Repent.Pent15C.2001

Pentecost 15C, 2001
Luke 15:1-10

A Liturgy is also available


THERE IS SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN GETTING PEOPLE TO REPENT...

One lost sheep does not make the media headlines in Australia.

Despite, as a country, riding on the sheep’s back for many decades,
and a-waltzing itinerant receiving a hospitality visit from troopers - one, two, three - 
there now is little that is romantic or noble
about the way we treat sheep - generally speaking.

For many they are just 1,000, or 15,000 or 50,000 units of a commercial venture,
to be herded by dogs that are directed by people on trail bikes.

Biblical times could not have been more different.
Small flocks.
Each sheep with a name.
Each shepherd living seven days a week with his flock.
One lost sheep was a significant event and financial loss.

In Luke’s parable of Jesus, one sheep is missing from a large flock of 100.
This fellow had sheep to spare!
Yet he goes off searching for the lost sheep until it is found.
And so precious is the one sheep, that he throws a party.

Just think of that!
A party in honour of a recovered sheep!
God is like that, Luke’s Jesus seems to say.

oo0oo

One lost coin is not a newsworthy event, either.

Have you noticed how our one and two dollar coins
have a highly developed aptitude
for getting lost around the house?

Let it stay in the dust under the frig or down the sides of lounge chairs, or wherever.
They will no doubt turn up some day
when I’m not looking for them.

Yet in Jesus’ story the woman, with a sense of urgency,
lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and goes searching.
And she doesn’t give up until she has found that lost coin.
Then she throws a party in honour of the recovered coin.

Surprise, extravagance, and joy seem to characterise these Lukan Jesus stories.
Or as one colleague, Bruce Prewer, has light-heartedly suggested:
‘These (the shepherd and the woman) are really the ultimate party animals, don’t you reckon?’

God is like that woman, Luke’s Jesus seems to say.

oo0oo

When I preached on this story several years ago,
some people in one country congregation where I was minister,
lined up afterwards in the car park to point out
where I was very, very wrong. 

Repentance was required prior to forgiveness.  Period.
And how dare I preach something different!

At the risk of experiencing that same fate today I want to again suggest…
There is something more important than getting people to repent.
A much more fundamental thing is valuing them as persons.

And this is what I reckon the itinerant sage called Jesus was on about.
And why the storyteller Luke included these stories in his writings.
Jesus takes people seriously - as people.
He values them as persons and meets them on their own terms.

He is not prepared to write some of them off, as his critics did.
Or to say, as they (and my critics) would have:
we will value you and welcome you, only if you repent…
- when you confess,
- when you make compensation,
- when you sincerely keep the law previously broken.

One who occasionally helps my personal theological journey is Uniting Church biblical theologian, Bill Loader.
Let me share with you his wisdom on these stories.
This quotation is a bit long, but I hope you
will bear with me and listen carefully.

“The controversy is not over whether Jesus called sinners to repent.  If that was all Jesus was doing and taking his soapbox into the arena of sinners, then he would have been the hero of those Pharisees.  Rather the issue was that he already demonstrated a willingness to value them as persons and enter relations with them as people of worth before there was any repentance.

“This was an expression of (unconditional) love.  But it was also very challenging, because he was also inviting them as valued people to become part of the future vision.  He was not doing so in order to make them valued and worthy of love, but because they were valued and loved.  The distinction is subtle but significant.

“Both ways involve repentance in its best sense, but one way puts the focus on the deeds and the laws and the other puts the focus on the person and possibility of transformation.  One tends to focus on the fruit; the other, on the tree, itself.  There is all the difference in the world between telling the tree it must produce good fruit, and tending to its real needs which make such fruit bearing possible” (WLoader web site, 2001).

oo0oo

There is much ‘good news’ in Luke’s story - for us, too.
Primarily among it is:
There is something more important than getting people to repent.
Much more fundamental is valuing them as persons.

That’s the kind of God the God of Jesus is.
A seeking-after, party-throwing God… when the lost are found.

rexae74@gmail.com