Text: Luke 15:1-32
Oh, its’ you.
I’m so glad to see you! I can’t believe it. I’m so excited, we need to have a party.
Hit it! [music plays] We’ll talk later.
Oh, it’s you.
What just happened there? No offense, I was just doing an object lesson. _
Have you ever been on the receiving end of one of these kinds of receptions? Or, have you ever been on the delivering end of one of these kinds of receptions?
Why do we do that to people? What are the criteria that we use to greet someone one way or the other. I think you are a ________, so therefore I’m going to be excited and have a party. I think you are a _______, so I am going to dismiss you.
This is what’s going on in our Gospel text for today.
Turn again to Luke 15 and look at the first three verses. We’ve been traveling with Jesus for three weeks now. On Ash Wednesday he set his face toward Jerusalem and said there is not turning back. He has invited us to go with him to the cross. Along the way we are stopping and listening to parables that Jesus told that give us snapshots of what it means to follow Jesus in the Kingdom of God.
At this point in the journey, tax collectors and “sinners” are following him. They are listening to him. They like what he has to say. The “religious” crowd doesn’t like this and they hurl an accusation at Jesus. “He eats with sinners,” they say.
I sense the reaction and emotion in Jesus response. He shoots back at them with three stories. Bam, bam, bam. Any time something happens in threes in the Bible it means it’s really big. Each of these stories are meant to be told together. They are in response to this accusation.
“Oh, really,” Jesus says, “you think I hang out with sinners? You bet I do. Let me tell you how God feels about sinners.”
These three stories are really portraits of God. They tell us about God’s love.
First we have this shepherd who has 100 sheep. One wanders off, so he leaves 99 of them and goes after the one. Then, when he finds it, he throws a huge party.
Next, we have a woman who loses one of her ten coins. She turns her house upside down to find it, and when she does, she throws a big party.
Finally we have a father whose son walks out on him, disgraces his family name, squanders his money, and then shows back up. When the father sees him coming he runs after him and throws a huge party.
Three pictures of God.
One thing we learn about God is that he loves to party!
Seriously, we learn two things about God’s love in these stories.
The first is that God’s love is crazy love. When you really pay attention to these stories you realize that they are outlandish. No good shepherd would just leave 99 sheep like that. That’s irresponsible. Anything could happen to those 99. It’s crazy.
No woman would find a coin and then turn around and probably spend more than the coin is worth to throw a party. It doesn’t make sense. It’s crazy.
No self-respecting father of an ancient middle-eastern family would run after a child who had disowned him. According to the law this son should have beaten and sent away forever. This father runs after him, doesn’t demand confession, he just throws a huge party. That’s crazy. No body would do that. Would they?
Jesus looks at his accusers and says, “Of course I eat with sinners. God is crazy about sinners.”
When we look at another layer of these stories we see something else about God’s love.
The shepherd left the 99 sheep.
The woman spent the other 9 coins.
The father treated the lost son better than he had ever treated the other son.
Think about it.
If you were the “good” son. How would you feel. I have to be honest, I would be right there with the guy. He comes up to his Dad and says, “how can you do this. Your son insulted you and disgraced us. I’ve spent my whole life doing the right thing.”
What are the next words we would say? “It’s not…FAIR.” Right?
That’s the second thing we learn about God’s love. It is not fair.
The father looks at the “good” son and says, “I love you. I have always loved you. You have access to my estate all the time. Does that mean I have to love this son any less? This is my son. How can I do any less than to love him.”
It is easy to fall into the trap of the “good” son.
It is easy to think that God’s love for us is dependent upon our ability to be good, to do the right thing.
When we think that way we start playing the comparison game. I have a definition of what God wants and it fits into this box. Now everything and everyone is compared to the box. You are either in it or you are out.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law had a very specific box, and Jesus was going outside of the box and loving “those people.”
Here’s the challenge for us today, as we travel along this road with Jesus. Who are those people for you?
I want to tell you a story about Hop.
This story happened when we were living in Las Vegas and we were experimenting with house church. My kids were elementary and middle school age.
One day we were sitting at the dinner table, just the six of us, and the gate in our back wall started to bang and rattle. Our house was a typical Las Vegas house. The tiny back yard was surrounded by a thick cinder block wall. We were lucky because our yard backed up to a wash. A wash is a dry river bed that runs through the city. We had put a metal gate into our wall so that we could walk out into the wash and the kids could play. There was a bike path. It was really neat.
One thing that comes with washes in Las Vegas, is that they make great places for the homeless population to congregate. There was a little encampment of homeless people under the bridge at the end of the block.
So our gate bangs and I look out the window to see a set of eyes looking in at us. Freaky, right.
I go out to the gate, and there he was. Hop. A middle-aged, white man, with really dark scruffy hair and beard. He didn’t smell very good, and several of his teeth were missing.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, do you hold church services here?”
That was not what I expected to hear. “Yes, we do. Every Sunday a group of us get together for study, worship, and prayer, then we hang out together.”
“Well, is it OK if I come this Sunday? Last week some kids were out in the wash and they invited me, and I was just making sure that it was OK?”
The conversation was spinning in the back of my mind. Why were the kids talking to strangers? Who is this guy? What does he really want? Is my house safe?
I just smiled and said what I thought God would want me to say. “Sure. Do you want some food?”
“Oh, no,” he said, “I’m not looking for handouts. It’s just been so long since I’ve been to church, I just wanted to make sure that it was alright if I came.”
Then he walked away, to go back and sleep under the bridge.
I told Lona and the kids and we talked about it.
I thought about Hop the rest of the week. What was God up to here?
Sunday morning came and our friends started to arrive at the house. And then it happened. The gate rattled, and those same eyes popped up over the gate. Hop came. He had on the same clothes, and smelled about the same.
And then something wonderful happened. Our little church welcomed him in and treated him like anybody else. He sat with us in the living room and discussed the scriptures. He sang and prayed. He grabbed a plate of food and chatted with the guys over lunch, like he had been there before.
It was comfortable. It was natural.
Hop was part of our church for a while, and then he just disappeared.
You might be a little disappointed by this story. It doesn’t have a dramatic conversion ending. We didn’t help Hop get back on his feet and find a job and become a well-adjusted citizen. He just came into our lives easily, and then left it just as easily.
I tell you that story because Hop really helped me. He challenged my lenses. I am so quick to look at someone, size them up, and slap a label on them, and then react according to my understanding of that label.
Hop shredded my labels. He wasn’t a homeless man that needed me to fix him. He was just, Hop.
And God is crazy in love with Hop.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.
God doesn’t label us. God doesn’t look at us and say, “rich,” “Poor,” “good,” “bad,” and then lump us into a big bin with that label. God looks at each of us and says, “You are mine, and I’m crazy about you. YOU.”
Each one of us comes to these stories from a different angle, and we all need to hear something different. Perhaps you needed to hear something that I didn’t even get close to talking about. I hope you heard it.
I have two challenges.
Some of you might be sitting here feeling like the “sinners” at the beginning of the story.
You feel labeled and dismissed by the “good” people. If that is where you’re at, I hope that you can see that image of God the Father running like a wild man across the field to welcome you. God wraps his arms around you and says, “Let’s Party!”
Some of you might be sitting here thinking,
I am quick to label people. I hope that you can let go of the “fairness” idea, and learn to love people like God loves you. Crazy Love that does not just tolerate “sinners” but runs after them until they are found and know that God loves them, that God loves us. God seeks all of us lost ones, and throws a party when we finally are reconciled.
Try a simple experiment this week. When you see someone that would typically fall into one of your labels. Try to imagine yourself as God running like a crazy person toward them and saying, “Let’s throw a party.” I wonder how things would change if we all saw each other like that?