Sermon – 12 September 2004

As we read Luke?s gospel chunk by chunk each week at the moment, it is clear that there is a deteriorating relationship. Relations between Jesus and the Pharisees seem to get worse week by week.

He seems almost to be antagonistic to the Pharisees in everything that he says and does. He is rude to them at dinner parties. He scandalizes them by healing people on the Sabbath. And now he tells them stories to make them shaking their heads in horror.

Yes, horror. For the twin stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin are not just the lovely stories of celebration at rediscovered objects or property. They told the Pharisees something new about God. They told the Pharisees that God was not as they assumed God to be.

Is that what they do for us?

You see, Luke tells us of a Jesus who is a rather subversive story teller.

First of all, note that Luke, not for the first time, tells us an equally balanced pair of stories featuring both a man and a woman. Next time you hear someone being scornful of ?political correctness? remember that Jesus was into it. Well, if political correctness means that no-one should be left out of things, then this little pair of stories are just that.

Firstly by telling stories of men and women together, he challenges the idea that it is only men who are important.

But there is more, much more than this.

That in itself might have struck the Pharisees as being rather odd. However, there is more about these stories that is subversive than simply the fact that they are told about both and man and a woman.

You see, you have to think like the Pharisees. They would have been asking what kind of God Jesus was talking about. Surely, they would have expected him to speak of a God who was worthy of their devotion. A God who lived in temple-bound holiness. A God who received their offering of righteousness. A God who was, in fact, just like them. Keeping the rules. Keeping the universe on course by doing expected things. Rewarding the righteous. Casting out the unrighteous.

But no.

No. Jesus tells them that the God whom he preaches is, firstly a shepherd. To get the sense of this properly, I think that you have to imagine a chorus of Pharisees standing around and saying, rather like Lady Bracknell of a certain handbag, ?A Shepherd!?

Did Jesus really think of God like a shepherd. For in our romantic post agricultural age, we think of shepherds as being rather lovely pastoral figures. But the Pharisee?s would have said ?A shepherd! Did he really say that God was like a dirty shepherd?.

You see. Jesus places God?s action into the life of a dirty, poor shepherd. The shepherd were near the bottom rung of the social ladder. They were grubby and probably regarded as stupid. They were poor and probably not seen much about town. They were themselves outsiders.

And Jesus says ? God is like that. An outsider, looking to search out and rescue that which has been entrusted to him.

This is one of those occasions where Jesus is saying, if you want to know where God is active ? go to the unexpected ones. Go to the ones with no voice. Go to the ones whom you speak to even less often than you say your prayers. Go there and you will find God.

Well, the Pharisees cannot have liked that kind of story.

You can almost imagine them muttering. ?Tell us another one Rabbi? one of them might have said.

Well, says the teacher, ?Imagine, God is like a woman?.?

Oh no, another handbag moment.

We accept these parables as though they are simple stories that we all understand. Yet to their first hearers, they would have stuck in the mind for being completely outrageous.

And remember, that this chapter finishes with the story of the Prodigal sons. And a father receiving back a disgraced son who had ended up living with despised pigs.

You can imagine the Pharisees turning away in horror and disgust. One by one, turning their backs on the young preacher. Leaving him alone with his shocking stories and bad tempered tirades.

Or did they?

Perhaps his stories got through to some of them then as they still do to some people now. Perhaps this morning there are hearers of these stories who recognise the same kind of God that Jesus knew. A god who lives in unexpected lives and who searches in unexpected places and who causes all heaven to break into party mode when someone who has been lost and is found.

For the party is the completion of the parable. Each of the parables (including the Prodigal sons) ends with a party of one kind or another. And that which has been lost is celebrated as having been restored.

Sometimes, I think that it is the party that we have lost as much as anything. Have we lost a sense of celebration?

Let me finish with a story about the admission to communion service that happened here on Friday night.

I was trying to tease out from the new, young communicants things about the communion meal. We were looking at the table and the food and the wine and comparing it to a good meal at home. And I was asking questions, as I usually do in services like that.

And as I was about to get the children to set up the altar table for the communion, I asked, ?What do you do before having a meal at home?. The answer, I was rather naively hoping for was ?Set the table?. (Actually, I am not sure that I always set the table, and it now occurs to me that perhaps other people don?t either). Anyway, one small hand shot up. ?What do you do before having a meal at home?? I asked again.

The answer. ?Play?.

Now, that answer was better than mine.

For there is a sense in which the Eucharist is incomplete and unfinished without a sense of joy. Play should be a part of the experience. In that answer, I felt that something which had been lost of the communion service was restored to me.

So let us remember that our God is not always whom we think he is. He is found in unexpected places. God is not whom we think anyway. God searches us out when we are lost and afraid. And God expects us to respond, when we get together with prayer, praises and play. Amen.


  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon – 12 September 2004
    What a wonderful answer that child gave, “play”. As a therapist who uses play therapy I believe play to be very healing. I wholeheartedly believe that God wants all his children to play as well as work – both being done to praise Him.

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