First Lesson: Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28
Responsive Reading: Psalm 14
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Gospel Lesson: Luke 15: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Mount Rose, Minnesota is the scene for the 1999 movie Drop Dead Gorgeous. Drop Dead Gorgeous tells the story of two girls: Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Let me tell you a little bit about both the girls. Rebecca Leeman had it all. Rebecca’s dad was the richest man in Mount Rose. Rebecca’s mom was a beauty queen herself and sat on nearly every committee within Mount Rose. Rebecca Leeman would seem to be the ideal beauty pageant contestant: long stunning brown hair, blue eyes, and perfect teeth. Rebecca Leeman would boost quite openly about her faith. Rebecca’s favorite catch-phrase was “Jesus loves winners”.
On the other side of the beauty pageant was Amber Atkins. Amber Atkins grew up on the other side of the tracks. Amber lived in a trailer court in fact. Amber’s mom sat around all day drinking beer and using foul language. Amber didn’t have a dad in the picture. Amber had a chipped tooth. While Amber was nice, she didn’t invoke Jesus’ name every five seconds. We all know Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Many of us would make snap judgments about both Rebecca and Amber and how their stories end up. We’ll get back to Rebecca and Amber’s story in a bit.
Now as you picture Rebecca and Amber let’s talk about our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 15. Jesus has been having meals with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is having meals with the Amber Atkins types from the other side of the tracks. Certain Rebecca Leeman types like the Pharisees and Scribes couldn’t figure out why Jesus would waste his time.
How did the Pharisees think let me tell you another story. When I was growing up, I had a friend named Ira. Ira and I were playing golf one day. Ira didn’t take to golf too well. Ira would swing at the ball and “miss”. Ira’s best attribute was not his patience. Ira would proceed after every attempted shot to A. Yell out church inappropriate language. B. Pound his club into the ground. C. Throw his club down the fairway.
Eventually, another twosome catches us on the “golf course”. Part of this two-some was the local priest Father Chuck. Now the thing you need to know about Ira is finding out that he’s playing with a Catholic priest is just going to cause him to act out more. So Ira swings then misses then hits the ball way off the fairway then cusses then throws his club into the ground.
Father Chuck would just like act what Ira was doing was normal. His playing partner though was a different story. Trying to distract from the outburst, I asked him where he lived. After answering, he turns and sneers as he asks “What group home did Ira and I live in?”
Now picture this guy. Picture the Pharisees. Picture Ira. Now picture Jesus sitting down to eat with Ira like this was how normal people play golf. The Pharisees were kind of mad with this whole scene.
So Jesus seeks to educate the Pharisees and Scribes by telling a couple of parables. The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
Here’s the scenario. One-hundred sheep are under the watch of a shepherd. One sheep runs away. The shepherd has two options at that point: He can declare the one sheep a sunken cost or he could foolishly pursue the lost sheep to risk losing everything that he had. Any normal shepherd would have described the “lost sheep” as a not worth the investment. The Kingdom of God doesn’t work like this, though!
Jesus seeks to drive home the point of the power of one by telling another parable. Jesus tells the story of a woman with ten coins who lost one coin. The woman wasn’t going to view this “lost coin” as any normal coin, though, but rather as the most precious coin that she owned. The woman is immediately going to turn her whole world upside down because she can’t bear not being in the presence of this one single coin.
Now it would have made more sense for this woman to invest her time in trying to make more money, but Jesus is saying that he doesn’t do things like other people do things. The women's devotion to the one coin instead is how the Kingdom of God works.
Phillip McLarty makes the following point:
“When you think about it, our whole lives are based on an acceptable percentage of failure. We start every school year knowing there will be a certain dropout rate. Not everyone will graduate. Marriages start out with a predictable rate of divorce. Not every marriage will make it. We’re happy when the employment rate is below five percent.”
What our parables illustrate though is the depths of God’s love are such that even one lost sheep is way too many.
A couple of years ago, I was staying at my parent's place before leaving on a vacation to Las Vegas. The morning that I’m supposed to go to the airport, I begin to look for my keys. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I finally had to stop looking as we needed to leave for the airport. As I’m in Las Vegas, I couldn’t shake for three or four days, what happened to my keys. I finally get back to Lindstrom, I must have gone over every inch of my parent's house multiple times. You know how it is? I still couldn’t find the keys. I had to take a spare car key and get all new keys made in Silver Bay. The new keys though were an annoyance as they didn’t work as good as the old keys, and I kept getting them confused. Finally, it happens My Mom had by accident grabbed my keys put him in her purse, where they feel on the floor of her middle school classroom. At this point, I didn’t care about how the keys became lost in the first place. When the lost becomes found, you act without abandon. I made sure the keys got sent to me as soon as possible. Now think if keys or coins could generate such emotion. Now reflect on how far you would go to reunite with someone you love. You understand this story. You know this parable.
Now consider it from the other angle of those whom Jesus receives.
Forrest Gump was getting on the school bus for his first day of school. Forrest Gump didn’t look like he was going to fit in whatsoever. Forrest had braces on his legs. Forrest was slow and socially awkward. Whenever Forrest attempts to take a seat next to another child, the child would snap back “seat’s taken”. Finally, a young blonde girl named "Jenny" tells Forrest that he could sit next to her. Forrest’s devotion to Jenny would not cease from that moment forward, all the days of both their lives.
The Colin Kaepernick story of the past few weeks brings back to mind another story the story of Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl did the worst thing that a soldier could ever do in a fit of rage at his unit; he left his post in Afghanistan. Many people figure Bergdahl got what he deserved as he was quickly captured by Taliban soldiers and held a prisoner for five years. Bowe Bergdahl is eventually returned to the U.S. in a prisoner exchange. The problem is though that everyone else in the Army hates his guts. Soldiers from his unit confess to wanting to “murder” him. Bowe Bergdahl is reassigned in the Army to desk duty but requires an armed guard because of the nature of his sin. Now let me ask you two questions: 1. What might you say when someone like Bowe Bergdahl lets you down when you need them the most. 2. What do you suppose that Jesus might say?
What do you suppose the Pharisees thought about the type of people whom Jesus reached out to in his ministry? They thought the prettiest girl in Minnesota, Rebecca Leeman always end up on top. They figured Amber Atkins’ types weren’t worth the time. Only this is how not the Kingdom of God works. Rebecca’s rival trailer park Amber Atkins ends up in a moment of fate becoming one of the biggest television stars in Twin Cities. The Lost can always be Found!
Let me close with one final story. John Newton’s dad was a sailor; his mother died when he was young. John Newton as an orphan gets sent to military school. Here, John Newton was such an obnoxious brat; his instructors nearly beat him to the point where he broke his back. Newton got so mad at the beatings; he ran away from school. John Newton decided to go to the only place that might take a guy like him; he was going to become a sailor.
Out at sea, John Newton came in contact with every bad influence in the book. John Newton joined the British Navy, only to end up becoming dishonorably discharged. John Newton left England hoping never to see anyone he knew ever again. He became involved in sailing for the African slave trade. While on board, Newton would often openly mock the captain by creating x-rated poems and songs about the Captain with the hope of creating an uprising against him. John Newton would steal rum as a way to bond with the rest of his crew. John Newton’s lifelong rebellion kept resulting in further beatings and public humiliations.
One night during a storm, John Newton’s life changed. John Newton became convinced that his ship was about to sink, and he wasn’t going to make it through the night. John Newton remembered the religious words of his mother from years before.
In one final act of desperation, John Newton cried out for the Grace of God to protect him. John Newton called on God’s own son to save him. It was on this night in the midst of dangers, toils, and snares that John Newton came to realize that the only reason, he had breath was because of the Grace of God and it was possible for this Grace to lead him home.
After the storm of this night, Newton eventually becomes an ordained minister within the Church of England. One day, Newton sits down to write a sermon whose words become his great legacy: “Amazing Grace- How Sweet the Sound” “That Saved a Wretch like Me” “I once was lost but now am Found” “Was Blind” “But now I see”. John Newton didn’t just think of these words; his life knew these words.
Who would have sat with John Newton in the days of darkness? Jesus. Who would have gone to Amber Atkins trailer court to say “The Kingdom of God belongs to people like her? Jesus. Who would have responded to my friend Ira’s golfing antics with grace and mercy? Jesus. Who would forgive Bowe Bergdahl after the rest of his troops' vow never to walk alongside him again? Jesus. Who would offer awkward Forrest Gump a seat on the bus when no one else would? Jesus. Who rejoices when the lost become found? Jesus. Amen
 “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 7.Jul.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Luke 15:3-7.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002.P.184-188.
 Luke 15:8-10.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Bryan. J. “Serial Season 2 and the Second Prodigal Son.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 27.Jan.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 The Forrest Gump analogy comes from Pastor Bill Shappell of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lutherville, MD. The analogy is found on the Pentecost 19 (Sept.11.2016) section of Text Week.com under grace.