A few weeks ago I was looking for something to watch on the television. Television is an escape for me; it is a chance for me to turn away from the world and get lost in period dramas, mysteries, the occasional documentary, etc. I was looking around, and I came across this program about farmers in Scotland. The premise of the show was quite simple, put cameras on the farm for a year and film what goes on.
Now, I am sure you all know that farming is not an easy life. Farmers are slaves to the weather, to time, and market prices for their produce. We have all witnessed the demise of the family farm here in the United States, and many of you know people who make their living farming in one way or another. Well, it is no different in Scotland.
Five farm families were profiled in the program; most of them raised livestock of one form or another; pigs, cows, and my favorite, sheep. Part of any farm enterprise is the next flock, litter, gaggle, whatever you call it, the next generation of the animal that you are raising. During birthing season, which can range from a few weeks to a few months depending on the size of the heard, the farmer and their crew get very little sleep. Most of the time, animals give birth with minimal complication, but there are always those few that are a problem.
Watching this program, I was amazed at the care the farmers, and others took with these animals. Part of it was their understanding that these animals are in their care and need to be looked after. But, the second part of it, these animals represented their income. Each of those animals, the giving birth and the one being born, represented revenue for them. After all, farming is business.
Jesus spoke in parables to explain the message he was trying to convey to people. Sometimes the message was clear, but most of the time, his listeners had to think about what he was saying. Today, we are blessed with a rather clear parable. Jesus is speaking about the immensity of God’s love for every human being.
But first, I would like to turn to the very start of the story we heard this morning from Luke’s Gospel.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” Luke 15:1-2
I had mentioned to you before how radical the message and mission of Jesus was, and there is no more explicit example them what we hear in the opening verses of the 15th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Understand that someone of Jesus caliber would not be in the same place, let alone sit at the table with tax collectors and sinners it just was not done. But here he is, once again, standing the world on its head and doing just that, gathering in those who have been cast off.
I find it interesting that the “Pharisees and teachers of the law” muttered, or murmured amongst themselves. This group of folks was the religious leaders, the pastors, and teachers of Jesus day and here they are, all dressed in their beautiful robes, they had probably just driven there in their brand new Lexus and flown in on their private jets, and they find out they have to sit with this crowd and they are not happy. It’s like going to Thanksgiving dinner and finding out you are seated at the kid’s table.
Jesus heard every word of this but chose not to engage. His teaching up to this point has been unambiguous, “no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Jesus has gathered his flock, the one’s cast out by others, and he is teaching them.
Jesus uses examples that they will understand. This is not a highly educated group, so Jesus has to speak plainly with them. Even though they might not be shepherds, they will understand what he is saying. So valuable is that one sheep, the shepherd will risk everything to go and find it if it strays off and rejoice when it is found. There is a similar story about the Prodigal Son returning, so happy was his father that he was home he threw an enormous party.
So desirous is God that we all should find our home with him that he does not put up stumbling blocks to prevent us from finding that home. Now, some believe that there should be all sorts of rules, and Jesus was one of them, and we all know his rule; love God, love neighbor. There are churches meeting today, maybe not far from here, where people are being excluded based on who you love, or the color of your skin, or how much money you have, or how you dress, or how your children act, or the language you speak. I am not sure how they can read the first two verses of the 15th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel and do that; “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.”
The most significant theological lie is that heaven, or whatever we want to call it, is an exclusive club and somehow, we here on earth, are the arbiters of who gets in and who gets cast out! Why do I call it a lie? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I read this say that the love of God is so deep and so wide, I think there is a hymn about that, but God’s love is so deep and so wide that he will stop at nothing, not even sacrificing his own son so that we will find our way home. Turn to the person on your right and say, “God loves you.” Now turn to the person on your left and say, “God loves you.” You just spread the Gospel!
Now, this might come as a shock to many of you, but there is no place in the teachings of Jesus where he says anything about believing in him or worshiping him, Jesus always points, to God. Who do we pray to, Our Father. Who do we love, God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And since we cannot define God, who are we to say that one’s person’s belief in God is not worthy of getting into heaven? When we do that church, we become the “Pharisee’s and teachers of the law” in this story.
Church, there is enough condemnation in this world, there is enough casting off of those who we believe do not fit the mold, there is enough hatred, to coin an old phrase, what the world needs now is love! And a coke, just to keep with the ancient social references of this sermon thus far.
If you are sitting here today and doubt that God loves you listen to this, the bottom line for this story, in fact, the bottom line in the entire Gospel is that God loves us just as we are and will stop at nothing to show us how deep and wide that love really is. If you are that one sheep that has gone astray, if you are the prodigal son, if you are the thief next to Jesus on the cross, if you are Peter who denied Christ three times, if you are Judas who betrayed Jesus, if you are the woman that was about to be stoned, or anything else, know that God loves you and cares for you deeply and waits for the day when you will be welcomed home. But until that time, please remember, you have a home here with us as imperfect as we are because we love you.