Sermons That Work

He Had Carried the Pocket Cross…, Proper 19 (C) – 1998

September 13, 1998

He had carried the pocket cross for 20 years. It had only cost 25 cents and was made of tin. But the sharp edges were now worn smooth after 20 years of daily fondling, fidgeting, and rubbing in a prayerful fashion.

It was like a security blanket and a constant reminder of God’s love and presence. Now it was lost! He diligently searched the house, the car, and the office. He looked everywhere and couldn’t find it anywhere.

It was as though a part of him had died. There was an emptiness each day as he dressed and throughout the day as he reached into his empty pocket.

It was two months before it turned up on a heavy cleaning day. The sofa was moved and, like an old friend, there it lay upon the carpet.

He celebrated and rejoiced, for that which was lost was now found. The rejoicing went on for several days each time his fingers caressed the newly-found cross in his pocket.

His wife had a similar incident when her purse turned up missing with credit cards, check book and cash. It was lost for 4 or 5 hours until an honest person turned it in at the grocery store.

They had a frantic time backtracking around town looking for it and truly rejoiced when it was found.

It today’s Gospel Jesus talks about a similar rejoicing over a repentant sinner. He illustrates this with the stories of a shepherd and of a woman who loses a coin.

He says the shepherd with 100 sheep who loses one sheep will leave the other 99 behind and search for the lost one.

The women who loses one coin out of 10 will light the lamp, sweep the house in a diligent search until she finds the one that was lost.

In each story, rejoicing takes place after both the sheep and coin are found. Yet the Gospel is not about finding lost property or things, neither sheep nor coins. Instead, it’s about finding the least, the lost, and the last among us. The sheep and coins are simply an analogy of the extent that God will go to find us and reach out to us.

The good news in this passage of scripture is that God actively seeks us out when we have wandered away or are lost, or absent. It is almost as if God is incomplete when one of us is missing. In God’s eyes everyone has value! Each one us! God will never stop reaching out for us! Regardless of what we have done or ever might do. “We” might stop looking for our “stuff” or our “things” when they are lost, but God never does!

When we lose something and can’t find it, we generally replace it with something new. Maybe that is why we have been called the throw-away society. But in God’s case:

God doesn’t replace with something new.
God doesn’t stop looking or searching for that which is lost.
God doesn’t throw us away.
God doesn’t write us off, although he was close to doing so in today’s reading from Exodus. Listen to the last verse:
“The LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” Moses and his companions were a tough group.

In the 51st Psalm today we hear powerful words of repentance from the lips of the psalmist as he prays to the Lord, pleading for forgiveness and restoration. He says:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51: 1-2, 10-11)

These are words from one who knows a loving and forgiving God.

St. Paul confirms God’s undying devotion in reclaiming us as he writes to Timothy:

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, and persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy….. for Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Both stories in today’s Gospel tell us that God will never give up on us And, when we turn our lives over to him, there is rejoicing in Heaven.

We might say that God is the untiring Pursuer who will never give up the hunt, until we turn and accept being scooped up in an embrace of Holy Love. There is nothing we can do to keep his extravagant loving care from any of us:

Not our incompetence, our
negligence, our rebellion,
our misuse of talent and
resources, nor even our
selfishness and sinfulness.

There is nothing we can do to detour God from loving us. Like the shepherd leaving the 99 behind and the woman diligently searching the house for her lost coin, so God will not give up on any of us.

The evidence of this is the most extravagant gift of all time — the gift of his Son, Jesus, given on a cross for your sins and mine. It is this gift that tells us how valuable we are in the sight of God and how far God will go to search out that which is lost and invite us back into relationship.

May we accept his love and
forgiveness and share it
with others. May we keep
seeking out those who are
still lost. May we see
value and worth in others.
All others, as God sees
it in each of us. When we
do so, there is rejoicing
in heaven!

May we remember that, regardless of what we have done or anyone else has done, God refuses to gives up on us. He continues to invite us into a close, personal, and intimate relationship through his Son Jesus, the Christ.

And may our prayer be that of the Psalmist: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. When it is…there is rejoicing in heaven!

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Christopher Sikkema


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