9/15/13, God's Value System

Ex. 32:7-11, 13-14, 1 Tim. 1 :12-17, Luke 15:1-10

“Several days ago as I left a meeting at a hotel, I was desperately in search of my keys.  They were not in my pockets or anywhere in the meeting room.  Suddenly I realized I must have left them in the car.  Frantically, I headed for the parking lot. My wife has scolded me many times for leaving the keys in the ignition. My theory is the ignition is the best place not to lose them. Her theory is that the car will be stolen.  As I burst through the door, I came to a terrifying conclusion.  Her theory was right.   The parking lot was empty. I immediately called the police.  I gave them my location, confessed that I had left my keys in the car, and that it had been stolen. Then I made the most difficult call of all, “Honey,” I stammered; I always call her “honey” in times like these. “I left my keys in the car, and it has been stolen.” There was a period of silence.  Then I heard her voice. She barked, “I dropped you off!” Now it was my time to be silent. Embarrassed, I said, “Well, come and get me.” She retorted, “I will, as soon as I convince this policeman I have not stolen your car.”

 We’ve all had the experience of loss, ranging from piddly and exasperating to traumatic and lifeshattering.  “I’ve lost my keys… mind… marbles… child… loved one… way… faith.”  Beginning with a humorous story of loss may create an openness in us to absorb the more serious message that is present in today’s gospel reading.

The 15th chapter of Luke contains three of Jesus’ parables that speak of some situation of loss. The formal reading includes all 31 verses of this chapter, but we have only read the first ten verses.  The heart-rending story Jesus uses to conclude this series is the most familiar parable of all to most of us: the story of the prodigal son. You’ve probably heard many interpretations of that story over the course of your life.  But the two other parables that go before the story of the son's return to a loving father are significant too.  Today we’ll pay attention to the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Lost Sheep, because they give us a way to understand how Jesus taught about what God values contrasted to what human beings value.

Remember last week’s gospel reading at the very end of Luke 14?  It’s difficult to understand what Jesus meant by saying that whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”  When we reach the place of faith in us that truly wants to walk the Christ-path, we have to be willing to let go of religious rules, material possessions and even treasured relationships.  This is hard for to hear, because it clashes with all the things we value in our lives, all the things that make us feel loved and secure. It makes us wonder if we really CAN be followers of this one we call Lord.

As usual, a number of religious leaders were part of the crowd listening to these challenging words.  As usual, they did not like the way that Jesus was shaking up their religious system.  That explains why this chapter 15 begins with the Pharisees complaining about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors.  

The grumbling of these men revealed  their resistance to giving up a value system that judges which people are acceptable to God. As he often did when he needed to teach something, Jesus went into story-telling mode.   The parables he offered at this point were meant contrast God's system of value with the values the religious leaders held.

Both stories in Luke 15 follow the same pattern.   The main character of the story has lost something valuable: a shepherd has lost a sheep, a woman has lost a valuable coin.  The one who has lost something searches diligently and finally finds what was lost, after which there is a celebration.  However, the value of these material items that are so important to human beings are nothing compared to the joy manifested by God when one lost soul finds its way back to Divine relationship.  “There will be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over 99 righteous people who have no need to repent.”

In the past you have likely heard these stories interpreted metaphorically with God interpreted as the one who is looking for something that is missing.  But thinking in line with Jesus’ previous teaching about giving up everything in order to follow him, perhaps we can look at it a bit differently.

In these stories, Jesus does not say that HE is the shepherd looking for a sheep or that the searching woman represents him trying to find lost money. Instead he says to the Pharisees: "which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine..." - Luke 15:4 "or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp..." - Luke 15:8

Perhaps Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are the ones who are distressed by losing sheep or coins.  They celebrate when they recover the material items that are valuable to them.  But Jesus ends each story by pointing out that God’s joy when a human repents is much greater than any person’s joy over earthly things because God values human souls more than material things.  Jesus answers their question about his eating with sinners, implying that he gladly eats with lost souls because he is living with the value system of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like the Pharisees, we are human beings.  We want to hold on to what we value whether it’s our religious beliefs, our system of rules to live by, possessions that we have worked have to earn, reputations that we have worked to establish, or relationships that support us emotionally.  But perhaps we should consider whether we are valuing the things that really matter in the Divine economy.    

  What matters in the Kingdom of Heaven is that we love what God loves. The life of Jesus and the stories he told challenge us to engage fully with the value system of God. That value system is summed up in the oft-cited passage from Micah 6:8. “Listen here, mortal:  God has made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YHWH needs from you.  Simply do justice, love mercy and humbly walk with your God.”

So, let’s not agonize over the literal difficulty of forsaking all we have to follow Christ. Instead, let’s take it one day at a time.  Let’s internally rearrange our priorities so that in any moment we might be that simple presence of love which recognizes lost people and helps them to reconnect in relationship with the Divine.  That’s what gives cause for celebration in the Kingdom of God.

By Sandi DeMaster