Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Finds Us

Text used – Luke 15:1-10

  • We like the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” in America, don’t we? It’s supposed to exemplify hard work, perseverance, determination, ingenuity. The American dream, right? Today, we use this colloquialism dually as both inspiration and praise for people trying to make a way for themselves. Here’s the problem: everything about the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a myth.
    • Origin of the phrase = physics example from a late-1800s science textbook: “Why can not a man lift himself by pulling up on his bootstraps?” → originally meant as a sarcastic remark, implying that whatever you were undertaking was doomed to fail – was impossible[1]
    • And yet somehow, throughout the decades, it came to mean the opposite – that, if one works hard enough, he or she can attain wealth, security, success, prosperity. It came to mean, “You can do anything, if only you work hard enough for it.” It’s supposed to be the antithesis of entitlement and privilege. → the problem = not actually possible in our social and economic reality in America today[2]
      • Research done by a wide variety of reputable institutions throughout the last decade or so (Brookings Institute and the Pew Charitable Trusts, just to name a few) has revealed that race, gender, education level, even geography play a much larger part in socioeconomic status and mobility than pure determination does
        • From 2012 Pew research: economic mobility is largely an accident of birth
          • 66% of people born in the lowest two income levels remain there as adults and exactly 66% of people born at the highest two income levels stay there as adults, a phenomenon called “stickiness at the ends.”
          • Even more importantly, research reveals that clinging to this bootstrap myth is actually detrimental to society because it causes people to believe that those living in poverty are doing so not because they’re trapped there because of circumstances and barriers but because they’re not working hard enough, they’re “lazy and stupid”
            • Creates an unnecessary and harmful societal “us/them” dichotomy → allows us to offhandedly dismiss those who need help
    • What’s become clear in the results of all these studies is that, contrary to the “lone wolf” ideal perpetuated by the bootstraps myth, we all need some help – that going it alone isn’t really all its cracked up to be.
      • Research: element that actually helps people move out of the cycle of poverty = help from others[3]
        • Government assistance programs
        • Equal access to early childhood education
        • College access and assistance
        • Programs that reduce economic segregation in cities
        • Eliminating things like food deserts and underprivileged school districts
    • Our Scripture this morning = the antithesis of the bootstraps myth à two short parables Jesus tells of being found … of being found
  • Passage begins with a little setting – text: All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”[4] → Surprise, surprise, y’all … the Pharisees and legal experts are upset! Jesus is doing something he’s not supposed to do. Jesus is hanging out with the wrong people, and I mean the really wrong people. Sure, sometimes Jesus hangs out with unclean people like lepers and those with other diseases – those who are unclean because of their afflictions. But this? Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and sinners – those who have willfully chosen their paths of unrighteousness? And it’s not even that he’s just allowing them to walk with him or something passive like that. Jesus is actually welcoming them, breaking bread with them. I mean, come on. How dare he? Grumble grumble grumble. Grumble grumble grumble.
    • Gr. in this section of text makes it abundantly clear that the Pharisees and legal experts weren’t trying to hide their disapproval – word for “grumble” carries inescapable nuance of being uttered out loud, being understandable → This isn’t just barely audible, unintelligible mumbling and muttering. This is an intentional statement that the Pharisees and legal experts wanted Jesus to hear. Essentially, it’s a challenge.
      • Also clearly a judgment on those gathering around Jesus – if Jesus could hear the comment, all of those tax collectors and sinners could certainly hear it, too → make no mistake: meant to remind that unrighteous riff raff of their place
        • Scholar: Their grumbles are as old as religious itself. If you were really one of us, you would remember our traditions, laws, and norms! We separate ourselves from sinners for our own protection! We never have done it that way before! Their chorus is one that sees Jesus’ hospitality to sinners as dangerous, irreverent, and unpleasant.[5]
  • As is his custom, Jesus responds not with a direct rebuke or definitive statement but with parables → parables about lost things
    • Starts with the parable of the lost sheep: shepherd has 100 sheep and discovers that one is lost → leaves the other 99 sheep to go searching for the one that is lost → upon finding the lost sheep, shepherd rejoices → gathers his friends to celebrate
      • A couple of things we need to notice about this parable
        • Doesn’t say anything about how the sheep got lost
          • No judgment
          • No speculation
          • Nothing to deride the sheep for its lostness à not a commentary on the sheep’s character or lineage or personal worth
          • The sheep is simply lost. Because everything gets lost sometimes. Everyone gets lost sometimes. Unlike the Pharisees’ overly-loud and judgmental grumbling about the lost ones surrounding Jesus, Jesus himself makes no comment about the moral or spiritual implications of being lost. He simply states it as a reality and moves on with the story because, as we learn, the lostness isn’t the true point.
        • Also need to notice that severity of “lostness” gets … well … lost when we translate from Gr. to Eng. → We know that there are varying levels of “lostness” in our own language. A lost phone number, for example, carries innumerably less weight and worry than a lost pet or family member. And anyone who’s spent more than 2 minutes searching for their keys when they’re trying to get out the door in the morning knows that lostness can inspire a whole host of emotions and frustrations in a shockingly short amount of time. However, in English, the word “lost” is a fairly tame word. In and of itself, it doesn’t strike fear and despair into the hearts of those who hear it.
          • Gr. in this passage = significantly stronger – “lost” can also be destroyed, ruined, even killed → Jesus is making it clear just how perilous it can be to be lost. Lostness is nothing to scoff at, nothing to take for granted. Lostness is a serious thing.
      • Severity of the state of lostness leads the shepherd to boisterous rejoicing when he finds the sheep → not just rejoicing himself but rejoicing that spills over to those around him – text: When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’[6]
    • 2nd parable – lost coin – is very similar: woman has 10 silver coins → discovers she’s lost one coin → basically turns her house upside-down (“lights a lamp and sweeps the house, searching her home carefully”[7]) until she finds her missing coin → rejoices when she finds the lost coin → gathers her friends to celebrate
      • We’ve all been there, right? We’ve felt that stomach-sinking feeling of having lost something of monetary value.
        • Story of losing Caribou gift card from Mom one Christmas when Ian and Luke were little → It’s truly gut-wrenching when you lose something like that, and the longer and more thoroughly you search, the further your stomach drops, right? We may not all be able to relate to Jesus’ tale of the shepherd losing the sheep, but the experience of losing a coin (or, by today’s standards, a paycheck or a credit card or a gift card) is pretty universal.
          • Know the franticness of searching
          • Know the worst-case scenarios that run through our heads while we’re searching
          • Know (hopefully!) the relief and joy that floods through our whole systems upon finding what you’ve lost OR, on the flip side, the frustration and distress we feel if it’s not found
          • This helps us to relate not just with the lost one but the finding one in Jesus’ stories as well. Make no mistake, Jesus makes it clear that we are the ones lost and God is the one doing the finding, but by using these examples that are so easily applicable to everyday life, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the heart of God.
            • Affirms that celebration and relief with what he says after telling each parable
              • Sheep: In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.[8]
              • Coin: In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.[9]
              • Joy breaks out! Joy breaks out over one who is found – who is rescued from a state of lostness and brought back to the One who has spent so much love and life searching.
                • Goes along with what we talked about last week – Jesus as the one who calls us to repent → Gr. “changes both heart and life” (exact phrase from both parables) = one simple word: REPENT
    • Scholar: There is no more humbling or common human experience that feeling and being lost. By the reckoning of these parables, the most joyfully divine experience is finding and being found. No matter how lost the people should become and by whatever means they lose their way, the promise is never exhausted: the lamp is burning. The shepherd is searching. God is watching and believing that the lost shall be found until the journey home is completely by every misplaced soul.[10] Amen.

[1] Jess Zafarris. “The Origins of the Phrase ‘Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps” from Useless Etymology blog, https://uselessetymology.com/2019/11/07/the-origins-of-the-phrase-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps/. Accessed Mar. 7, 2021.

[2] Dave Roos. “The Bootstrap Myth: Climbing the Economic Ladder Takes More Than Hard Work” from HowStuffWorks, https://money.howstuffworks.com/bootstrap-myth-climbing-economic-ladder-takes-more-hard-work.htm. Accessed Mar. 7, 2021.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lk 15:1-2.

[5] Christopher H. Edmonston. “Luke 15:1-10 – Homiletical Perspective’ in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 83.

[6] Lk 15:6.

[7] Lk 15:8.

[8] Lk 15:7.

[9] Lk 15:10.

[10] Edmonston, 85.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Finds Us

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Comes | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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