Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 15:1–10
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Homecoming Sunday
September 11, 2022
“Belonging: The Outsiders”
Way back in the dawn of time – not really, but sometimes it seems like it – there was a hit movie in 1983 called “The Outsiders.” It was based on a book by the same name written by “Susan Eloise Hinton [who] was born in the 1950s in Tulsa, Oklahoma… She began The Outsiders at the age of fifteen, inspired by her frustration with the social divisions in her high school and the lack of realistic fiction for high school readers. The Outsiders, first published in 1967, tells the story of class conflict between the Greasers, a group of low-class youths, and the Socs (short for Socials), a group of privileged rich kids who live on the wealthy West Side of town. The novel broke ground in the genre of Young Adult fiction, transcending established boundaries in its portrayal of violence, class conflict, and prejudice” (The Outsiders: S. E. Hinton and The Outsiders Background | SparkNotes). The movie included young stars like Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, among others. These are the outsiders in that movie setting, but there are outsiders in today’s Gospel lesson. That’s how it begins: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2). And that, my friends, is the theme of Luke’s entire Gospel right there: Jesus’ spending time with the outsiders of his day. If that was true then, it’s still true today. The seeking, searching love of Jesus knows no boundaries or divisions. The seeking, searching love of Jesus reaches out to all people, including the outsiders. That becomes the theme for preaching this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In this month of September, our theme for preaching is “Belonging,” introduced by Pastor Gary Rueter last Sunday. As we return from summer travels, as students return to school, that theme of belonging is especially important. This is what the church is called to be: a place of belonging, embodying that same seeking, searching love for all people that Jesus was all about in his earthly life and ministry. Luke 15 is a trilogy on being the outsider; being lost. There are three parables here that Jesus told: the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the well-known lost sons (Luke 15:11-32), what we often call the prodigal son. Today we hear about the first two: the lost sheep and the lost coin. That one sheep didn’t have a tracking device on it like our smart phones do today (at most a bell on a collar), but that didn’t stop the shepherd from going out into the wilderness to find his one missing sheep. All of the sheep, including the one that was missing, were the shepherd’s concern and care. The same is true for the woman who tears her house apart to find that one missing coin. In all likelihood, this wasn’t just any old coin, but part of the woman’s dowery, the financial resources which she brought to her marriage. In Middle Eastern culture, these coins were sewn into special headdresses and lovingly preserved. So when she was cleaning house and found that one of these coins was missing, the woman could not rest until she found it. No electric lights or flashlight on your phone to look into dark corners and crevices – just a small hand-held oil lamp. But as with the shepherd who sought out his missing sheep, this woman kept at it. She persevered, searching for what belonged to her. Both shepherd and woman say the same thing: “Rejoice with me, for I have found what was lost” (Luke 15:6b, 9b).
The greater truth here is that all of this isn’t just about a missing sheep or coin. This is about people. Just like anything else in life, people can become lost, not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. People can and do wander away from the flock and fold; they can and do fall into dark corners and crevices along life’s way. Do we notice? Do we care? Do we go out searching for these lost ones? Jesus does, and he calls us to do the same. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 100:3b). Sometimes the sheep who have never wandered off, never strayed, never been lost, don’t understand what it’s like to go through this. They don’t know what it’s like to be an outsider; to feel excluded. There can be all kinds of pain and hurt and scars that make outsiders feel like they don’t fit in; they don’t belong. Jesus’ concern isn’t just for the people, the sheep, who are here inside these walls. Jesus is achingly concerned for all the people who are out there; who are hurting, troubled, and despairing. The word “repent” comes up several times in today’s Gospel lesson, as Jesus tells us: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Sometimes we think that word “repent” means feeling sorry for what we did, offending God or others. But it’s so much more than that. The original word (μετανοέω) means a change of heart and mind; a turning around and walking in a new direction. It is the beginning of a whole new way of being, and it is led by the Holy Spirit. That’s how we move from being outsiders to insiders, not by anything we’ve done, but through the power of the Spirit who is at work through Word and Sacrament to draw us to Jesus. It is in Jesus that we find a place of belonging with God and with one another. The truth is that because of what Jesus has done for us – offering his very life on the cross as payment for all of our sins – each and every day brings with it repentance. It’s about starting over, turning around, a new beginning. We’re all in need of that.
Today as we begin a new year of learning and growing in Jesus, it’s important to remember that “everything in here is for out there,” as our friend, Pastor Greg Finke would tell us (Dwelling 1:14 (dwelling114.org). Bible studies, small group huddles, missional communities – all of these help us to grow in faith toward God and in love toward one another. We’re called not just to be hearers of God’s Word, but doers of that Word (Matthew 7:21; James 1:22). Having been recipients of the grace and mercy of God in Christ, we’re now called to become agents and instruments to share this same grace and mercy with others. My encouragement is for all of us to be in the Word, individually as well as with one another. There is strength and power for living in that written Word, the Scriptures, which make known to us the living Word, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Jesus still eats with sinners today – that’s what the Lord’s Supper is all about. Jesus invites us to the banquet where he is host and we are guest. Jesus doesn’t do the eating and drinking at this banquet; we do. And what we feast on is Jesus himself. Under forms of bread and wine, Jesus gives us his very Body and Blood in this holy meal We don’t come because we’re worthy or that we are deserving. We come because Jesus has invited us. No outsiders here at the Lord’s table. Here is where you belong. You belong to Jesus. Amen.