Sermon 15 September, Trinity 13, Fr Peter Wolton
Today’s Gospel opens with mutterings about Jesus – how he welcomes sinners and eats with them.
Let’s first reflect on celebrations and then on the two parables.
Jesus enjoyed a party. In fact it’s been said that in Palestine during Jesus’s ministry, if you came to a village and heard the sound of laughter, it usually meant that Jesus was in town, and people were sitting down having a meal.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this.
The Old Testament points towards the heavenly banquet:
The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine. (Sounds like an advert for our Harvest Supper being held on October 2!)
But what about you?
Are you a party animal? having people for a meal?
Do you enjoy putting on special clothes, possibly “purple and fine linen”?
And when you arrive? Does the heart beat a little faster? Or do you dread such events and stand on the margin, waiting to be spoken to?
Do you like welcoming people –putting them in contact with each other? Do you enjoy hosting a banquet?
Are you the sort of person, if you see a newcomer to our church, will go and welcome them? For the Kingdom is about welcoming people.
So keep welcome and celebration in our minds as we look at the parables.
A man with a 100 sheep searches diligently for the one lost sheep.
In the other a woman searches for a lost coin.
So interesting that Jesus tell two parables on the same theme.
In those agrarian times a man with such a number of sheep was rich. The woman who searches for the coin is not well off. If she had been, she would have had servants to search for the coin.
The protagonists are at different ends of the social strata.
A reminder to the members of the early house churches at the time of St. Luke, and to us today, that there are no social distinctions in the eyes of God.
If you are task focused, perhaps your focus is on the person searching –searching for the coin, searching for the sheep.
It’s easy to ignore the context of the parables - that Jesus had told them in the context of being accused of eating with the “wrong” people.
Just who exactly are these people, these “sinners”?
Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham has written “the sinners are a more general category, and people disagree as to who they precisely were. They may have been people who were just too poor to know the law properly or to try to keep it. Certainly they were people regarded by the self-appointed experts as hopelessly irreligious, out of touch with the demands that God had made of Israel through the law.”
Perhaps we should also think whether the church still judges people, or whether, in our own lives, we behave like the scribes and Pharisees.
So we have the story of the lost sheep brought into the fold. And the massive celebration when the sheep was found. Time for a party.
And Jesus’ words “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance.” – repentance, turning to Christ.
In each parable there are three parties: the searcher, the unlost and the lost. Which do we identify with?
Are we the person who does the searching? Or are we the one who is brought in from the margin? And returned to the fold. Or perhaps we who think we are not lost.
I have recently finished reading a Louis de Bernieres’ novel where one of the main characters is about to kill themselves.
They are disturbed by a voice.
Later the rescuer says “I’m very sorry if I spoiled your plan for a beautiful, quick easy exit, but when I met I was watching you, I felt, um, compassion. I thought “There is a person who has more to do. Who has life left over.” As I say, I felt I had no choice.”
The rescuer happens to be a chaplain.
The searcher, the unlost and the lost. Which are we?
In truth, we are probably all three, at different times in our lives.
We may not be the person who “makes a party go.”
We don’t have to a chaplain or priest to invite people to the heavenly banquet. Indeed priests can sometimes display the unfortunate qualities of being “righteous people who need no repentance.”
But we can and I hope, having been given the gift of faith, be people of the banquet, a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.
And perhaps, do you find, if you reflect back on the day you have had, that a highlight is an encounter you have had, perhaps with a friend or loved one, but quite often a complete stranger.
We will shortly gather around God’s holy table to enjoy the Messianic banquet that unites us with the cloud of witnesses in heaven.
As we do so, and as we leave this holy place, let us recall that where Jesus went, there was penetrating teaching done with a lightness of touch in a party atmosphere.
Let us also be people of the banquet who are joyful, looking out for strangers and the lost, welcoming them into our fold.
 Isaiah 25:6
 “So Much Life Left Over”