Luke 15:1-10

In this week's news a fifteen year old Calgary Alberta girl gave birth in her bedroom while her siblings watched TV. She put the baby in a trash bag at the curb. No one, including her mother had suspected that she was pregnant, and I suppose being immature and fearful she just wanted to dispose of the child. So it, along with the bloody towels, went into a plastic trash bag and set outside for pickup the next day. Fortunately a woman out walking her dog heard the infant's cries from inside the garbage bag and rescued the baby and took it to a neighbour's home to call 911. The mother was also located and taken to hospital and for a brief time, mother and child were reunited. "She grabbed the child's hand and held it, and realized there was a human life there", said Det. Rene Lafreniere.1

Imagine being that woman out walking her dog and finding a baby in a trash bag.
Imagine being that young girl and holding the hand of your child who almost died a tragic death.
Imagine being the city of Calgary workers who might eventually have found the corpse of a baby in a garbage bag.

The classical description of a dramatic comedy is a potential tragedy that is averted and which has a happy ending.
We don't know the end of the story of the baby in the trash bag, but at least at this stage, a potential tragedy has been averted.
The idea of losing a child like that is heart breaking. In fact there were nearly two lost children. The idea of finding a nearly lost child is wonderful. And finding two is even better.

In Luke's gospel, we read that Jesus is eating with sinners who were gathering around to hear him. They would know that he was a man of God, but are enthusiastic to hear him. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army is reported to have told his workers, "Go after sinners and go after the worst."
Booth would have cheered at Jesus success.

Not everyone did, however.
Luke tells us that some pharisees were scandalized that Jesus associated with such riff raff.
"This man eats with sinners," they said.
"Yes and he even welcomes them!"
To the pharisees, Jesus new friends were just throw-away people.

When you remember what a pharisee was supposed to be, you wonder not where their heads are, but where are their hearts.
Pharisees belonged to a movement that began following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and their exile to Babylon. In Babylon, there was no temple and so they had to find a new way to worship.
Pharisees were the lay Bible teachers of their day, and once they had returned home and rebuilt the temple, they decided that their role would be to teach the common people to obey God's law so that nothing like the exile would ever happen again.

But by the time of Jesus, they had become  a class unto themselves. They studied God's law and kept it rigorously. But they had only contempt for anyone who was not as rigorous as they. Seeing Jesus entertaining common sinners was a scandal. The fact that many were on the verge of a new life seemed to matter little.

And so Jesus told them stories.goodshepherd
First he describes a shepherd. At the end of the day the shepherd discovers he is missing a sheep. Ninety nine sheep are safe, but one is lost. What does he do?  He ensures the ninety nine are safely sheltered then goes out looking for the one lost sheep.
He finds it and joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home saying, "Hey everyone, I have found my lost sheep!"

Here is how I picture the event:
Jesus sees the pharisees standing off to the side. Tax collectors and such would normally not be comfortable with pharisees in the room, but the presence of Jesus has taken their minds totally off these self righteous critics.

So Jesus tells a story of a shepherd. He just tells it out loud to see who gets the point.
Maybe some of the tax collector-sinners understand. Maybe there is a sign of recognition and a couple of heads nod both in appreciation and understanding.

I think the little knot of hypocrites standing off to the side just hear it without comment or acknowledgment. They stand, arms folded across their chests watching in contempt. Or maybe the idea of worrying about one sheep out of a hundred strikes them as ridiculous. One percent loss is nothing more than the cost of doing business.
"What a fool", they might think., "risking the heard for one sheep. He would deserve whatever he got for doing that."

So Jesus tells them another story.
This time it is a poor woman.lostcoin
If nothing else, Jesus has a sense of humor.
Pharisees would care nothing for one poor woman, let alone for her misfortune, but he tells the story.

A woman loses one of her ten silver coins. What does she do about that?
She lights a lamp and sweeps the mud floor of her one room house until she finds it. Then she throws a party because she is so happy.

In both stories, Jesus concludes saying, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety and nine who need no repenting.

That is an impossible thought for a pharisee to get his mind around.
It's much preferable to defend the faith, to defend the truth, to reinforce the standards and values, than worry about one miserable sinner. Sinners are throw-away people!
A pharisee would say God is pleased with the person who keeps his path straight, and that's what they devoted their lives to.

In these stories, the shepherd did not abandon his heard, and the woman certainly would have secured the other nine coins before she started sweeping.
But the point was that it is God's passion to restore lost sheep, find lost coins and recover lost people from trash bags.

In Calgary this week, I have no idea how many babies were born healthy and secure to loving families.
Let's say there were a hundred babies born happily.
But when you hear of one child being thrown out with the trash, where does your heart go?
Do you say, "Oh well, what's one child anyway...there are a hundred more in good families. The kid probably was headed for delinquency anyway with a mother like that!"
No I think not. I hope not.
No, your breath is taken away by the horror of a child left to die so mercilessly, and it is cheered at the thought of the child's rescue. And who isn't touched imagining the young mother and what her thoughts must have been seeing her baby safe and sound?

Jesus tells his stories end and makes his point. I wonder what Jesus might have thought as he watched them.
I imagine in His heart he asks them the silent question, "and which of you will repent?"
Apparently there are none, and perhaps seeing they are getting nowhere, and convinced of their superiority, they leave the home and leave Jesus to celebrate with reprobates.

In The Preaching LIfe, Barbara Taylor Brown says that these parables of Jesus are an open invitation to be good shepherds alongside him in the world. "Repentance is not the issue, but rejoicing; the plot is not about mending our evil ways, but about seeking, sweeping, find and rejoicing. The invitation is not about being rescued by Jesus over and over ...but about joining him in recovering God's treasure." The lost coin, says Taylor, is a story of "discovering the joy of finding"2

In God's economy there are no throw-away people and according to Jesus there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than ninety nine who need no repentance.

It's easy when we read a story like the one of the throw-away baby to feel anger or scorn for the young girl or her family, but my hope and our prayer this morning is that she will be found and rescued just as her baby was.

And who do each of us have in our lives who we would just as soon get lost?
Is there someone you have jettisoned as excess cargo?
Is there anyone you really consider dispensable, a throwaway person?
Maybe someone whose life and situation you really have no time for.

Or maybe its not a single person but a class or type of person.
Jesus is inviting you to discover the joy of seeking, sweeping, finding and rejoicing.

The story goes that a young man applied for a job as an usher at a theater in the mall. The manager asked him, "What would you do in case a fire breaks out?"

The young guy answered, "Don't worry about me. I'd get out okay."3

I think if I had been the manager I would be looking for an usher who would want to help my customers get out safely.
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than almost anything else. Want to get in on the joy?
Begin by praying for anyone you think of as throwaway and ask what God wants you to do to be part of the rescue plan.
Begin by just seeing that person in a different light, then think about seeing them in the light of Christ. God will open a door.
Have fun.

Preached Sept. 12, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1. Canadian Press story appearing in the Victoria Times Colonist, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004
2. David Becker, God Knows our Names, from Disciplines, A Book of Daily Devotionals, Upper Room Books,
   2004, p. 264
Illustration Digest (March-April-May, 1993);

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