Luke 15:1-10

14th Sunday after Trinity

St Barbara’s 18.09.2022

Rev Jeremy Bevan

A couple of weeks ago, I lost this small but precious memento. You may not be able
to see what I’m holding up, so I’ll describe it for you: it’s a small cross, made of olive
wood. It was a gift back in July when I became a curate, and since then, I’ve kept it in
my trouser pocket. It helps me pray when I’m walking about the parish.
One day recently, it wasn’t in the pocket I thought I’d left it in. I checked pockets in
other trousers I normally wear, and the pockets of the first pair again in case I’d
missed it first time. Then I rummaged in the pockets of things I was fairly sure I
hadn’t worn recently. Nothing. Maybe it had fallen out while the trousers were
hanging up in the wardrobe? I got down on hands and knees, pulled out the
decorating clothes, swept with my hand into dusty corners. I looked on the chest of
drawers, a bedside table. Behind the chest of drawers and bedside table. In the
washing basket; the washing machine; the airing cupboard; I even went into the
garden to see if it had fallen onto the grass under the washing line. Vanished without
It turned up, of course, somewhere completely unexpected. I was delighted, over the
moon, to be reunited with my precious olive wood cross. I’m sure you’ve all had the
experience of losing something and the feelings that go with that, whether it was
small and of sentimental value, or something you genuinely couldn’t afford to lose.
And I’m sure you’ve known, too, the waves of relief that come over us when we
eventually find what we’re looking for.
If you’re picturing right now a moment when you lost, and then found, something
precious, then today’s parables are doing their work, drawing you in – into a story our
God wants us to hear and feel just as Jesus’s first hearers did. But there’s a lot going
on here, more than two ordinary people from first-century Galilee going through the
pain of losing and then the joy of finding. Notice the audience for these two stories
Jesus tells. Two groups, the outcast and the religious. As far as the Pharisees and
lawyers were concerned, ‘sinners’ didn’t have one religious bone in their bodies,
weren’t worthy of God’s attention. Yet here they are, flocking, with the tax
collectors, to Jesus, lapping up what he taught. Scandalously, he eats with them too:
the surest sign of his approval and recognition of them in that culture.
This was an affront to the Pharisees and lawyers. They were firm in their views: “our
faith”, they must have said to Jesus, “is quite clear: people like these will never be
right with God. Why bother with them? One lot collaborate with our Roman
enemies, the other – well, they’ve opted out of belonging to God’s people, Israel. So

adopt our spiritual security policy: put distance between yourself and them. Leave
them to stew.”
And so Jesus tells all his hearers, Pharisees, lawyers, tax collectors and ‘sinners’, two
stories. Both start with a God who doesn’t wait for people to make their way to Him,
or even expect them to. A God instead who takes the initiative, seeks them out,
creates a climate that will help them feel welcome back into fellowship with Him.
Both stories end with joy: joy over even a single sinner who repents. If God’s
outreach is like this, taking infinite trouble to seek out what’s lost, I wonder: is this
what we should be like this too, as we’re made in God’s image? Taking the initiative
in loving the “common, mixed-up, moral-immoral, devil-may-care world” just as God
How do we do that? Tulo wisely warned us a couple of weeks ago not to fix too
precisely the meaning of particular features of the parables. So, without trying to be
too specific, without trying to imply ‘the shepherd is God’ or ’the woman sweeping is
God’, I do want to suggest that both of them point to important things about God’s
love. And to what our love should look like too, made in God’s image as we are,
being God’s ‘hands and feet’ here in Earlsdon.
God’s love for those beyond the entrance doors of our church is like the woman
searching among the straw in her dark, probably windowless house for what may
have been 10 days’ wages. Who never gives up searching, never gives up hoping,
knows the value of what she’s looking for. When I lack that untiring vision, I turn
again to God and ask to see as He does, to love as he loves; to be joyful in welcoming
those who turn up here, creating a climate of welcome, showing in how I treat them
what the parables’ jubilation in heaven implies: “We’ve really missed you.”
And I ask, too, that God would make me a little bit mad – like the farmer and the
RSPCA man I once saw on a cliff near Tenby, who spent an entire morning trying to
rescue a lone sheep that had nibbled its way to a perilous clifftop place where it had
got struck. In Jesus’s world, any shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep to look for one
left the ninety-nine in danger from wolves or sheep rustlers. I imagine someone
hearing Jesus, perhaps a rather grizzled old shepherd, calling out, “You’re bonkers,
mate, who’d do a thing like that?” And Jesus with a twinkle in his eye, retorting quick
as a flash: “God actually”. If it seems rather unbalanced, it is a pattern in the stories
Jesus tells: the same divine craziness makes an old father hitch up his robes and
break into a somewhat undignified run when his lost son returns, his legacy all spent.
The same shocking upside-down view of things sees Jesus call an outcast, sick

woman “daughter of Abraham”, and a hated tax collector “son of Abraham”. In God’s
rather crazy-mad upside-down kingdom, everyone is welcome.
I’m well overdue for an eye test at Michael Harris in Earlsdon Street. These parables
tell me, tell us, that the spectacles we see the world through may need a little
adjustment from time to time, to help us really see. Where we overlook olive wood
crosses or people who feel far from God, God sees. And then sets off in pursuit, with
unwavering endurance, the sharpest eyes and very great love. And whether you are
a lost coin or strayed sheep God is pursuing right now, or it’s someone else on your
heart and mind, God’s intentions are good. He wants us where we belong, close to
Him. Jesus’s parables point to what makes God and heaven happy: us, and those
around us, turning to follow in God’s way. Family, friends, neighbours, work
colleagues, schoolfriends, fellow drinkers in café and pub, fellow volunteers, you: we
are all of the utmost value to the God of lost coins and lost sheep, worthy indeed of
all those celebrations in heaven.