His name is Brian. I was a groomsman in his wedding. He was a friend of mine in seminary. He was a good friend. He was a loyal friend. He is a friend that I have lost. I didn’t do anything to make him angry at me. I helped him and supported him when he needed it most. He would call me up on those late nights before exams when he was stuck on something that the couldn’t understand. We would go and get coffee and talk about it. He made so much progress during the year and a half that I knew him at seminary.
But he managed to say some inappropriate words to a female student at our school his first week there, and over a year later, those words proved to be his downfall. They were highly inappropriate words that ministers in training just don’t say to young, single women. He was discharged from school for those words. It was a very sad situation for him because he felt like he had been called into the ministry. He had travelled such a long way from home to come to graduate school. He worked so hard to keep his grades up so that he didn’t get kicked out. He made one mistake. He wandered down a path in a moment of weakness that he should have never even come close to walking down, and just like that, he was lost. The Church is never going to know the ministry it could have known from such a special child of God.
I last heard from him over two years ago. He told me he had found a job back home working in a bank or something like that. He said that he didn’t even go to church anymore because everyone was so hypocritical and they spent so much time judging him and staring at him because of a few words he said that cost him his career as a pastor. The only wool on his back might be that from the suit he wears to work, but he is a lost sheep.
Our Gospel lesson for this day deals with two very important parables dealing with things that are lost. First, there was the lost sheep. Then there was the lost coin. The third and final parable in this section is that of the prodigal or lost son. Jesus was telling this crowd to a mixed group of Pharisees and scribes (who were grumbling and complaining because he was associating with the unclean) and tax collectors and sinners. Maybe these outcasts had done some things that were less than reputable. Maybe they had spoken some inappropriate words or gone down some inappropriate pathways in their time too. Whatever the cause or circumstance, they were the lost sheep who had been found. They were like the lost coin that was recovered. They were like the prodigal son who returned home again. They were following Jesus and welcoming him because he made them feel loved, welcomed, and supported.
The clear message of these parables is that there should be joy and thanksgiving over the recovery of a lost sheep–not resentment, not anger, not jealousy, not indignation. Instead, there should be joy, thanksgiving, partying. This is a reason to celebrate, not to denigrate. The return of a prodigal is a time to give thanks to God for his blessings.
When we hear a parable, our minds always jump to who which ancient character lines up with best with whom. More often than not, we align ourselves with the “good guys” of the parables. In the parable of the prodigal son, for instance, most people when asked say that they are most like the older son who has not wronged his father and family. We don’t make the big mistakes. We don’t squeeze people for money. We don’t say inappropriate things to others. We aren’t unfaithful to our spouse. We are the ones who get no reward for our faithfulness, right?
But when we look closely at these parables, we quickly see that we are not the righteous good guys. We are not like the shepherd who leaves the other 99 sheep in the wilderness to go search after one lost one. We will sooner willingly lose one sheep if it means we can keep the other 99 sheep safe. We don’t look for that lost coin either–it’s just one silly little coin. We also tell ourselves though that the lost people do it to themselves; that they deserve everything coming to them. It’s not our problem, right?
Every one of us though is that lost sheep. We are all lost without the shepherd who becomes for us the slaughtered lamb. We are all unworthy. But, luckily for us, our father sees each of us the same. God doesn’t see us as that stupid sheep always wandering off. God doesn’t see us as that lost coin not worth searching after. God doesn’t see us as that person who got kicked out of seminary or that spouse who cheated. God sees us all–Pharisee or Prodigal–as his children. And it fills our God with joy that we are here, hearing his Word. All the tax collectors and sinners gathered near to listen to Jesus. Will we? Amen.