesus ate with the lost, but we ourselves, should, too.
Excerpted from the UMC’s GBOD Worship Website
Questions to Consider:
“That’s not fair!” How many of us with small children have heard that exclamation repeatedly? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how many times have we made that pronouncement, even if it was only in our heads? The fact of the matter is, life’s not fair. The fact that God doesn’t operate based on our sense of justice is a great thing. But we have the tendency to want others to receive justice, while we want to experience God’s mercy. Do we judge people based on merit or mercy? In the parables from today’s gospel reading, we see God’s mercy in searching out the one who remains lost. God always keeps searching, and until all have been found, we as the Body of Christ remain incomplete as well. These parables also remind of the importance of celebration. The sheep and coin being found were cause for celebration. Yes, there is Kingdom work to be done; but first, when there is occasion, let’s stop and celebrate. Then we can get to work. Are there events or people in your life that need celebrating.
“Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”
“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
“First Song of Isaiah”
How the Grinch Stole Christmas– When Cindy wants to welcome the Grinch into their town, she must challenge the mayor on his interpretation of The Book of Who.
Les Miserables (1998 version)- A Bishop and his wife welcome a known convict, Valjean, into their home for dinner and rest.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs– When Sam tells Flint that her true identity is a “nerd” but that she’s conformed to society, Flint encourages her to be herself.
Charlotte’s Web (2006 version)- Wilbur meets Charlotte, the barn’s resident spider, who justifies her strange eating habits.
Call to Worship
As a shepherd seeks a lost sheep,
so God seeks and saves the lost.
Like a woman who searches for a lost coin until it is found,
so God rejoices over one soul restored to wholeness.
As a father receives a returning wayward son,
so God welcomes us, and lets the past be the past.
Therefore let us praise God in thanksgiving that we are received.
Let us receive and welcome and rejoice over one another in the name of Jesus Christ.
God of endless patience and timeless wisdom, as we give our offering this morning, we remember that you seek after us as we would seek after a rare and valuable coin, or as a shepherd would seek after a lost sheep. May our giving reflect our knowledge of how important we are to you, but also how we value our relationship with you. More than sharing our money, may we give our whole selves to help others know of your grace and never-failing love. In the name of Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen. (Luke 15:1-10)