September 22, 2019

Holy Cheetos!
Pentecost 15, Year C

Becky Robbins-Penniman

Sometimes, Jesus makes us work really hard to figure out what he’s saying.

The moral of the stories he tells in this passage is pretty obvious: there is joy in heaven when a sinner changes both heart and life. At first glance, who is causing all the trouble in the parable? Why, it’s that lost sheep and the pesky coin. So the lesson we’re to learn is don’t be getting ourselves all lost and making someone else clean up our mess, right? Change our heart and life and make God happy. How many of us have heard THAT sermon? How many have GIVEN that sermon?

Although there’s even some real truth in there, there’s one problem: It doesn’t make any sense in this parable; One reason it doesn’t make sense is because getting lost is not in and of itself a sin, it’s not necessarily selfishness. Yes, sometimes it’s an act of supreme stupidity, but sometimes it just happens. Blaming the sheep and the coin for getting lost looks a lot like blaming the victim. Another reason this parable doesn’t make sense is that the sheep and coin didn’t change one lick in this story. What on earth did that lost sheep do to change its heart and life? Absolutely nothing. It was just . . . lost.

All we know is that the shepherd left the other 99 in a pasture (which was not some cozy sheep pen, by the way, but the rugged hillsides of Israel in the remotest areas away from the cities). All the sheep were at the mercy of wild animals, and treacherous terrain, but that lost one was especially vulnerable. The shepherd leaves 99 sheep who aren’t lost to search in the wilderness. He finds the sheep and puts it on his shoulders, safe at last. The sheep did absolutely nothing to be found, only the shepherd did. Everyone goes home: a hard job well done.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He talks about how the shepherd feels. He feels tremendous joy – so much joy, he just has to share it with everyone he knows. All this joy over a lost sheep that did bupkis to make itself “worthy.” To drive the point home, Jesus tells the same story, only this time with a woman and a lost coin. Coins can’t do a darn thing to be lost OR found, and are even less capable than a sheep of having a change in heart and life. Like the shepherd, the woman calls everyone she knows to rejoice with her. Both stories in this parable are about the joy the shepherd and the woman feel when THEY go out and find what is lost.

Now, who do the shepherd and the woman represent in this parable? In case the Pharisees – or any of you – are tempted to deliberately miss the point, Jesus makes it clear that the shepherd and the woman symbolize God. There is joy in HEAVEN over one sinner – one lost person – being found. God lives in heaven, and in case we choose to be REALLY dense, Jesus throws in some angels, too…

For the full sermon text, click HERE.