Cranach, Lucas, 1515-1586. Christ as the good shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved September 10, 2022]. Original source:

RCL Year C, Proper 19 (Alternate Readings)
Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-11, I Timothy 1:12-17, Saint Luke 15:1-10

As discouraging as the Gospel was last Sunday—with the cost of discipleship so high—the Gospel today is encouraging. We have the parable of the lost sheep, one of a hundred sheep, a parable Saint Luke shares with Saint Matthew, and the parable of the lost coin, one of ten silver coins, a parable unique to Saint Luke, to make clear how important it is to God that one lost sheep be found, and one lost silver coin be found.

The lost sheep and the lost silver coin compare with sinners, those human beings whose sinful choices have separated themselves from God. For we all have our sinful choices and our consequent separation from God. A lady said to me last Sunday that we must choose every day to be God’s, and I added every hour if not every second we have to choose to be God’s. And when we choose not to be God’s, a shepherd comes after us, a shepherd like the shepherd who finds the lost sheep. And when we put ourselves in the place of God, a shepherd comes after us, like the woman who sweeps her house and who finds the lost coin. That shepherd, of course, is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who, Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, “came into the world to save sinners.”[1] All of us sinners have a shepherd who is tracking us and following us wherever we have strayed. And this shepherd will show us a way back, a return route, that we can take back to a relationship with God, our creator.

The greater danger we may find ourselves in comes about when we know all this, when we know that God seeks us when we have strayed, and when we take his quest to save us for granted, and we begin to play with it, as if our relationship with God were an elastic band. How far can I stray? How much of a debt to God can I build and continue to rely on him to save me? If we reach this point, we are beginning to put the Lord our God to the test. And at some point thin ice breaks.

The thin ice didn’t break in the reading from Exodus when the people of Israel committed the sin of sins. While Moses was on the Holy Mount, receiving the Law from God, they cast for themselves a golden calf. They worshiped it, and they sacrificed to it, breaking the first and second commandments just before Moses brought the stone tablets down from the mountain. God’s wrath was kindled, and Moses had to argue with God and to remind God of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, renamed Israel. And that reminder saved Israel. We are told that the Lord “changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”[2]

We should not forget the parable of the lost sheep, how the shepherd not only finds the lost sheep, but lifts it on his shoulders and carries it home. That shepherd reminds us not only of the Good Shepherd of Saint John, chapter ten, but also of the Lord God who speaks through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”[3]

[1] I Timothy 1:15.

[2] Exodus 32:14.

[3] Ezekiel 34: