Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lost Parables, Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons, Churches Lost to the Gospel of Radical Affirmation

Today's Gospel reading focused on the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15, and due to the capricious way the lectionary in our church gets sliced and diced, the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin were themselves lost (today's reading was Luke 15:1-3,11-32 which omitted verses 4-10).

So today, I am going to look at the things we might have lost.

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Luke 15:4-10 (KJV)

The beginning of Luke 15 demonstrates how Jesus associated with sinners. Jesus' ministry to those in greatest need of Him might have been mistaken for acceptance by the Pharisees who took the chance to be critical of Him. The subsequent parable of the lost sheep, and the parable of the lost coin reveal the judgement of "sinner" that our Lord was ready to lay upon those to whom he was reaching out.
"Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
The next parable, the parable of the prodigal son follows up on the theme of joy over the return of the repentant sinner as well as supplementing and reinforcing the message of the previous parables.

The parable of the prodigal son which we heard today is powerful enough to stand on its own, but I think the other two parables should be considered at the same time. They introduce the role of an outside agent who tracks down the lost and brings them back, rather than waiting for the sinner to discover this the hard way, and this seeking out of the lost is something that we are called to do in our own ministries. Now, it can be difficult to find the lost if you have been fed a steady diet of pluralism or universalism in your church, and if you believe that all are saved no matter whether they believe in Jesus as Lord or not.

Then as now, unfortunately, there are some who have set themselves apart from the Lord. They are the focus of Jesus' attention in today's lessons. Jesus' dining with sinners is often termed "radical inclusivity." This term has been misused as we shall see in a second. His ministry to these people was aimed at bringing sinners, those whom the Pharisees would exclude, to repentance and back into fellowship. The meals were not free, and the grace was not cheap.

It has been said that the Episcopal church is a "welcoming" church, and is a church that lives into a gospel of radical inclusion when it reaches out to those who identify themselves as LGBTQ. The message boils down to this:
"Come as you are, and stay as you are."
"We are not here to judge."
"When we dine with you it is to learn from you and not you from us."
"We will be changed."
"You only thought you were lost sheep."
"It was us who labelled you as lost."
When the church elected its first openly gay, divorced, non-celibate male bishop in the form of Gene Robinson, the church celebrated its radical inclusiveness. We were supposed to learn a great lesson through this prophetic action, but instead, what was being taught to the people was a "gospel of radical affirmation" (I just googled that and stumped Google! I had to put it into the title of this post because of that). Radical affirmation makes the work of finding the lost a whole lot easier because this removes all the barriers to "relationship" that might show up if a modern day good shepherd were to make the mistake of telling a lost sheep that it was going somewhere dangerous or doing something harmful.

Modern radical welcoming/inclusivity/affirmation is a far different thing from what Jesus was up to. To illustrate this I made up a modern parable a while back satirizing the false gospel of radical inclusion/affirmation. I called it "Wallowing in the Mire."

You have in your flock many sheep. When you discover one missing, which one of you does not go out in search of the missing sheep? Which one of you, when you find that the lost sheep has discovered its authentic self as a pig, and is happiest when wallowing in mud, does not say, "Let me bring the rest of the flock here so that they too may wallow in the mud"? And when he has done so, he calls his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found that sheep prefer to be pigs, and are happiest when they can wallow in the mire. Join us." Just so, that which was once considered sinful may now be considered blessed. (UP 7:11/12a)

So, is your church seeking the lost? Does your church pray for repentance and change?

Or is your church unable to pin the lost label on anyone?

Or is your church lost and in need of the Seeker?

If it is the latter two, pray, listen to your Judge and Advocate, repent, and be returned.


1 comment:

  1. Grandma has family lessons on the lost sheep and the lost coin. You’ll find them at: