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14 Pentecost - Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 15:1-10

They stood still, looking sad.

That was their silent answer to the stranger’s question.

What are your discussing with each other while you walk along?, the man asked.

Are you the only stranger … who doesn’t know? they respond.

“Have you been living under a rock?”

The queen has died, and now that awkward adulterer is king.

Terrorists hijacked planes and took out the twin towers and thousands of innocent lives.

The economy is a mess and the sidewalks are crowded with homeless people.

The pastor is leaving.

The doctor is worried.

Sometimes the only response to shattering news is to stand still, looking sad.

In the case of the original story, the stranger from under the rock got an earful.

The beloved prophet was crucified, they told him.

We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…

Then there was this wild rumor about how he wasn’t really dead, because that’s

what happens when Elvis dies and shock and grief go viral.

The stranger listened and kept walking the wrong direction with these two lost sheep.

By the end of the story, of course, the impossible rumor is confirmed, and the

stranger is the risen Christ, lost in death and found by God, and the two souls he

found are lost in delirious joy together with the other disciples from whom they had wandered off.

This morning’s impossible parables come true, many chapters later.


What is deceptive about these stories is how short they are.

Man loses sheep, woman loses coin, search, find, celebrate.

We all know that telling that story is much quicker than living it.

When you lose your passport, your wallet, your keys, it takes forever to find them.

When you lose your leader, your loved one, your sense of safety, your home, your health,

your identity, your purpose—and you know they will never be coming back—the panic ratchets up.

Which brings us to the base of the mountain.

Moses is lost.

He went up the mountain into the cloud of flashing terror and never returned.

He’s obviously dead, and God must’ve killed him.

That story is a lost cause: we need a new Moses and a new God.

So the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us,

who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the

land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Aaron said, “Give me your money.”

He took all their gold and shaped it into a calf, presumably with directions from Wall Street.

The people worshiped it and partied because they had upgraded their god to a shiny pile

of bull.


Meanwhile, back on the mountain, two shellshocked figures stood still, looking sad.

What the **** is happening down there?

Soon enough, the sadness turned to jilted fury.

God is done, done, done with these colossal ingrates.

Parents know this conversation by heart.

Moses, do you see what your children are doing, the ones you dragged out of

Egypt?

Step aside and let me kill them.

Then Moses appeals to God’s ego: what will the neighbors say?

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his

people.

This is where religion stands still, looking sad, unable to speak.

God changes God’s mind.

Says so right there in God’s book of perfect truth that sometimes contradicts itself.

God also loses things, like temper and sheep.

Jesus says the shepherd loses the sheep, and then the woman loses the coin.

Matthew changes Luke’s wording on the first story and omits the second one altogether, not the mention the third one in the very next verses about the lost son and the shameless father who runs out after him.

Here’s Luke 15 in a nutshell: God’s leaders grumble about Jesus for welcoming sinners

and tax collectors—the people we try to keep away from our children and too often also our church.

Shepherds, women, and doddering old fools who chase after deadbeat sons fall in this

same category, by the way.

Jesus responds with three stories about a shepherd, a woman, and a doddering old fool

who search and hold out hope until they find what they have lost, each of them an

icon of God.

In multiple ways, God is a loser too.

God ends up looking much less like the elegant queen with the sterling reputation

and perfect image and much more like the disgraced and disappointing prince

who is now the king.

Jesus puts this on full display at the cross.

Can we accept such an unacceptable God?


Pharisees and scribes of every age struggle with this.

Grace is so messy and unfair.

Yet Jesus doesn’t turn his back even on them.

Yes, he ruins their sabbath parties and theology, he punctures their piety and

spiritual disciplines, he vandalizes everything they’ve worked for, but he keeps

engaging them.

He is still searching for them.

He is tearing out brambles and moving the furniture to look for them.

The short, simple story takes a very long time.

We’re still living it.

And Jesus will keep at it until he finds every last lost one of us, until we will all be

completely and forever lost in pure, absolute joy.

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