Lessons From The Road - Week One: The One


Well, it’s been a while, right?  I bet y’all have been enjoying all those shorter sermons.  Ha!  

Guess who’s back.. back again… 

So for those of you who may not know, I’ve been on sabbatical for the entire summer, and in case you were wondering… it rocked!  It rocked my socks off! 

And to be honest, I didn’t think about church for a good long while, which was good because when I finally did, I couldn’t stop thinking about being back here and being here preaching once again, because I love doing this, and I love this church.  

For the next few weeks—I’ll be sharing some things I learned on the road, and trust me, I’ve been on the road a lot.  I put about 6,000 miles on my trusty Jeep Wrangler, criss crossing the country, and I spent a couple of weeks in the U.K., which was freaking awesome.  I spent time in a Camaldolese Benedictine monastery off the coast of Big Sur in California, as well.  

So yeah, I’ve got some road stories, and I’ll be sharing some of them over the next few weeks. 

Our texts will come from the lectionary, which always has this unique way of speaking to us no matter when they’re preached.  

The passage today contains a familiar parable of Jesus—the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  

And as we’re going to discover, this parable which Jesus shared was actually directed at a group of people who didn’t really get that God’s radical grace and love was for everyone. 

They thought they had it figured out.  They were pretty certain that they knew who was in (them) and who was out (most everyone else).  Does that sound like anyone you know?  I’m sure we’ve all got that friend or relative who has those notions. 

But then again, some of us who think we’re all enlightened really don’t relish the idea of spending eternity with people who don’t want us there, so we’re all kind of in this together in a way.  And there’s Jesus messing everything up by telling stories about God’s radical grace.  

It’s almost like, he enjoys this—wrecking our notions of grace.  

Which brings me to the main point for today’s sermon:  

THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S GRACE IS THAT IT’S WIDE ENOUGH FOR THE WHOLE WORLD, AND NARROW ENOUGH FOR YOU AND ME.

So let’s turn in our Bibles to Luke 15:1-10—you didn’t expect that did you?  You have Bibles in your seats if you would like to actually turn to the passage and read along.  Go ahead, let’s be a little lo-fi today.  I mean, it will still be on the screen because we’ve got the whole video thing going on, but why not, right?

So let’s dig into this passage just a bit to understand what’s happening… 

Let’s start with the first line: 

“The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near…”  

Luke was very intentional about including this bit of information about the people who wanted to come and hear Jesus teach.  “Tax collectors” come on… who likes those people?… and “sinners.”  

There’s a reason why the tax collectors got their own category.  

They were considered the lowest of the low because they were making money off of their own people in service to the Roman Empire.  Many of them were like Mafia goons, who had all kinds of hired muscle to come rough people up who didn’t pay up.  They had the power to toss you in jail if you didn’t have your tax money, or tried to avoid it.  And they were always skimming money off the top. 

So there’s those guys and then there are sinners.  And sinners could be a pretty big category, but most likely included miscreants, prostitutes, adulterers, and a whole host of other sketchy stuff.  The people who were gathering to hear Jesus were the kinds of people that weren’t welcomed in the synagogues in their own villages.  

Let me say that another way.  These people weren’t allowed or welcomed in church for a variety of reasons, some of which had to do with the culture they lived in and the ridiculous rules about being unclean and unwanted that had nothing to do with anything. 

They weren’t welcomed in church so Jesus brought church to them.  Can I get a witness from the congregation?  Y’all missed me, didn’t you?

Oh, just wait… 

The next line takes it even further… “BUT the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…”  

You know something—it’s almost like when Jesus starts to show grace, and treat those considered outcasts with dignity and mercy, when Jesus includes them… The overly religious people got mad.  

That’s odd. 

By the way, the word here that Luke uses for complain is a Greek word ________ but it’s the same word in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint for when the Hebrew people were always complaining to Moses in the wilderness after they had been set free from generations of slavery.  

So Jesus looks upon these people and instead of coming at them like a sledgehammer, he begins telling a story—he actually tells a few stories in Luke 15, but we’re focusing on two of them today.  

He asks the question, “If you had 100 sheep and one wandered off, you would definitely leave the 99 and go find the one.  And then you would carry that sheep back, and rejoice.”  

To which most of the people, including the sinners would have probably said… “Uhhhh, not really. I’d run the risk of losing more than one sheep if I left those ignorant balls of wool by themselves.”  

Stick with the 99, and maybe that other one will come back, is probably the right answer.  But not to Jesus.  

And then he tells the story of the woman who lost one her ten silver coins, so she turns her house upside down to find it.  Maybe she was moving furniture around, sweeping, yelling at her husband and her kids and the whole village saw the drama unfold.  And then she found it. 

So she throws a party.  

And the people listening would have said, “Let’s get this straight, a woman who is that desperate to find a lost coin would then spend more than the coin is worth to throw a party and celebrate with her neighbors?  That’s ridiculous.” 

Jesus often employed a very Jewish way of storytelling that highlighted the absurd in order to uncover a truth, so it wouldn’t have been that unusual for the people listening to hear something outlandish like this, but the truth that was being conveyed would have crashed in on all of them at once.  

These stories were meant to astound because that’s how God’s grace works.  It doesn’t make sense.  Because in God’s economy, the One that is lost is what matters most at that moment. 

So much so that according to Jesus every time someone wakes up to the reality of God and dedicates their life to living God’s purposes, becoming awakened to the power of the Spirit, and basically just being their truest and best selves—there’s a party in heaven.

If the Pharisees weren’t already complaining you can bet they were after all of that.  Because what Jesus was saying was, “You think God’s love is just for you?  Well these people that you cast out, marginalize and treat as though they are second class citizens—they’re the ones that God gets fired up about when they get it.”

So here’s my question—-how do you think the tax collectors and sinners heard these stories? 

You see, what Jesus did in that moment was tell them something they had probably never heard before from a religious leader:  You are loved. You are worthy.  You are God’s own.  God is crazy about you—so crazy that there’s a party going on where God is right now because of you.  

Michael the archangel is spinning some fly beats… Gabriel is making drinks… The Holy Spirit is you know whoooooo!  

These people—many of them had felt lost their whole lives.  They were the lost sheep.  They were the lost coin.  They were lost.  Then Jesus told them that they were found.  

Listen to me—When you are lost—all you really want is to be found. To know that someone sees you in your lostness, knows you, finds you, carries you home, and celebrates that you’re there.

I  have to be honest with you.  There was a time this summer early on in my sabbatical when I felt lost, more lost than I can recall in my life.  I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going to go, I was turned upside down, spun around… I was lost.  

And I was fighting it.  Because I’m not the one who is supposed to be lost, right?  

Unlike all of the sinners in the story, I guessed I didn’t really need to bother Jesus with my problems.  I figured I could find my way back on my own.  I didn’t need to gather like those sinners, who apparently had finally surrendered something because they couldn’t hack life on life’s terms anymore.  

Then one morning I was getting ready to head out to walk the streets of Edinburgh, and I was listening to music on my phone and this one song came on (I’m not going to share which song, that’s mine) and all of a sudden, I knew I was going to cry.  

I don’t cry all that much.  Sometimes I get choked up preaching because I’m a bit more emotional when I’m preaching, if you didn’t know.  But I don’t cry.  I didn’t cry when my mom died all that much.  I didn’t cry when my two oldest boys went off to college.  I have tried to cry over a lot of things I ought to have cried about but the tears never came. 

And then they all came on that day, because I got tired of fighting back the tears and my feelings of lostness, and I said, “God, help me!”  And then I cried and sobbed on the bed in my hotel room for like 40 minutes.  I didn’t think I was ever going to stop.  

It was then that I felt a peace come over me that I couldn’t explain to myself or anyone else.  It just settled on me, and I just laid there tired, wrung out, hollow but at peace for some dumb reason.  

All I felt was grace.  And I knew that everything was going to be different from that day forward because I finally admitted to myself and to God that I was lost.  I could almost picture Jesus kind of standing off to one side saying, “Took you long enough.  How does it feel to be found?”

God’s extravagant, radical grace always finds us in surrender.  It’s there all along you see, but we fight it trying to do everything on our own.  

I have lived so much of life thinking that God’s grace was for other people because I was good.  I was tough.  I could handle it.  And then I couldn’t.  I was lost, but now I’m found.  

Maybe you feel that way today.  Maybe you've been white knuckling your life, thinking that you can figure this out on your own, if you just had the right process, the right self-help book, the right diet, a change of scenery, a new job, a new partner, anything that would make it better. 

When all that you really need is to surrender, and be found.  

THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S GRACE IS THAT IT’S WIDE ENOUGH FOR THE WHOLE WORLD, AND NARROW ENOUGH FOR YOU AND ME.


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