Stop complaining and start rejoicing!


 

Tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Jesus. The Pharisees
and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and
eats with them." So He spoke this parable, saying:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the
one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it
on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together
his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found
my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be
more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over
ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin,
does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until
she finds it? When she has found it, she calls her friends and
neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found
the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the
presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

                                                    Luke 15:1-10 NKJV, condensed


                                     Where's the Problem?

The religious folks called them sinners. Jesus said they were lost. Lost
like a sheep wandering from the fold, like a coin that dropped unnoticed
to the floor, like a son declaring his independence, like the elder brother
who refused to welcome the errant one home.

This 15th chapter of Luke is perhaps the best-loved chapter in the Bible.
Oddly, both saints and sinners agree on that. But the setting for these
parables puts those saints and sinners at odds with each other. Had
the scribes and Pharisees expressed their thoughts it might have
sounded like this: "When Jesus meets two merchants and one is
dishonest and shady in his dealings and the other is trustworthy, Jesus
likes the shyster more! He even goes into their homes and enjoys their
companionship!" There was something wrong with that picture and they
complained to Jesus about it.

Jesus agreed there was a problem but that's were the agreement
ended and the line between saint and sinner blurred. God's problem
was not only with sinners but also with saints whose chief concern was
maintenance. God's primary concern was saving those who were lost.

So the Friend of sinners told his lost and found stories about a sheep
herder and a woman with a missing coin. Sheep don't deliberately run
away from their shepherd. They just drift away without realizing it while
munching on their favorite vegetation. Not until they startle or darkness
descends do they look up and find themselves alone and unprotected.

The misplaced coin had not gone anywhere except out of sight. A silver
piece represented a day's wages and did no one any good when it was
temporarily out of circulation. It may have been part of the traditional
scarf which a young lady put together before she could marry. Ten
silver pieces were sewn into a long strip of cloth which she could wear
as a necklace or tie about her head.

The lost are like the missing sheep and coin. And God, who is relentless
in tracking them down, needs help not hindrances. Notice the all-out
energy that went into the search in both stories. Leaving the ninety-nine
faithful sheep in a makeshift enclosure, the shepherd pursued the stray
until he found it. Then carried it home triumphantly on his shoulders.
The women burned the midnight oil. She swept her house thoroughly,
examining every nook and cranny until she found her coin. We hear their
shouts of joy and understand their heartfelt relief. But what is joy without
someone to share it! So they called in friends and neighbors to help
them celebrate.

With these stories Jesus described the joy God experiences when one
who was lost is finally found. God throws a party and looks for friends
and neighbors to join the celebration. Which brings us to another of
God's problems. Where are God's friends? In this instance, they stayed
away from the party? They weren't rejoicing. They were complaining
instead!

We could focus on the lost ones who wander in the wilderness, aimless
and drifting, going further and further away from the fold of their Good
Shepherd. Or we could talk about the sin and waste of being out of
circulation and not living up to our high purpose of love and service to
God and our neighbor.

But these parables are about the search and the celebration. When you
and I are not part of the search we are part of the problem. If you and I
are not rejoicing with the jubilant Shepherd, we are probably lost in
miserable attitudes such as cynicism and superiority. Jesus had a right
to feel that way, too, but he rejected those temptations. We need to turn
from those unlovely attitudes also, and trade in our misery for the joy
of the Lord. Friends of God must be a friend to sinners, too.

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker:  What have you celebrated lately?

 

When you hear that a well-known public figure has "turned to God", do you
tend to be skeptical or do you rejoice?
            Give some specific examples and share the reasons for your reactions.
            Must people prove the sincerity of their words before you believe them?

 

If anyone had a right to be cynical about the human race, it was Jesus.
            What kept Jesus from giving up on people?
            What do we learn from Jesus which gives us hope that people can change
                        and the lost, both saints and sinners, be turned around?

 

Do you consider yourself to be a friend of God?
            If so, what does being a friend of God mean to you?
            How do you share in the joys and grief of God?

 

When someone falls from grace do you mock and attack them verbally?
             Or grieve for them and try to do or say something constructive?
            Why are we so quick to condemn and so slow to befriend them?

 

Describe Jesus' attitude toward the lost and what he did to befriend and
bring them back into the fold.

 

If you ever brought someone to Jesus, describe what that experience was like.

 

Where do you see yourself in this passage?
            When have you been disagreeable like the scribes and Pharisees?
            Or felt like the lost sheep or the lost coin?
            When have you searched for the lost, far and wide or in your own home?
            When have you rejoiced with the angels?

 

Whether it's one in a hundred or one in ten, each person is equally important
to God.
            Do we really believe this?
            Did the scribes and Pharisees believe it?
            Is it right to ignore 99 sheep and focus all attention on the one that is lost?

 

We often think it is people who search for God; but in these parables it is
God who does the seeking.   What does this tell us?

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