LECTIONARY SERMON 15 September 2019 on Luke 15:1-10

If I asked you what is the best way to respond to Jesus and his story of the missing sheep, how would you reply.  To start us thinking, let me tell you another parable, one that I believe unexpectedly relates to the challenge of Jesus’ story. This particular story is not one of the well known parables and from one certainly admittedly not from the Bible.

This story I now want to share might more correctly be called a myth and is about Moses and his flute. The Bible scholars here will know that at one stage Moses was a shepherd, and it is said that it was as a shepherd that Moses learnt to play the flute. And he was famous for it. The other shepherds would gather to listen to his beautiful music.

Well as you know, Moses also became a very significant leader and, when he died, the story has it that those who had followed him wanted to remember him in the best possible way. When they looked through the few possessions he had, they came across his flute. Just a plain looking wooden flute… Yes it was well made – and certainly one that produced beautiful notes – but perhaps a bit ordinary looking to celebrate the memory of such a great man.

But then one of his followers hit upon this great idea. He suggested they should pretty up the flute to honour Moses…transform it even.

So they called the silversmith and he set to his task using all his professional skill. He painstakingly coated the flute with silver and cut beautiful patterns into the shiny metal. And Moses’ followers loved the result. Then someone remembered the goldsmith who was also called …and being a true artist he found ways of working in the gold with the silver pattern, with pictures and filigree work and the final result was absolutely stunning.

Oh yes…..There was a slight catch. Because the finger holes were now much smaller and the wood no longer vibrated no-one could get a sound from it. Beauty yes…it was now A1… But Music? Forget it.

Now think of the history of what has happened to the message of Jesus, if you like the message is in effect the transforming music of Jesus. Today his melody is a simple story of the lost sheep to remind us that our fellowship, our meals …and I guess our friendship should be shared with everyone – and that we should make the effort to include even the lost or most undeserving.

Well history tells us that each Church has chosen different ways to decorate Jesus’ message. The setting includes ornate pulpits, impressive wall hangings and stained glass windows.  A beautiful lectern on which to place the impressive Bible.  Think of all those thoughtful prayers –yes- delivered on our behalf –maybe – but addressed to the Almighty God.

And yes, some who pray have chosen to allow themselves to be caught up with speaking in tongues, some wave their arms. At other churches some kneel while others sit head bowed, eyes shut. Some have to have their heads covered. Some Presbyterians process the Bible in at the beginning of the service. Some Anglican congregations stand for the gospel reading. Some ministers or priests improve the feeling of worship by scattering Holy water, or waving incense….and don’t get me wrong. All of these ways may well be ways of highlighting the message, and as such they are fine – except…..unless of course we were to have forgotten to listen to and act on the message about real life situations that we believe we are expecting in our prayers.

Remember if we were in effect to decorate the source of inspiration but then not respond to the message we might be missing what Jesus was teaching. Is it fair to ask if sometimes we finish up by acting as if there is no need to listen or to allow the message to affect our behaviour and response in our day to day world. Is that the equivalent of being like Moses’ followers in the flute story …..unintentionally guilty of stopping the tune being played.

This brings Jesus teaching into our present. Jesus should still disturb if we listen to the challenge of his parables. Like Jesus are we treating those who fall from grace as already being of value, and in particular of value to the point where we are happy to seek out their company – or are we perhaps like the nit pickers and fundamentalists of his day. In other words do we want the sinners to reform before we consider they are worth our time?

We can seem to have all the theoretical positions in the world, but the ultimate test is in acknowledging which parts we incorporate into our thoughts and actions. I guess part of the answer to how much we truly value in these parables is in who we are currently prepared to entertain, and in whose company we ourselves are found.

This is where we encounter the real bite in the story of the lost sheep.
So Jesus poses the question, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Well if your community is anything like mine, I would suggest the answer may well be….. practically no-one!

The lost in our day and age are often left lost. This is why the gap between the rich and the poor steadily grows. This is why prisoner rehabilitation is left woefully short of resources. This is why there has been diminishing Government support for anti-household-violence schemes and the lack of interest in accepting more refugees. The President of the United States has even pointed out that the recent hurricane refugees from the Bahamas need not assume the United States would offer a place of refuge. What does that say about self-claimed Christian leadership.

Child poverty in our own country of New Zealand has reached uncomfortable levels over the last few years and the international rates of slavery and child prostitution in many countries are showing no signs of diminishing. It must be admitted that at best these are only probable indicators of a prevailing disinterest in those who have lost their way. At the same time it would also be true that if there were more in our community caring about the lost we could be more confident that our society would be the happier for the concern.

There is a huge difference between our acknowledging Jesus’ words and actions by listening to such accounts read in our churches – and the alternative of bringing ourselves to the point where we share his ideals by our own actions. Luke portrays a Jesus who engages with the fundamental Jewish precept that Heaven and Earth are supposed to reflect one another as a whole. If we can only make the leap to realize that parable can also offer personal challenge then maybe we can find ways of living our response.

When we pay a visit to the town what we see depends on where we choose to look. In the same way, if we choose to stand looking at the word pictures of parables as mildly interesting portrayals of Jesus’ expressions of thought – that is exactly what we will see. If, on the other hand, we stand expectantly seeking guidance for our personal journeys in living the answers to the parables, we are far more likely to notice both their offence and their challenge. The choice of where to stand as always is ours.

We can find wisdom in unexpected places and I don’t k now if you have ever had the opportunity to dig into any of the Harry Potter books. Here is one perceptive quote: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Our question then of ourselves as we leave this service and get back to mixing with others is simply this. Where are we with our choices?

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