A Dangerous Endeavor: Lost Week 2

The sermon today comes from Luke 15:1-10

H.H. Staton in his book, "A Guide to the Parables of Jesus" tells the story of having been on an ocean liner headed to the Middle East.

Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the liner drew closer, the passengers saw that the boat - a small sloop flying a Turkish flag - had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer or immature navigation the small vessel had become lost. For nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place remarked aloud to himself - "It's a big ocean to be lost in."

Hearing that story reminded me of one of my favorite quotes of all time, “A ship in the harbor is safe but that is not what a ship is built for.” This world is a difficult place to be lost in but we were not created to simply tie up on the dock and set by.

Luke introduces us to two types of people here: the “holy” and the “heathen.” The holy are the pharisees and the scribes. The heathen are the tax collectors and sinners. Both are up to their eyeballs in what matters most. One group is focused on being perfect the other is focused perfectly on being. (Can't help thinking of Billy Currington's song - “I'm not known for doin' a lot, But I do my best work when the weather's hot, I'm pretty good at drinkin' beer.”)

Jesus could have easily aligned himself with the “holy.” In fact, this was what that group had been trying to do. But lost in translation is the word “Receive” - prosdechomai; a word we know well at Crossroads – Jesus was offering HOSPITALITY. Jesus was admitting heathens into his group – into the family.

And so in the midst of the griping and moaning of the holy people Jesus pulls out a story of a lost sheep and a lost coin. What is lost for us, is how much these two stories are influenced by their setting of home and community. Let's stop for a moment and consider this. In the USA we are an individualist society. We identify ourselves by our job, sports team, denomination, etc. But the Jews of Jesus' day had a community identity. Jesus OF Nazareth – Judas OF Iscariot / Simon Bar Jonah = 'son of' Jonah. The prayer of Jesus reflects this too: “OUR daily bread” and “forgive US.”

Jesus was not just building on this idea of community for the Kingdom BUT expanding it. Without searching a bit, this is lost to us. I had the chance a few years ago to listen to Dr. James Fleming who is an expert in first century Jewish culture. In his work on Jesus Parables, he notes that these parables are built on this important detail of culture – namely the Jewish home.

The Latin word for a Jewish home was “insula.” It is the root for the word “island.” These insulas are very much unlike our homes of today. Insulas contained more than one related families. Poorer families contained more holding upwards of 40-50 people. When the family grows, more walls/rooms are added. (1)

So think for a moment on the parable of the lost sheep. This lost shape endangers the livelyhood of the shepherd and the ability to provide for his family in the insula. Shepherds were considered unclean and the lowest of society. The family rejoices when the sheep is found because it is 'their' sheep too. And consider the coin of the woman. It is likely this is part of the woman's dowry, a gift from her father. It would be part of a group of ten such coins. So in essence she has lost one-tenth of her life insurance. Everyone has joined in the search AND celebration because they are in it together.

It has been noted that "Jesus used parables and Jesus was put to death. The two facts are related." Jesus offered a vision of pushing out from the harbor – to follow Jesus meant then and means now, that we are setting off on what one person termed a “dangerous endeavor” = a life focused on transformation not conformation in merely ritual and beliefs. The focus, always for Jesus is people and that should NEVER CHANGE no matter how many centuries we are removed from Jesus' incarnation as a human. Jesus was who we were created to be. To that end, Jesus in these parables pushes off from the dock in search of those who are lost at sea.

Martin Luther, the monk who founded the Lutheran church described it this way: A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get so mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him...If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.  Why? They are family.

Tuesday this week I went home to my office to work. I walked in the door expecting to see our 6 month old kitten Zoe come bounding up to me, trying to sneak out of the house. Nothing. I called her. Nothing. I began looking in her napping spots. Nothing. I began a search through the house calling out her name, turning things over left and right. I went outside calling for her and her big brother hoping the two were together. Nothing. I was thinking the worst. When Heather arrived, she began retracing her steps from earlier and finally found Zoe in our daughter's closet.

I didn't want to be in a panic looking for our kitten but at the time, she became the focus – our home was incomplete. The fact is, we as a church, as THE CHURCH, are missing people. We are incomplete because we are missing people here that Jesus also has died for, we are being called to a dangerous endeavor of finding our missing family. It is a big ocean to be lost in out there.

What does that look like? It looks like we don't give up on people who've visited Crossroads. It looks like we don't give up on each other who are here at Crossroads. We keep inviting, we keep loving, we keep serving. We keep doing the simple things and avoid getting ourselves bogged down in miniscule things. We feed each other when we're sick. We help the poor. We teach our children. We focus a bit less on me and more on the we.

Until everyone turns to Jesus, the family isn't complete.

(1) referenced from Dr. J. Fleming's booklet: "The Parable of Jesus"


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