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From Grumbling to Joy (Luke 15:1-10)

September 16, 2013

We live in a world of grumbling with so many kinds of conflict, hatred among people of different faiths, conflict among nations, and polarizations within our community. The problem is that grumbling leads us to separation and division so it is very hard to celebrate the life of community.

The central theme of two parables from today’s gospel passage is joy and celebration. God celebrates the repentance of ONE sinner. Both the shepherd and the woman in the parables rejoice when they find the lost sheep and the lost coin. And more than that, they call everyone together, friends and neighbors, to share in this rejoicing. It is a community celebration! How then do we build our community? We can build our community by finding something to celebrate as a community.

I’m sure that you may have heard many sermons from today’s passage, focusing on the theme “lost and found,” but it is a prophetic message which turns away from a life of grumbling toward a life of joy.

Who are the Pharisees and the scribes? In general, they are loyal in worship and people of prayer; they are generous people so they give their money to the poor, they honor the scripture and study it seriously; and they are people of strong faith. However, they are judgmental (Luke 5:21), hypocritical (Luke 11:41), indignant (Luke 13:14), and grumbling (Luke 15:2). In today’s gospel passage portrays, in particular, we can see that the Pharisees and the scribes have a problem with joy, and especially they have a problem with the joy that Jesus generates, joyfully eating and drinking with sinners and making celebration with tax collectors (See Thomas G. Long, “Is There Joy in God’s House”).

In contrast, the shepherd values the lost sheep, not the ninety-nine having carried the lost sheep home, giving a party inviting his friends and neighbors: “Rejoice with me, because I found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:6) The woman values, the lost coin, not the ten, giving a party inviting his friends and neighbors: “Rejoice with me, because I found the coin that I had lost.” (Luke 15:9) In both parables, joy comes from finding the lost coin, and joy has to do with friends and neighbors.

This comparison between two different groups is well expressed in today’s passage:

  • A group of grumbling and a group of joy and celebration,
  • A group of the righteous and a group of the sinners,
  • A group values the ninety-nine sheep and the ten coins and a group values the lost sheep and the lost coin,
  • A group of those who need no repentance and a group of those who repent.

Likewise the Pharisees and the scribes, the world tends to focus on the ninety-nine sheep, while God cares for the lost one. The world tends to grumble, while God celebrates. The world values power, wealth, money, success, and achievement, while God values grace, love, forgiveness, and weakness.

Jesus came to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Who are the lost ones in our community? It may be you or someone in our community. Notice that Jesus loves the lost one more than anything else. God turns our lives away from grumbling toward joy, from the hatred toward the love for the lost, from complaint toward the joyful friendship, and from hoarding toward sharing with one’s friends and neighbors. It is a life of discipleship which begins with repentance and embodies the love of God and the love of neighbor. Discipleship turns away from grumbling and toward a life of joy.” (Art Loss, “Luke 15:1-10,” Interpretation, 61/4 [2007]: 422-424)

Remember the Israel’s experience of forty years of wilderness? It symbolizes a spiritual school which teaches us to live as a joyful people from a grumbling people. There are so many things that the people of Israel have to make complaint: no water to drink, no food to eat, and they are sick of manna. But God invites us to the world of amazing grace, joy, and celebration as God invited the people of Israel. God actually REJOICES with the angels in heaven! Let us rejoice and celebrate for God is working to build our community! Let us give thank to God for God is searching for the lost ones! Amen.

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