24 Sunday C: Good Shepherd


Gospel reading: Luke 15:1-32 (Full Form)
perfect Jesus
Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments
Verses 1 to 3 give us an overall picture of the kind of person Jesus was – and thus an image of God.
We follow that path in our meditation: we recognise and celebrate human beings who were images of Jesus for us, and allow them to reveal God to us.

In meditating on these verses, we are free to identify either
(a) with Jesus: who are the great people who draw the outcasts and are criticized for it?  or
(b) with the “tax collectors and sinners:” when were we deeply touched at being
welcomed by someone we looked up to? or
(c) with “the scribes and Pharisees”: when did we criticize a member of our community
for associating with people we considered “tax collectors and sinners”?
We must enter into the literary form of the parables, experiencing them as dramatic, imaginative stories, so that we can  identify with the characters at the feeling level.
The two parables are complementary in that the “seeker” is male in the first parable and female in the second. Both are wonderfully portrayed as well-rounded persons, however – no stereotyping here. The shepherd is very tender, the woman efficient and business-like.
Though the “seekers” are the main characters, we can be imaginative enough to identify with the lost sheep or the lost coin.
Mystery of GodDon’t hurry your meditation. Linger over the two movements. The search first, the feeling of being lost on the one hand, the frantic search on the other. Then there is the moment of finding, which can also be
meditated on from the perspective of either the finder or the found. Both parables stress that the joy is
not private but poured out and shared with the whole community.
In the well known poem “Footprints”, a man dreams that as he walks through life, there are two sets of
footprints behind him – except at those times when he feels lost. He questions the Lord who replies: “During your times of trial, there is only one set of footprints, because at those times I carried you.”
great rejoicing“There is greater rejoicing… ” In the gospels Jesus always seems to prefer sinners to the just.
We must not try to understand this (or explain it) rationally. Jesus invites us to follow the parable way,
remembering our experience as parents or teachers.
Like every loving parent, God loves his children equally and always, but he knows that there are times
when they feel “lost”, and are in greater need of care and reassurance than the others.
The sheep that was lost had broken away from the herd, symbolizing those who take risks, dare to
question, to seek new ways.  The “ninety-nine who have no need of repentance” are the complacent, they do not trust enough to take risks. They do not get lost but they achieve nothing either. No wonder there
is “greater rejoicing” over “the lost”. Experience teaches us too that those who think they have it all do
not learn. We know the  paradox: we can only be found when we are lost.

Scriptural Reflections Prayer
Lord, we remember times when we found ourselves in company
where we felt out of place:
– poor in a wealthy home
– young in the company of adults
– our first day at work and we were lonely and alienated
– something we had done came to light making us feel ashamed of ourselves
– a conversation was way above our heads.
You sent someone like Jesus who gave us a warm welcome
and made us feel at home, ate with us, conversed with us as equals,
just as important as the scribes and Pharisees who were around.
Lord, forgive us for the times when we are content
to remain with those of our social class, race, religion, academic world.
We thank you for people who break out of these narrow confines
and mix freely with those whom we tend to ignore.
Our first response is to be surprised even angry, to complain.
We recognise now that it is Jesus among us.
The sheep may be lost in fog or wandering aimlessly but the shepherd is always in search of it. No matter how desperate our plight, we may always rely on the love which will never tire of seeking us out, whatever may be the burden of sin or guilt we carry.”      Cardinal Basil Hume
Lord, we thank you for the times when we feel we are failures,
not worthy of being loved,
we withdraw from those closest to us, lost in self-pity,
like a sheep wandering around the hills,
or a coin on the floor hidden in the dust,
and you send us people who seek us out
– spiritual directors, parents, teachers, friends.
They leave their ninety-nine other preoccupations and give us their undivided attention,
take our burdens on themselves, like a shepherd taking a lost sheep on his shoulders.
They seem so happy to be with us
that we feel we are more important to them
than all those who never gave them any trouble.
Lord, these people reveal to us how you love us.
Lord, we are so afraid of taking risks,
of being separated from the rest of the flock, of getting lost.
Fear is the reason why we find it difficult
– to forgive those who have hurt us;
– to reach out to those of a different race or ethnic group;
– to explore new ways of prayer;
– to commit ourselves to a new relationship.
Remind us that we can trust life, people, you in the last resort.
Even if we get lost, you always send someone, a word, to come after us,
even if this means leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness.
repenrentLord, we thank you that you understand us parents.
You know how we fuss over the one child who is always in trouble
like a woman who has lost her money and lights a lamp
and sweeps out her house, searching thoroughly until she finds it.
Our other children complain that we are always leaving them in the lurch
and going after the one who is missing.
But it is not that we don’t love them equally;
we would do the same for every one of them.
It is just that, here and now, we feel more joy over the one child we can bring back
than over the others who are safe.
People who are ruled by logical argument, like the Pharisees and the scribes,
cannot understand – but you do,
and all of us who have experienced love.
Lord, our world is run by cold, calculating logic,
so that losing one sheep is of little importance
if we have ninety-nine others in the wilderness;
and it is  not worth lighting a lamp, sweeping out the house
and searching thoroughly for one drachma out of ten.
You want us build a different world,
founded on love,
where there is more rejoicing over one repentant person
than over ninety-nine virtuous ones who have no need of repentance,
and great rejoicing among your angels over one person who was lost and is now found.
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Thomas O’Loughlin,

Introduction to the Celebration
Each of us can stand here because the Lord has sought us out and forgiven us. We call Jesus is ‘our saviour’, but we could just as easily call him ‘our pardon’ or ‘our reconciliation’ or ‘the One who reveals the Father’s love to us’. Now we gather to join with Jesus in offering thanks to the Father for his love, and to grow in our awareness of how we are sought out and welcomed home by the Christ.

Gospel Notes
The three parables are part of the basic memory of Christians about the content of the good news, so much so that we could go so far as to say that if someone did not have these stories in his/her store of memory, then they would be deprived of some of the keys to how Christians view God. So it is important that people hear these together as Luke preached them, but also hear their subtle differences: the first two stories are addressed to the cause of the welcome the Jesus offered sinners:
Repentant sinnerThere is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over the majority which have no need for repentance, while the third story is directed at the sense of indignation of those who feel that it is their constancy rather that the repentance of those who have strayed that de­serves reward. Pausing for a second after the introductory verses, then after the first two parables, and then finally reading the verses, from ‘He was angry’, in a slower and more mournful tone, can help hearing these differences.

The shorter version of the today’s gospel
Given the importance of all three stories, and because Luke in­tended them to be appreciated as a unit, it is regrettable that the compliers of the Lectionary offered this inappropriate shorter version. If time is that pressing a feature of the assembly, then jettison in this order: 1 the second reading; 2 the psalm; 3 the homily; 4 ask why bother celebrating if people are confusing the Eucharistic Banquet with so-called ‘Fast Food’.


Homily notes
1. Given that these parables are only found in one gospel, it is a tribute to their immense power as stories that they have been central to Christian imagination down the centuries. When we remember that the only stories or incidents from the time of Jesus’s public ministry that are equally well remembered are the Good Samaritan story (Lk 10) and the Zacchaeus inci­dent (Lk 17) – and these too are only found in Luke – we get an insight into one of the key messages of Luke’s preaching. God is mercy, God is forgiveness, God is reconciliation, God is peace, and God is love.
2. And when we gather as Christians, this is clearly something we want to hear: we desire mercy, forgiveness, a fresh start, and a welcome home. How we know that we want to hear it is the way we listen and react to this gospel.
3. That leaves us with a question: if this is a central message of Jesus – and it is – why is it not a message that people who are not Christians link with Christianity? This discrepancy be­tween ‘our core-message’ and ‘perceptions of us’ reveals something very important to us. Jesus not only came to re­veal the Father’s love, but sent us his Spirit so that we would become agents of reconciliation. He came to bring us peace, but called us to become peacemakers. He came to seek out the lost, but calls us to welcome the outcasts and the poor. The message of the gospel is forgive lovealways two-sided: he reconciles us, we must reconcile others. Jesus is the centre of reconcili­ation in the universe; his followers must be little local centres of reconciliation throughout the universe. Alas, we are better at seeking reconciliation for ourselves than being reconcilers; better at wanting peace than being peacemakers; happier at being welcomed home than offering a welcome to the stranger.
4. Where can we see this two-sided message of reconciliation in a nut-shell? In the ‘Our Father’: we pray ‘forgive us as we for­give those who trespass against us: Yet we are very quick to think of how we need to ask God for his forgiveness; how often do we think of our need to reconcile others?
5. We have just read three stories about the nature of God; but they are also challenges to our nature.
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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes
We have already heard the story of the Prodigal Son this year (in Lent) so why again? The simple answer is that we can’t hear it enough, for the image of God that is put to us here is one that we do not easily believe in. While it may be the best known of Jesus’ parables it is frequently thought of as being a story for sinners to persuade them to repent. However, in its context in ch 15 of Luke the story is told by Jesus to the Pharisees who are grumbling and complaining about him keeping company with such people. The parable is as much about the relationship between the father and the older brother. He is the one who feels hard done by and is probably the person that most of us would identify with in the story. We like the idea of a merciful God but we get upset when that mercy is shown to those we consider undeserving.



Reflection
forgive themThe gospel and readings for today all point us in the direction of the mercy of God that this wonderful parable celebrates. The temptation of the Israelites in the wilderness was to forget the God of the Covenant who wanted them to go forward in faith, and to opt rather for the familiar religions which appeared to offer security and prosperity. These readings are a reminder that the story of biblical faith is not one of riches and prosperity for those who believe but one of developing a loving trust in the God who wants us to walk in his ways and who lifts us up when we fall.

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4. Donal Neary S.J.
No accidents of birth
The lost coin was a precious coin to the lady in question in the gospel. The coin would have been part of her dowry which with the other nine coins would have been made into a crown she wore on her head. So all could see now that her crown was flawed and a bit of mockery and fun might follow Jesus knew when he told the story that it would reach the heart.
He would also know that people might make the connection – as every coin was essential to the crown, so we are all valued and essential to God. There are no accidents of birth, and nobody excluded from the promise of life forever with God.
God loves us this much
The woman would go to great efforts to find the lost coin. Jesus went to great efforts to save each of us, even to crucifixion and death. We are worth the death of God, and are now the joy of God’s fife, like a child to a parent, and like the joy of friends to each other.
Even the first reading has God loving his people with heartfelt love. He is angry with them for a while but this anger is mixed with love and his love wins in the end. ,
The love of God is an active love, reaching to us in mercy and forgiveness, always building ,us up. This searching for all his people in mercy is the most characteristic quality of God, if we can put it so humanly. We are all children – on each birth and baptismal certificate, we can write a second father’s name – God!
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From The Connections:

THE WORD:
The three “parables of the lost” in chapter 15 are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Luke wrote his Gospel at a time when the Christian community was embroiled in a great controversy: many Jewish Christians were indignant that Gentiles should be welcomed into the Church without first embracing the traditions and laws of Judaism.
In these three parables, we enter God’s world: God communicates the depth of his love in his unconditional and complete forgiveness; his mercy breaks through and demolishes all human restrictions.  The Pharisees could not imagine a God who actually sought out men and women, a God who is more merciful in his judgments than we are, a God who never gives up hope for a sinner.
Today's Gospel reading of chapter 15 includes three parables:

The parable of the lost sheep:  Shepherding demanded toughness and courage – it was not a job for the weak and fearful.  Responsible for every sheep in his charge, a shepherd was expected to fight off everything from wild animals to armed poachers.  Shepherds often had to negotiate the rugged terrain of the wilderness to rescue a lost sheep.  Like the responsible shepherd, God does whatever is necessary to seek out and bring back to his loving providence every lost soul.

The parable of the lost coin:  Finding a small silver coin in a dark, dusty, dirt-floored Judean house was nearly impossible, but so great was the value of any coin to the poor that a woman would turn her poor hovel inside out in search of such a lost treasure.  So great is the value of every soul in the sight of God that he, too, goes to whatever lengths necessary to find and bring back the lost.

The parable of prodigal son:  This is probably the most inaccurately titled story in all of literature.  Jesus’ tale is really about the great love of the prodigal’s father, who forgives his son and joyfully welcomes him home even before the son can bring himself to ask.  The father’s joy stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s brother, who cannot even bring himself to call the prodigal his “brother” -- in confronting his father, he angrily refers to the brother as “this son of yours.”  But the father is a model of joyful reconciliation that Jesus calls his disciples to seek in all relationships.
What is striking in the three stories is the joy experienced by the shepherd who finds the lost lamb, the woman who recovers the missing coin, the father who welcomes home his wayward son. 

HOMILY POINTS:
The most extraordinary element of Jesus’ teaching is the revelation of a God who loves each and every one of us uniquely and individually, as a parent loves his/her most beloved child.  God’s love for us is eternally forgiving, constantly inviting, never limited or conditional. 
Our God is a God of inclusion – yet we sometimes make him a God of exclusion, excluding from our own presence those we deem as unworthy or unfaithful to be included among “God’s people.”
To forgive as Christ forgives is impossible to do on our own:  It calls for a spirit of humility, a generosity, a spirit of compassion that is beyond most of us.  But we are not called by Christ to create forgiveness on our own.  God has already forgiven, we are being asked to participate in God’s gift of forgiveness that surrounds every one of us.
Grace is the experience of God’s complete and unconditional love in our lives.  Sometimes we experience grace in the support and love of generous family and friends – and sometimes we are the agents of such grace, giving and doing whatever is necessary for the good of another, refusing to give up our search to find the lost and bring back those from whom we have been separated
In the three parables in today’s Gospel, Christ challenges each one of us to the hard work of repairing broken relationships, of restoring community in the wake of division and dysfunction. 

‘My shepherd is my D.R.E. . . . ’
Every parish religious education direction knows at least one family who is perpetually lost — the parents who never read any of the materials sent home, who always seem to “lose” their child’s class schedule, who are just too overwhelmed with work, class and sports schedules to make it to Mass on Sundays as their family.  The D.R.E. spends as much time following up with visits and telephone calls to this one family as is spent organizing the entire program for the other 300 or 400 or however many other families involved in the program; the child’s teacher devotes more time helping their unprepared child grasp that week’s lesson than with the other children in the class combined.
The D.R.E. reaches a point where he or she wants to write them off and move on without them.  Why do they bother if it means so little to them?  Why do I bother if it means so little to them? the D.R.E. wonders, quite understandably.
But the moment does come when the “lost” is “found” — when the child comes to understand — really understand — how much God loves us, that the child’s First Communion or First Confession becomes a moment of conversion for the whole family, when the parents come to appreciate what the D.R.E., the teachers and the parish community do for them.
Dealing with the “lost families’ is frustrating, aggravating and, yes, unfair and unjust.  But, through the grace of God, they are “found.”  It is an experience of great joy for the family — and for the D.R.E. and the teachers.

We all have “lost” sheep in our lives — well, if not lost, often “misplaced.”  They demand more love, take more of our time, usurp more of our energy and capacity to care than they are reasonably entitled to.  They anger us, frustrate us, sometimes reject us.  But Jesus asks us to “hang in” there with them, not to reject them or forget them or move on without them, because they are still worth it.  Such difficult love is but a taste of the great love of God for all of us.  Christ promises us the grace and strength to keep seeking the lost among us and rejoice in their recovery, their conversion, their “being found.”
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The first reading from the book of Exodus reminds us of the folly and infidelity of the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land, while it also reminded them of God’s unbounded fidelity.  By wanting to have for themselves a God conveniently at hand –the golden calf, –the Israelites, just like the prodigal son, left their God and Father who had begotten them at the Exodus from Egypt. But God does not abandon them. When Moses pleads on their behalf, God remembers his promises. His grace and his pardon will always be greater than the sins and the unfaithfulness of his children.

‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’
In her novel Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, author Rumer Godden tells an intriguing tale. The heroine of the story is Lise an English army girl who falls on hard times and becomes a prostitute after the liberation of Paris in World War II. Within a short time, she becomes the leading Madame in one of Paris’ smartest brothels owned by a man named Patrice. But Patrice soon tires of Madame Lise as his mistress and she is humiliated. In trying to help a younger prostitute escape from the same fate she suffered, Lise shoots and kills Patrice. So she is sent to prison where she meets the French Dominican Sisters of Bethanie. This is a Community dedicated to serving whores, drug addicts and vagrants; some of the sisters were once themselves such unfortunates. Lise becomes one of the Sisters of Bethanie. -Sister Lise is a prototype of the lost sheep and the lost coin in today’s gospel, reminding us that God’s grace is greater than our sins.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells three parables. A shepherd seeking his lost sheep, a woman seeking her lost money, a father patiently awaiting the return of his son: the three are figures of the Father of mercy. Despite the length of today’s gospel, and the amount of material in it, there is only one message, i.e. God wants us to turn and to return to him. We belong to him and he knows that we cannot find happiness apart from him. The message of the entire Gospel can be summarized in the story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus was on this earth for thirty-three years. However, if he were here for just three minutes, he could have told us this story. There is always a hug waiting for us at the end of the journey home. The father’s welcome is extraordinary.  It is interesting to note that the father ordered sandals for his feet. Sandals were worn only when people went on a journey. Giving his son sandals was telling him that he was free to leave again, should he decide to do so. Our Father’s arms are open wide to give us the freedom to leave anytime we desire and to remind us that we are always welcome!

Missing Page
A teacher asked her class to rewrite the parable of the lost sheep in a way that would make sense to the rest of the class. One student wrote: Suppose you had just finished typing a 100-page term paper. You had worked long hours in drafting it. You were exhausted but deeply relieved that the job was finished. You were collecting the papers to staple them, and bind them when you discovered that there was one page missing. Imagine the horror, the panic, the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. You drop the other 99 pages, and begin the anxious search. Everything in you is longing and aching for the sight of the missing page. Without that page the whole project falls limp. Suddenly, there in the corner, is the page. You excitedly push the chair aside, sending the 99 pages on it flying in all directions, and you are on your knees, reaching into the corner to touch and to grasp that page.”
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

Somebody’s Son
There is this runaway boy, named David, sitting by the side of the road, writing a letter home to his mother. The letter expresses the hope that his old-fashioned father will forgive him and accept him again as a son. The boy writes: “Dear Mom, In a few days I’ll be passing our property. If dad will take me back, ask him to tie a white cloth on the apple tree in the field next to our house.” Days later David is seated on a train. It is rapidly approaching his home. Two pictures flash back and forth in his mind: the tree with a white cloth tied on it and the tree without a cloth tied on it. As the train draws nearer and nearer, David’s heart beats faster and faster. Soon the tree will be visible around the bend. But David can’t bring himself to look at it. He’s afraid the white cloth won’t be there. Turning to the man next to him, he says nervously: “Mister will you please do me a favour? Around this bend on the right, you’ll see a tree. Tell me if there’s a white cloth tied to it.” As the train rumbles past the tree, David stares straight ahead. Then in a quaking voice, he asks the man, “Mister, is a white cloth tied to one of the branches of the tree?” The man answers in a surprised tone of voice: “Why, son, there’s a white cloth tied to practically every branch!”
Richard Pindell

ST
There is a story told about two brothers who were convicted of stealing sheep. They were each branded on the forehead with the letters ‘ST’ – Sheep Thief. One brother immediately ran away from the area and attempted to build a new life in a foreign land. Even there, people asked him about the strange letters on his forehead. He wandered restlessly and eventually, unable to bear the stigma, took his own life. The other brother took a different approach. He said to himself, “I can’t run away from the fact that I stole sheep. But I will stay here and win back the respect of my neighbours and villagers.” As the years passed, he built a reputation of integrity for himself. One day, a stranger saw the old man with the letters branded on his forehead. He asked a citizen of the town what the letters stood for. The villager replied, “It happened a great while ago. I’ve forgotten the particulars, but I think the letters are an abbreviation of ‘Saint’.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

“I almost sold your Son for a quarter”
Several years ago, a preacher from out-of-state accepted a call to a church in Houston, Texas. Some weeks after he arrived, he had occasion to ride the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change. As he considered what to do, he said to himself, “You’d better give the quarter dollar back. It would be wrong to keep it.” Then he thought, “Oh, forget it, it’s only a quarter dollar. Who would worry about such a small amount? Anyway, the bus company gets too much as it is; they will never miss it. Accept it as a gift from God and keep quiet.” But when his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door; then handed over the quarter dollar to the driver and said, “Here, you gave me too much change.” The driver smiled and replied, “Aren’t you the new preacher in town?” “Yes” he replied. “Well” said the driver, “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do, if I gave you too much change. I’ll see you in Church on Sunday.” When the preacher stepped off the bus, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, “Oh God, I almost sold out your Son for a quarter dollar.”
J. Valladares in ‘Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life’

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ILLUSTRATIONS

Fr. Tony Kadavil:

 1: Prodigal son’s prodigal father:
He was a rebel, a college drop-out, a carouser, and a partier. He smoked, he drank Johnnie-Walker, he was a brawler, and had more run-ins with the law than you would care to count. By his own admission, he was the quintessential prodigal son. But now he stands to succeed the most respected, admired, and perhaps famous American of the twentieth century, Billy Graham. His name is Franklin Graham. Today Franklin Graham not only has a tremendous, benevolent ministry called The Samaritan Purse, and meets needs all over the world, but he is now preaching the gospel just as his dad did, to thousands and thousands of people. He is where he is today because he had a father who made sure the door was always open for his prodigal son. 

2: Miraculous rescue of Jessica McClure:  
For two days in October of 1987, not just a community, not just a state, not just a nation, but the entire world was watching with bated breath the drama of an eighteen-month-old little girl named Jessica McClure who had fallen twenty-two feet through an eight-inch opening in an oil pipeline at a day-care center. For fifty-eight solid hours over two and a half days, drilling experts, highway construction equipment, pneumatic drills, special air vents, high pressure hydraulic drills, were expended in an unbelievable Herculean effort to rescue this one little girl. When she was finally pulled from that hole, an entire world cheered. Despite the size and diversity of the United States, the drama of Baby Jessica's being lost and found touched hearts nationwide. Every parent hugged his/her own child a little tighter. For just a moment in time, one lost little girl became lost to each of them. And when everyone's child, Baby Jessica, was found at last, an entire nation rejoiced. In today's gospel text, Jesus has the audacity to suggest to his audience, especially those surly, grumbling Pharisees and scribes, that this is the kind of rejoicing that goes on in heaven every time a sinner repents.  

 3. “They are all busy:”
There's an old, old story, that I think is still funny. The phone rings and a little boy answers in a whisper: "Hello?" The caller says: "Hi, is your Mommy there? "Yes!" "Can I talk to her?" "No!" "Why not?" "She's busy." "What about your Daddy, can I talk to him?" "No! He's busy." "Well, is there anyone else there?" "My little sister." "Is there anyone else there? Another adult?" "Uh, huh. The police." "Can I talk to one of them?" "No, they're busy." "Is there anyone else there?" "Yes, the firemen." "Can I talk to one of them?" "No, they're busy, too." Caller: "Good heavens, your whole family's busy, the police and fire departments are there and they're busy! What's everybody doing?" The little boy giggled and whispered: "They're looking for me." Today's passage of Scripture is about searching and finding. And that's an old story that illustrates the frantic nature of people who have lost something and are in search of it. 
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Andrew Greeley:

Background:

 This story should be called the parable of the indulgent father. The man is really quite  insanely good. He has these two miserable rotten sons and he loves them beyond all reason. The one who leaves home is not only a spendthrift and a lecher, he is a faker, a phony and a liar. He has no interest in his father’s love, only in his own comfort. He plans to return to his father, feed him a cock and bull story about his sorrow and then collect the good life that he so foolishly left behind. Does the father know the son is a fraud? How can he help but know it. The young man has been trying to play these games all his life. Yet the father embraces him and cuts short his dishonest plea for pardon. The other son is mean, narrow, rigid, resentful, as ungenerous as his father is generous. But the father loves him too and promises him all his possessions. 

 As we ponder the story, we wonder why the father puts up with either of these unsavory characters. The answer? He loves them both. He loves them so much that his behavior is crazy by human standards. Any human father who so spoiled his children would be dismissed as daft. But that’s the way God loves us.
Story:
Once upon a time there was a mother who had twins when her next oldest was a senior in high school. She was surprised but happy. She loved all her children. The twins were so cute and so lively that she figured they’d keep her young. Alas for her, the twins were monsters. They fought with one another, they fought with other children. They lied, they stole, they broke things deliberately. Whenever they outnumbered another child they beat up on that child and then told their mother than the other kid had started the fight. They never studied in school. They tormented all their teachers, they were mean and nasty to their parents and to every other adult they encountered, including their older brothers and sisters.  
 They started drinking in sixth grade, and smoking pot in eighth grade. Their mother and father did their best but they simply could not control the two adorable but vicious little hellions. Neither could anyone else. The summer they were fourteen, they stole their father’s Benz and destroyed it totally. They ended up in the hospital where they made life miserable for the nurses and the doctors.  
 The parish priest suggested to their mother that she send them off to boarding school. (He thought that they should go to a place which had barbed wire and cut glass on their walls.) But, no the mother said, I would miss them so much if they weren’t home with us.  
Why asked the priest? Because I’m their mother and I love them.
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The Gospel reading begins with these words: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:1-2)
That is the framework for all that follows in chapter fifteen: the story of a shepherd and his sheep, of a widow and her coins, of a man and his two sons. It is important to remember the situation which prompted Jesus to tell these stories and to ask - "whom do I identify with in this situation?" That's what we do when we read a novel or watch a movie. We tend to identify with someone in it. So, which group or character do you identify with in today's gospel reading?  
With Jesus, the good guy, who tries to straighten out the religious folks? Who calls into question all they believe? Who reaches out and loves everyone, especially the most unloved?  
With the Pharisees, the ones who rightly saw the dangers of too close an association with the "wrong crowd." For what parent has not worried about a child falling in with the "wrong crowd"? But here the Pharisees go beyond looking out for people. They are convinced that they and they alone understand God and man's relationship to Him. They are right and no one else. 
With the tax collectors and sinners, those traitors, the tax collectors who worked for the Romans, robbing their own people? With the sinners, the people of the land who never attended synagogue and seemed to lack even basic morality?
1. Which one are you?
2. What ought we to do?
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The gospel is not a tablet of ink, but a table of food around which everyone is invited to sit down together and eat, drink and dream -- for tomorrow we act.  
A few weeks ago we marked the fiftieth anniversary (1963-2013) of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. The power of that proclamation, the timely words of one man spoken at the one right moment before the enormous crowd gathered before the Lincoln Memorial, provided the "tipping point" for the civil rights movement and for decades of legal and social changes to come. The power of one man at one moment, the potency of that one speech, was a beacon of change and hope for the nation and the entire world.  
But it almost didn't happen. King was determined to keep his remarks brief that day. Toward that end he had a carefully written out speech that was to go no more than ten minutes. At the end of nine minutes King was done with his script and the crowd was still waiting for . . . something.  
Then from behind him came a stage-whispering voice. It was the magnificent, soul-stirring voice of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Like a kid tugging on a parent's coattails, Jackson leaned forward and urged Dr. King to "go on," to keep talking. "Tell them about your dream, Martin," her voice insisted. "Tell them about your dream."  
So King did. He cut away from his text, went off-script and climbed into history as he spoke from his heart and soul. King's "dream" became the dream and desire of generations to come. Mahalia's one voice told Martin to "change his plan." Martin's one voice then told the people to "change the world." One speech changed the world. One person changed the world...
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2.     We Have All Been Lost 
A marine tells about a field exercise he was participating in at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His squad was on a night patrol making their way through some thick brush. Halfway through, they realized they'd lost their map. The patrol navigator informed the rest of the squad that their odds were 1 in 359 that they'd succeed in getting back to their base of operations.   
"How did you come up with that figure?" someone asked, "one chance in 359?"
"Well," he replied, "one of the degrees on the compass has to be right."
Those marines were lost. One chance in 359 is not very good. Fortunately it was just a training exercise, but they were lost just the same. We've all been lost at one time or another. That's part of the human condition.  
King Duncan, www.Sermons.com
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3.      Lost and Found  
Everyone has lost something at one time or another. There is even a website complete with mobile app, www.lostandfound.com, that acts as a global 'lost and found' box. Users can report items missing and users can report items found. It is a good example of how technology can help people connect in a useful way. This is a gateway site for all of the physical things that can be retrieved and returned to their rightful owners. According to their statistics, about twice as many objects have been reported lost as have been reported found in the U.S. So, the site's users are losing things at twice the rate they are finding them.  
Haven't we all had the experience of losing things that we know deep down we will never recover? Depending on the situation, we can feel disappointed, heartbroken, hopeless, or simply discouraged by our own inability to keep up with things. Isn't it a wonderful relief to know that we will never fall into the 'Lost Forever' category? Isn't it reassuring to know that God will never give up on us? Let us include a word of thanks in our prayers this week to acknowledge how grateful we are for that kind of gracious love.  
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4.     Is Your Church a Museum or Mission? 
An inner city church, located in an area of the downtown where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the church to move to another part of the inner city where they would find many more people to serve. Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. Denominational history had been made in that building, and some of the grand figures of the church had passed its portals.  
Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to a new building in a teeming inner-city neighborhood. The pastor who was with this congregation through all this upheaval said, "We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission." They couldn't have it both ways. It meant either staying on their site, glorying in their past history and serving a few people, or giving up their past and gearing themselves to a significant ministry among the city's people. They opted for mission status over museum status.
Something of this same struggle is indicated in this scripture passage. The Pharisees and scribes came down on the side of museum religion. They wanted attention given to those who were stable, pious and not a liability if invited to the country club. Theirs was a "let's have our synagogue programs be for us dependable, like-minded types," as some present-day church-growth advocates. Jesus disappointed them by insisting that the issue was one of mission: to reach out to those who needed great mercy, lessons in etiquette, social graces, and perhaps a bath. Paying attention to these "lost" persons would change the comfortable fellowship the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed at the synagogue, to say nothing of putting a dent into its budget.
Wallace H. Kirby, If Only..., CSS Publishing Company.
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5.     God Loves Me  
There is a wonderful story about Maya Angelou. She is an active member now of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. She wrote that years ago when she first came to San Francisco as a young woman she became sophisticated. She said that was what you were supposed to do when you go to San Francisco, you become sophisticated. And for that reason she said she became agnostic. She thought the two went together. She said that it wasn't that she stopped believing in God, just that God no longer frequented the neighborhoods that she frequented.
She was taking voice lessons at the time. Her teacher gave her an exercise where she was to read out of some religious pamphlet. The reading ended with these words: "God loves me." She finished the reading, put the pamphlet down. The teacher said, "I want you to read that last sentence again." So she picked it up, read it again, this time somewhat sarcastically, then put it down again. The teacher said, "Read it again." She read it again. Then she described what happened. "After about the seventh repetition I began to sense there might be some truth in this statement. That there was a possibility that God really loves me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew if God loved me, I could do wonderful things. I could do great things. I could learn anything. I could achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person, with God form a majority now."
Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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6.     Which Color Would You Be?  
Ralph Milton tells of the teacher who, for reasons of her own, asked the kids one day, "If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which color would you be?"  
Think about it. What color would you be? Red or Green? It is a tough question isn't it when you pose only two options.  
One very wise child answered the teacher: "Striped"  
The reason I am going on about this point is simple. It seems to me that in the frame of the story - everyone but Jesus is striped. It is the same in the world today. We are a curious combination of the lost and the found. We are striped. We are, in some sense, not completely complete. It is hard language, this language of lost and found, especially for folks in the middle, as most of us are most of the time. It seems too absolute.  
Rarely are we completely lost. And rarely are we completely found. There is always a part of us that needs to be dragged and cajoled into the light, and there is always a part of us that is already there in the light. For some it is more and for some it is less, but always some part.  
The wonderful thing is - that God wants us to enter fully into the light. The wonderful thing is that God wants to bless us all richly to keep us safe, to make us strong, to help us be like a Shepherd who really cares for his sheep, or like a poor widow who really values all her coins. 
Richard Fairchild, Seeking the Lost
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7.     The Church Is No Place for Joy  
In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother's handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway said, "Stop grinning! You're in a church!" With that, she gave him a belt on his hind side and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, "that's better," and returned to her prayers. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God, the God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.
Erma Bombeck
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8.     It Is a Big Ocean  
H.H. Staton in his book, "A Guide to the Parables of Jesus" tells the story of having been on an ocean liner headed to the Middle East.
Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the liner drew closer, the passengers saw that the boat - a small sloop flying a Turkish flag - had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer or immature navigation the small vessel had become lost. For nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place remarked aloud to himself - "It's a big ocean to be lost in."
It is a big universe to be lost in, too. And we do get lost - we get mixed up and turned around. We despair, we make mistakes, we do evil to each other. We deserve the wrath of God and that is what the Pharisees who criticized Jesus maintained. But Jesus understood God more. He knew God as a Shepherd in search of the one lost sheep. He knew God as a woman searching in the dark, in the crevasses, for that valuable coin. In the end it was Jesus' view of God which prevailed and not his critics.
Adapted by Brett Blair from a sermon by Richard J. Fairchild.
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9.     Create Him Not
 
The love of God is indescribable but a old Jewish legend does a pretty good job. It describes what happened when God created man. The legend says God took into counsel the Angels that stood about his throne. The Angel of Justice said; 'Create him not ... for if you do he will commit all kinds of wickedness against his fellow man; he will be hard and cruel and dishonest and unrighteous.' The Angel of Truth said, 'Create him not ... for he will be false and deceitful to his brother and even to Thee.' The Angel of Holiness stood and said; 'Create him not ... he will follow that which is impure in your sight, and dishonor you to your face.' 
Then stepped forward the Angel of Mercy...