This is the sermon preached today at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York on the parable of the lost coin and our confusion concerning who is to clean …My apologies if the audio picked up the phone vibrating from an automated call even though the phone was on silent not vibrate…but you will benefit from listening to the sermon. The text below is my attempt to get at most of what I said, which is a good reason to listen. New audio link.
There are two basic strategies for finding something. The first is to remember your mom saying, “Where did you last have it?” That works when you have left something behind, but not when the thing has wandered away. The second is to clean the house. That is, if you know that was was lost is in the house somewhere then you clean the house until you find it. Today we are looking at the second of three parables Jesus tells with the theme of lost and found. In the first, one of the hundred sheep wandered off and the shepherd went and found it and then held a party. That one sheep was very valuable to a shepherd overseeing one hundred sheep. In the second parable the item lost is a coin – but Jesus raises the stakes for it is not one of one hundred but one of ten. So we will hear about a woman who only has ten silver coins to her name and when one wandered away – for when a coin goes missing it often rolls away – she cleaned the house to find that coin that was of great value to her. Because the parable is so short it is common to lump this one together with the previous one and preach on them both at the same time, but one reason I wanted to spend some time with this parable alone is that the common assumption about who needs to do the cleaning is wrong. (But before we reflect on what I mean by those mistaken expectations regarding who does the cleaning and really get to the heart of the matter, I will reinforce the lesson that Jesus taught us last week. Let’s begin by hearing Jesus speak to us these words and understand the purpose of the parable in its context. Jesus said,)
- This is the second of three parables that Jesus told in order to lead Pharisees to repent both for their grumbling about the lost being found and for their failure to seek the lost.
- This short parable showed the Pharisees that they were not like God for God seeks the lost and rejoices when the lost are found. The woman was like God. When her coin wandered away, she turned on the light (specifically a lamp, the modern equivalent being the flashlight) and cleaned the house and searched diligently until she found that coin and when she found it she held a party. Jesus showed us what God is like by seeking out the lost and having a party when the lost were found. But the Pharisees refused to call and receive sinners who had hit bottom and the Pharisees complained rather than rejoiced whenever such lost people were found. Remember the context of these parables, Luke 15:1-2 says that the tax collectors and “sinners” (a euphemism for prostitutes) were drawing near to Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes began grumbling that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. So like the previous parable, Jesus tells this one to lead Pharisees to repent both for grumbling rather than rejoicing over the salvation of the lost but also to lead them to repent for not searching for the lost. (Many of Jesus’ parables confronted the Pharisees. It is one of the best ways to confront someone with their sin. The Pharisees understood that they were the target of these parables, so they plotted to have Jesus killed instead of repenting. Indeed all of the parables Jesus told speak to what He was doing, is doing, or will do.)
- But this parable is not in Scripture simply to give us historical information about how Jesus clashed with the Pharisees and it led to His death for the sins of His people, it is in God’s word in order to lead us to turn from grumbling to rejoicing over salvation and to turn from shunning and shaming the lost to searching for the lost. The parable is a reminder that we all have rolled away from God like the coin. It is not as if there are 9 people in the whole world who haven’t rolled away from God. There is not even 1 person in the whole world today who didn’t roll away from God. Some of us rolled away to engage in socially unacceptable sins like prostitution or drug dealing and some of us rolled away to engage in socially acceptable sins – the sins of “righteous” people by judging ungodly sinners and by grumbling whenever someone says that Jesus came to save such ungodly sinners. Surely you can sympathize with the Pharisee about how hard it would be to join in a party for someone who had been a terrorist or sex trafficker, especially if a member of your family had been their victim. It is easy to hear about the Pharisees and to think, “Oh, those awful Pharisees,” but the reason that those stories are in there is that we too can be prone to the same things. But even if you don’t have a Pharisaical bone in your body and let’s say that for the sake of argument that you don’t, even still you roll away from God and His people whenever you sin and when He finds you then you rejoice. You constantly then can celebrate as God forgives you in Jesus’ name and you can praise God as others also are forgiven in Jesus’ name. (We celebrate all wins!). Moreover, as you have been freely forgiven you then are free to seek out that one who has rolled away in a major way and tell them, ‘Jesus loves you and forgives you.’ (So let me stretch the cleaning metaphor to get at the heart of the matter:…though I’m not actually stretching the metaphor as will be clear shortly)
- Jesus is sending you not to seek those who believe they can clean themselves up but to carefully seek and find the one who got far away from God and knows they cannot clean up themselves.
- Too often the assumption that people inside and outside the church have in common is that I need to clean up my life before I can come be with God and His people. You might not be ready to give up a sin that you know is wrong but enjoy doing, so you avoid God and His people like the plague. Or you might be caught in circumstances and not know how to climb out of the pit you have dug for yourself but be consumed by the effort to find a way to climb out of it. Yet in the parable it is not the coin that rolled away that cleans the house; it is the woman who is searching for the coin who cleans the house. The Pharisees thought that a tax collector or a prostitute needed to clean up their act before they could be worthy of God’s grace. (They had a different definition of grace than Jesus and His apostles’ did, they believed you had to be worthy of God’s grace and as such never would have thought to confess their unworthiness for His grace.) Thus they considered the lost coins in the house of Israel worthless and didn’t bother to clean the house of Israel to find them. (This is why I’m not stretching the metaphor – the Pharisees were put over the house of Israel to clean it by seeking out the lost. Instead, they considered the lost like the change that the woman walks out of the store and throws on the ground. True story.) But Jesus did not wait for people to clean up their act so that they might pretend to be righteous. Jesus sought out the lost coins in the house of Israel and when the word got out they started rolling toward Him in repentance – when the word got out they drew near to Jesus. And the word that got out wasn’t that you need to put on makeup (and new clothes) to be an actor pretending to be good; the word was, “You are forgiven your sins.” This is the same gospel you are hearing and that you are called to share. It is the gospel Jesus is sending you to share with the world. It isn’t the lost who need to clean but those who are already saved are the ones who clean. In other words, the lost and tarnished silver coins in the world today do not need to try to get the tarnish off before they can be with God and His people but instead God’s people are to clean the house we call the earth searching for the lost coins. (And yet we are still just scratching the surface, let’s go deeper.)
- This parable is about the transformation not only of your words to praise and of your actions to seeking the lost (outward transformation) but first about the reformation of your very hearts toward God and others. You contribute nothing to your salvation for Jesus sought you out when you were lost and unable and unwilling to find your way to be with God. Lost coins don’t just start rolling back to their owner. God gave you faith and repentance as free gifts. And faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. You heard the gospel. You believed and began following Jesus. Angels in heaven rejoiced. You are in that new creation, which means you can and want to replace grouchy grumbling (that belongs to your “old man”) with praise (fitting your being in the new creation) and slothfulness (that belongs to your “old man”) with joyful seeking the lost (for more and more to be made new). You also can and want to appreciate the helplessness of others who are still lost and have not been found. You have compassion for the lost as you no longer expect the unclean sinner to clean themselves up and become respectable so that they can come to church. The Pharisees felt no compassion for the lost and yet were themselves lost, but having been transformed by God you now have compassion for lost Pharisees and for lost prostitutes. And Jesus sends you to seek the lost prostitutes and find them to make lost Pharisees jealous because the lost Pharisees will want it too. But we cannot expect lost Pharisees or lost prostitutes to clean up this community, we are the ones who clean it up for we search carefully and joyfully for the lost coins of great value in it. May God give us whom He keeps finding more and more love and compassion for the lost that Jesus is sending us to seek this week.