I invite you to see which character in this story that you identify with. There was a mother who took her children to a crowded restaurant one day. Her six-year-old son asked if he could say the grace. He prayed: "God is great and God is good, Let us thank him for the food, and God I would thank you even more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen!" Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, the woman at the very next table growled loudly: "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. The very idea... asking God for ice cream! Why I never."
Hearing this, the little six-year-old boy burst into tears and he asked his mother: "Did I do it wrong? I'm sorry. Is God mad at me?" The little boy's mother pulled him over into her lap. She hugged him tightly and assured him that he had done a terrific job with his prayer and God was certainly not mad at him. Just then an elderly gentleman walked over to the table. He winked at the little boy and he said: "I know God really well. We visit every day and I happen to know that God loved your prayer. It may have been the best one He has heard all day." "Really?" the little boy asked.. "Cross my heart," said the man. Then he leaned over and whispered into the little boy's ear. Pointing at the woman at the next table who had made the remark that started the whole thing, he said: "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."
Naturally, the mom ordered ice cream for her kids at the end of the meal. The little six-year-old boy stared at his for a moment and then he did something that no one in that restaurant that day will ever forget. He picked up his sundae and without a word walked over and placed it in front of the woman at the next table. With a big smile he said to her: "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes and my soul is good already!" The people in the restaurant applauded and somewhere in heaven Jesus was smiling... because that little boy had already learned how to look at others with the eyes of sacrificial love. Sight (true sight) is always a matter of the heart... not the eyes.
God is offering us an ice cream for the soul.
This morning we hear two familiar parables of Jesus, the lost sheep and the lost coin. I hope in these few minutes I can help you think about these parables in a fresh way. We pick these parables up and we think that Jesus is telling us what we ought to do. But really, these parables are about how God works in this world-the mysterious, strange, bizarre, odd way that God deals with us.
Remember what set these two stories in motion. Jesus was chastised by the scribes and Pharisees, (the Message) "By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus…"And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’" In other words, this fellow keeps company with sinners, so he’s a bad person.
Now, in retrospect we think of Jesus to be the perfect candidate to be the promised Messiah who would fulfill God’s will for Israel. People like the scribes and Pharisees didn’t think that any candidate for Messiah would associate with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were thought to be mostly crooks and sinners meant what it means now. Everyone’s favourite sin was something sexual, and the sinners most likely named by ‘proper people’ were prostitutes.
(Regeneration Outreach story)
He says, "I want you to imagine that you have one hundred sheep and that you lose one of them. Now, wouldn’t you, therefore, go out after the lost one until you find it?" Well, what’s the real answer to that question? The real answer to that question is "of course not." Nobody in his right mind who’s in the sheep business has one hundred sheep, loses one, leaves the ninety-nine to the wolves and the coyotes, and goes chasing off after one. You cut your losses, forget about the lost sheep, and go on with the ninety-nine. So Jesus’ question is perverse. It’s odd. Who among you would do this? Nobody would!
And then he says, "And when you find it (the lamb), you lay it on your shoulders…" Then notice that Jesus does not say, "Take that lamb back to its mother and the ninety-nine. No, Jesus instructs us to put it on our shoulders, to rejoice and take it home and call together your friends and neighbours for a celebration about the lost. Real sheep when on their own will actually crouch down in the grass and seek to become invisible. You won’t actually be able to urge them to get up and get going. Very likely you will have to pick them up and carry them-in this case the shepherd takes them off to a heavenly party thrown in their honour. Such is the description of the grace of God, says Jesus.
In the parable, Jesus never goes back to the ninety-nine sheep. Robert Capon suggests the ninety-nine sheep are a set-up. Jesus has divided the flock into one sheep and ninety-nine sheep. The one lost sheep is the whole human race as it really is. And the ninety-nine "found" sheep who never get lost are the whole human race as we think we are. The 99 are not the subject of the story. The 1 lost sheep stands for all of us, and the only thing the shepherd-God, the God character is interested in, is going after the lost.
God is not in the business of bookkeeper, keeping records on everybody and deciding that if you don’t live by the rules, you’ll not get any attention. Actually, God goes out only after the lost, "…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. The proof of this is, did you ever meet any of those 99 righteous persons who need no repentance, at all? No you have not, because there aren’t any. So, God, in Christ, is only interested in finding the lost.
The next parable is that of the lost coin. Jesus changes the image of God’s character from the shepherd with a crook, to a woman with a broom. It is very interesting that in Jesus’ context these two people would have been right at the bottom of the social ladder, right next to being unredeemable on the Pharisee’s social hierarchy list. Just like the shepherd is crazy to go chase one sheep and leave ninety-nine to the wolves, so this woman is even crazier. It says this woman has a set of (ten) coins, and I like to think, just to bring it up to date, that what the woman has are a full set of seven 75th Anniversary Superman gold coins given as a gift to her husband who died a couple of months ago.
Every Saturday morning the woman gets up, she looks in the red cedar box, handles and polishes those coins and puts them back in their proper place. But one Saturday morning she finds one of the coins missing, so what does she do? She stops everything, she puts on all of the lights in the condo and looks in every corner of the place. She pulls out a broom instead of the vacuum and sweeps and sweeps every square inch of that condo’s hardwood floor-under the bed, under the wardrobe, under the sofa, under the credenza, in the closets, spending the whole day until she finds that one coin. And then what does she do when she finds it? Somewhat like the shepherd and the lamb, Jesus never says she puts it back in the box. No, she goes to Facebook and invites her whole list of 118 contacts to a party. Then she arranges for the party room and puts up a notice in the lobby of the building where she does not know a single person, "Come on over, I’m going to have a party. I found my lost coin. I’m breaking out the wine and the cheese and the Hagen Daas!"
The blog is full of congratulatory remarks but to expect people to come to a party, over a $50 coin you found,…her acquaintances think that is "way over the top!" But for this woman it is not uncharacteristic at all. She is ‘over the top’ with joy!
Now, you might understand the shepherd. After all we pity the poor lost lamb, so frightened it could not even let out a bleat. But you can’t have pity for a lost coin. A lost coin never knows it’s lost. Here in this parable one is as good as another. The point is that what governs God’s behaviour to us is not our sins. It’s not our problems. It’s God’s need for us. We are invited in the hunt for lost souls and when they are found to join in the party with God’s angels.
The lost sheep and the lost coin are more than the prized possessions of their owners; they are also parts of a whole. The sheep belongs to the flock and the coin to the set; without them the whole is not complete. The search, then, is a quest for restoration and wholeness. "I like to imagine God, broom in hand, patiently sweeping away the dirt from our lives and restoring us to our God-given image. In this way we are uniquely found by God, since we each have our own unique ways of being lost."*
Acknowledging inspiration from:
esermons.com, Illustrations, Moore, James W., Ice Cream for the Soul
textweek.com, Capon, Robert Farrar Capon, "The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin", 30 Good Minutes, Chicago Sunday Evening Club, 1996
* Copeland, Jennifer E., "Clean