Many of you have met my mom during the last eight years – most recently she was here to speak at our annual ladies’ salad luncheon. I trust that you have concluded she is, indeed, a very nice person.
My mother was a great mom when I was growing up. However, I have two real complaints about those years with her. The first is the limitation that she put on drinking milk. When I was a teenager, my mom put restrictions on how much milk my brother and I could drink.
Now I thought this was just wrong. After all, when you come in and are thirsty, what tastes better than a nice cold glass of milk? However, my mom said that my brother and I were going through milk too fast and that it was too expensive to drink like water. So she put limits on us. We could have one glass in the afternoon when we got home from school, and one glass at dinner. Mom’s policy prompted my brother and me to coin a phrase for milk in our house: “white gold.” Of course, now that I am a parent I have learned that milk is not cheap. While it is healthy for you, it is really not suitable for mass consumption and so now I find myself telling my kids that milk is not something to chug when you are thirsty.
My other complaint is about gumballs. To this day, when you enter a grocery store you see coin machines for gumballs and other candy. Every time I saw one of these gumball machines I would ask my mom for a coin so that I could go get one. And you know what? My mom had audacity to say that I didn’t need to get a gumball every time we went to the store. She acted like it was supposed to be some kind of treat.
And so, ever since I have been out on my own, I have been living large. Basically any time I go to the grocery store, I stop at the machine and buy myself a gumball. I am making up for all those times I was denied and I take great pleasure in doing so. When I park at the store I get a quarter out of the spare change that I keep in the car. Sometimes, this requires me to search for the coin, because while pennies and nickels and dimes accumulate, the precious quarter needed for a gumball often dwindles. And if I can’t find one in the spare change, I have been known to look around in the car – on the floor, under the seats – until I find that necessary quarter.
In the second parable of our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells about a woman who searches for a coin. She expends great effort looking for it because it is valuable to her, and she rejoices when she finds it. In the parable we learn that each sinner is precious in the Lord’s eyes and that there is joy in God’s presence when a sinner repents and receives forgiveness.
Our text this morning is from Luke chapter fifteen. In this chapter, our Lord tells three parables about something or someone that is lost: a lost sheep; a lost coin; and a lost son. This morning we want to focus on the parable of the lost coin.
The first verses of our text provide the setting for all three parables. We hear, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
One of the defining features of Jesus’ ministry was that he associated with those who were the outcasts of society. He was regularly in the company of people that the Pharisees described as “sinners.” Now this term took in a wide range of people because of the beliefs held by the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were primarily a lay group, and the scribes were those who had formal training in the Scriptures and also the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees sought to be a holy group within Israel. They took various practices that were required of priests who served in the temple, and they applied them to everyday life. They developed a large body of oral law that described how to keep the Torah, and some held this interpretation of the law to be on par with the Torah itself.
In the Pharisees’ view of the world, a “sinner” could be a person who engaged in activities that actually violated God’s will – like a prostitute. But it could also be a person who didn’t follow the Pharisees’ rules for life. Tax collectors were included in this category because they often abused their position to get extra money for themselves, and also because they were seen to be collaborators with the Romans and their puppet kings.
These were the kind of people who gathered around Jesus. And it’s not just that they came to see him. Jesus received them and actually ate with them. Even in our own day we understand that eating together with people indicates some level of acceptance and familiarity. In the first century Palestinian world this was far more important than anything we have experienced. To eat with someone said that you accepted them and had fellowship with them.
Our world today has noticed this fact about Jesus – but it has drawn all of the wrong conclusions from it. The world says that Jesus didn’t judge people. It says that Jesus accepted people for who they were. In fact, the pop singer Elton John said this past week that if Jesus were alive today, he would have no problem with homosexual marriage.
However, Jesus’ own words refute this attitude. Earlier in this Gospel Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” We hear the same theme in our text this morning. After the parable of the lost sheep Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And then at the end of the parable of the lost coin he adds, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Jesus does not affirm any decision we want to make. Instead, he calls people to confess their sin and turn away from it.
In the parable our Lord says, “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” The woman has ten coins. Each coin represented a day’s wage – a whole day of work. Each was valuable and she had only ten of them. When she realized that one was lost in the house she lit a lamp so that she could see better in the dim interior, swept the house and searched carefully for it.
The parable tells us both about how God values you and also about your problem. Created in his image, he has made each one of you to be unique – one of a kind. Right down to your DNA there is no one else that God has made exactly like you. You are precious and valuable to him.
Because of sin, you were also lost. You were cut off from God. And so as the ultimate affirmation of how much he values you, God sent forth his Son to become like you. He sent him into this world in the incarnation as the Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He took on your humanity without ceasing to be God. And then in order to overcome the sin that separated you from him, the Father sent the incarnate Son to die on the cross and rise from the dead.
In Holy Baptism you were found. You were made to be a child of God. You sins were washed away. You were born again of water and the Spirit. The problem is that because of the old man – the sinful nature in you – you still at times act like someone who wants to be lost. You make choices that place the creation ahead of the Creator. In spite of God’s unmerited love that you have received, you speak and act in hurtful ways toward others.
And so God continues to seek you out because you are so valuable to him. Not only are you valuable to him as his creation. You are valuable because of the price that has been paid for you – for after all, you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. He continues to call you to repentance because as he told the prophet Ezekiel, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but instead desires us to turn from sin and live.
Through his word of law he confronts your sin. He does this so that you will repent – so that you will confess these sins and turn away from them. And then he comforts you with the Gospel. Through his Means of Grace he forgives you and strengthens you in the faith. And our text tells us what happens when this occurs: there is joy. The joy of the woman who finds the coin – a joy that she can’t keep to herself but must be shared with her neighbors – describes the joy in heaven.
You came here this morning knowing the ways that in this past week that you have shown yourself to be a sinner. But God has sought you out. He has worked repentance – the very confession you made at the beginning of the Divine Service. And now as we are about to receive the Sacrament of the Altar you can rejoice that the words of the Pharisees are indeed true: “This man receives sinners and eat with them.” The crucified and risen Lord invites you to his table – to this new meal fellowship were Jesus is both the host and meal. He gives his body and blood to you the repentant sinner for the forgiveness of your sins. And because of this there is joy before the angels of God.