This week a second Surburg child went to see the orthodontist. This was just for a consult, but we know that it is inevitable that something will have to be done. In the case of both children it is not a matter of vanity – of wanting them to have perfect teeth. Instead things will have to be done so that there will be space for all the teeth to come in properly as they get older.
Now while I know all of this is necessary, I am not without sympathy when I hear moans and groans about the orthodontist and the things he puts in your mouth and makes you wear. For you see, I had my own experience with the orthodontist. I had to wear two different kinds of retainers during my middle school and my early high school years. The later years were better, since it was something I only had to wear at night. But for a number of years during middle school I had to have one in my mouth all of the time.
It of course, no fun to speak with a piece of plastic and metal in your mouth. But over time I got used to it. The thing that never ceased to be a pain was the fact that when eating you had to take the thing out and put it somewhere. Now no one wants this saliva covered implement sitting out next to them when they eat. And it’s something you are going to put back in your mouth, so you don’t want to put it directly on the table. So I would wrap it in a napkin. And this created the circumstances that my parents and I remember to this day.
We were driving over from Bloomington, IN to Cincinnati. We stopped at a hamburger place on the way for lunch, and then after eating got back on the highway. We were perhaps fifteen minutes down the road when suddenly, a shudder went through me. I realized that I did not have the retainer in my mouth. I knew I had been wearing it that day. And so that could mean only one thing – the retainer wrapped in a napkin and been thrown into the trash.
Now retainers aren’t cheap – it’s not the kind of thing you want to pay to replace. So at the first exit we could find we got off the highway and headed back the other direction to the hamburger place. By the time we got there, the garbage can into which we had thrown our trash had already been emptied. The bag had been taken and placed with the numerous other bags of garbage from that day.
My mom explained what had happened to the manager of the store. They were helpful as they brought out the bags of garbage. And then my parents and I searched through garbage bag after garbage bag. I’ll save you the details – but needless to say the refuse at a hamburger place is not very pleasant. Finally, the retainer was found, wrapped in a napkin. And let me tell you, there was joy – joy that the retainer had been found and joy that we didn’t have to look through any more garbage.
In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells two parables about the search for something that is lost. He talks about a lost sheep and a lost coin – we will focus this morning on the second of these. The note that ties both of these parables together is the joy that is present when the lost is found. In the brief story about a woman who lost a coin, we learn about God’s love and desire to save.
The text for last week’s sermon from Luke chapter fourteen was the account of events that happened as Jesus was eating at the house of a chief Pharisee. This morning our text is from the next chapter in Luke’s Gospel, and once again a meal provides the setting for what Jesus says. We hear in the first verse, “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.”
When I was in school the cafeteria was one of the primary settings where the social structure of middle school and high school was displayed. The people with whom you ate demonstrated those people you liked and accepted and those people you didn’t. It showed where you were accepted, and where you were not. The catechumens tell me that this aspect of school life has not changed.
It’s not surprising that this is the case, because sharing a meal – eating together – has been a significant feature in many cultures. It certainly was in first century Palestine. There meal fellowship – the people with whom you ate – clearly demonstrated those whom you accepted and those you didn’t.
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus regularly ate with people who are described as “tax collectors and sinners.” He ate with people who were considered to be sinful and socially undesirable. So in chapter five after Jesus calls Levi – or as we also know him, Matthew – the new disciple holds a great banquet for Jesus which is attended by tax collectors and others like him. We learn that the Pharisees grumbled to Jesus’ disciples saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
In our text we find that Jesus is again eating with these kinds of people. This time the Pharisees and the scribes grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The meal wasn’t just a meal. It was an act by which Jesus received people they considered to be sinful and unworthy.
So in response Jesus told a series of three parables. In the second he said, “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 coin amounted to a day’s wage and in the subsistence life of most people there was little extra money on hand. These ten coins represented a significant amount in the life of the family.
When the woman realized that one was missing she lit a lamp. Palestinian homes had little in the way of windows. They were dark places and so by the light of a lamp the woman swept the floor until she found the coin. This was a careful search because the coin was very valuable to her.
Our Lord then said, “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” With the loss averted, the woman rejoiced. And this was good news that she wanted to share so that others could rejoice with her. Having told the parable, Jesus makes his point at the end of our text as he says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In our text today we learn that yes, the Pharisees are right. Jesus receives tax collectors and sinners and eats with them. Yet this is not a matter of Jesus accepting sin. It is not Jesus saying that he is just here to love everyone no matter what they want to do.
Instead, Jesus receives and accepts sinners who repent. At Levi’s house he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Our text this morning teaches us that Jesus seeks sinners. He seeks you.
As a person created in God’s image he considers you to be of great value. But because God is the Creator, he is also the one who has established how life is to work. You don’t get to make up the rules as you go. Instead when your words, your thoughts and your deeds go contrary this ordering, this is sin that separates you from God. If that separation remains, it results in God’s eternal condemnation.
That is not God’s desire. Instead he wants to save the lost. And so the Son of God was sent into your existence in order to suffer and die on the cross. He received that condemnation against sin in your place. And in his resurrection on the third day he began the existence that will be yours as well when he returns in glory.
He has sought you out through the work of his Spirit and found you. He claimed you in the water of Holy Baptism. But you are still someone who wanders. Though a new creation in Christ, the old man is still present whispering in your ear that you should be free to do things your own way. This thought is one that the world around us – our culture – echoes a million times a day.
And when you listen to the old man and the world – when you sin – our loving God seeks you out through his word. He calls you to repentance through his law. He does this, not because he wants to make you feel bad; not because he is some kind of vindictive tyrant. Instead he does this so that in repentance and faith you can receive the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for you.
This is a desire that he holds not just for you, but for all people. And so he calls you to speak the word of truth about life to others. In these days and times, in particular there is the need to speak the truth about God’s gift of marriage, sex and children. This is a word that contradicts the world. But it is a word that calls people to repentance. It calls them to think again about how they view life. It calls them to return to the Lord and his ways so that through faith in Christ they may receive forgiveness.
And when this happens, there is joy. In fact Jesus says in our text, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” It is a joy that we share in as we now are invited to come to Jesus’ table. For the Pharisees are right, Jesus receives sinners. He receives repentant sinners and now he feeds them with his true body and blood for the forgiveness of all sins. The saving reign of God that was present at meals in those first century Palestinians homes is now present in this house. And because this is so, we can leave with joy. We can leave with the joy of forgiveness and peace. We can leave with a joy that we then share with others during the week in what we say and do.