Sought and Celebrated: A Monday Message on Luke 15:1-32
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” – Luke 15:6b
“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” – Luke 15:9
“Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” – Luke 15:23b-24
In the season of Lent, the unpopular but necessary movement of repentance is important. To repent is to turn away from sin and toward God. This is important in Lent because as we reflect on our frailty and our dependence on God, we can’t help but reflect on sin. Our frailty is evidence of sin’s power in our world, and we often sin by thinking we can live independently from God.
Perhaps repentance is unpopular because we fear the consequence of coming clean to God. When we sin against people, we don’t know how they’ll respond. Will they be angry? Will they trust us again? Can our relationship survive? We often project those fears on God.
Today’s passage describes how God responds to our repentance in a series of three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son. I invite you to read them again now. These parables are often depicted as Lost and Found, the sheep, the coin, and the younger son represent sinners and the shepherd, woman, and father represent God, and finding the lost item represents returning to God through repentance. But when I read these parables, I don’t like thinking of them as Lost and Found parables because to me that phrase Lost and Found evokes images of a bucket in a school or church office with a random assortment of goods that will never be claimed.
Let me give you an example. I love Nalgene bottles – they keep me hydrated and they are infinitely better for the environment than plastic water bottles, but I lose them all the time. Now if I find one I’ve lost, I’m not going to call you and say “Rejoice with me! I have found my lost Nalgene bottle!” But with God in these parables, it’s more than lost and found. It’s sought and celebrated. God seeks us, and then he celebrates us. God seeks after us at all times, and there’s no amount of lost-ness that will keep him from seeking us. And when he finds us, when we return to his possession, to his flock, through repentance – he celebrates. Now think of that – if being found by God means we repent from some sin, wouldn’t you expect some punishment? Or at least disappointment? But we project this on God. God celebrates when we return to him. We are sought and celebrated by God.
As we reflect on God’s love during this Lenten season, these parables confront us and convict us to see God’s unconditional love as a love that invites us to repent, a love that forgives us, and a love that celebrates us when we return to Him.
Holy God, we ask for your forgiveness. We confess that we live too often in fear and too often independently from you. We thank you that your love invites us back to you. We thank you that when we do return, you are there waiting with open arms. We thank you that when we return you not only welcome us back, but you throw a party for us. You celebrate us. Your love for us is so great. Thank you, Lord! In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
- John 15:13
The Season of Lent is a gift the liturgical calendar gives us. We need the time to prepare ourselves to grapple with the greatest gift of love we will ever receive. In this verse in the gospel of John, Jesus’ disciple reminds us that Jesus’ Passion, his death on the cross, and his resurrection are all testament to the love that Jesus has for us.
Now, there is both promise and problem in that opening paragraph. The promise is that it is possible to discover ever more deeply the love that God has for us. The problem is that most of us think about it in one of two ways. Either we think we already know and therefore don’t bother to truly discover its ever greater depths. Or we think that John is talking about Jesus’ love for someone else. Our own shame, guilt, or lack of self-worth keep us from believing that Jesus’ testimony of love is fully and truly for us.
To answer the first way, I will simply point you toward the sermon series we will be walking through together through the Season of Lent. To answer the second, let me point you to the apostle Paul’s take on our John verse. In Romans 5:7-8, Paul writes, “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Did you read that? While we were still sinners, Jesus testified to his love for us in the greatest way possible. No amount of shame or guilt or lack of self-worth can disqualify us from this. Jesus loves you even at your worst. Still does. Nothing has changed. Nothing can change that. It may take Lent done right for you to receive that.
Gracious Lord, we are thankful for your love for us. We are also pretty poor receivers of that love. We ask that you work in us to unearth our defenses and overwhelm our doubts so that we might become people rooted and grounded in your love. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
…and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
The devil isn’t often obvious to us when we are being tempted. Few are the men and women in life who are tempted by outright evil. Instead, most of us are tempted by compromise to achieve something right… something noble… perhaps even something that is for the greater good.
In our text this Sunday, Jesus is met by such a temptation. On this mountaintop, he is given the opportunity to free the world from the hold of the devil. All he would need to do is sacrifice himself. It is a twisted version of his decision at the cross. At the cross, Jesus would sacrifice himself to free the world. But Jesus is able to discern the difference between these two paths of sacrifice for us.
Jesus said to the enemy of our souls, “We worship the Lord our God and serve him alone.”
All things are put into correct perspective from the place of worship… the place where our souls are focused upon the Living God. Those things that pursue us… drive us… choke us… and bind us do not have room to lord our lives when we worship. The twisted justice of revenge, the shallow love of lust, or the temporary success in greed are exposed when we fix our eyes upon Jesus.
When you come to a place of struggle, pause and lift your eyes to Jesus. Spend some time setting him rightly in your soul by worship. Ask him to shed light upon the choices facing you. Tell him that you desire to make choices from who you are in relationship to him. Ask him to fill you with the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Then look again at what is before you and choose to live a life that serves God alone.
Jesus, you know the temptations and choices that buffet us. You also know the lie that we don’t have time to invite you in. So, right here and now, we fix our eyes upon You. We worship you and ask you to rightly orient our hearts toward you. Thus, prepare us to recognize temptation for what it is and grant us the courage to choose to serve you alone. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Undoubtedly, when Jesus made the statement "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," he was making an observation on life. What we treasure says a lot about the focus of our hearts. At the beginning of 2017, we might even be able to stretch this to say, “Our resolutions for the New Year say a lot about the focus of our hearts.”
But in light of our New Year resolutions, could this text be more than an observation? Could we listen to the wisdom of this text and from it draw guidance for our resolutions. Perhaps Jesus is letting us know that we can use the things we resolve, the things we treasure, to focus our hearts on Jesus.
No one would be surprised if we admit to them that we often find ourselves, at best, partially focused on Jesus. If we were being completely honest, we know that there are great portions of our thought life, habits, and emotions that are almost completely devoid of focus upon Jesus.
This is where resolutions become useful. What if we resolved in ways that would move our hearts in faithfulness? Resolve to pray. Resolve to journal. Resolve to go to church. Resolve to make a Christian friend that you can really talk to about stuff.
My suspicion is that if we were to do this, we would find the focus of our hearts being shifted. We will find ourselves treasuring things of eternal value.
Lord Jesus, you know who we are better than we do. You have created us for good purpose. You know the things that become obstacles to our treasuring your intention for our lives. You know and you respond to us with grace. Help us this morning to respond to you with resolve to move our hearts toward you. We ask that in Jesus’ name, amen.