September 13, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Reading

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

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Text - Hear Rev. Moran's sermon on RealAudio

Does anyone have a quarter I can borrow?

Thanks, I want to use this later - you won’t lose it. Trust me.

This morning’s Gospel lesson gives an obvious and clear message, which I don’t think I could say any better than the Lord said or make any clearer than the Lord did. The important people of his day, people who are well off and respectable, criticize Jesus for welcoming sinners into his company and to his table: "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

In response Jesus tells them two parables - one about a shepherd seeking out a lost sheep and another about a woman seeking out a lost coin. Both parables end with the same moral: There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

I suspect there are some here today who need to be reminded of this message, although I would hope we need to hear it more as an encouragement than as a warning. At least I’m going to look at it from that point of view, which is why I needed to borrow this quarter.

Let’s take a moment to see whose image is on this coin.

It’s the image of George Washington, the Father of our Country, the first president of the United States. Over George Washington’s head is the word "Liberty" and under his chin the saying "In God We Trust"

As a coin of the realm, this is pretty standard. It is stamped with the image of the sovereign, the ruler, whether of the past or the present, and in an abbreviated graphic design conveys the identity of the realm and the people of the realm.

Now the woman in our parable is searching for a lost coin - a coin probably much like this quarter, bearing an image and a few words. It sounds like she does an extremely thorough search for the coin, as though it had an importance for her way beyond it’s monetary value. Some have given a historical interpretation for this, pointing out that in those days at the time of engagement a woman would be given a gift of ten coins by her future husband as a pledge of love and loyalty. It was considered both shameful and bad luck to lose any of those coins.

But there is also a symbolic interpretation of this parable, an interpretation first written down by Gregory of Nyssa around the year 375 AD. The essence of this interpretation is that the woman is the believer, the house is her soul, the lamp she lights her life of prayer, reason, and contemplation, and the coin she seeks the image of God in her, stamped with the likeness of Christ and the words of salvation.

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

The Biblical belief that each of us has hidden in our soul something that is eternal and of immeasurable value, something that is a gift of grace which transcends the accomplishments, accidents, and outward circumstances of our lives - this belief is sometimes hard to hold onto in a world that is completely under the spell of materialism and appearances.

Allow me to relate one story to you that might help illustrate the point I am trying to make. It comes from the Arts section of the New York Times last year. The story concerns two watercolors by Shaker artists painted around 1845. These items were being put up for auction and were expected to draw bids in the range of half a million dollars. The angle of the story I would like us to focus on is how these items came to auction, a story the Times describes as "almost too good to be true." Let me quote:

The owners (of the watercolors), a retired New England couple in the late 50’s, say they found the drawings hidden behind a poster of an English hunting scene in a picture frame they had bought at a tag sale in 1993 for $5 or less….Their story recalls the discovery a few years back of a copy of the Declaration of Independence in the back of a picture frame that was bought at a flea market for $4. The copy was auctioned in 1991 at Sotheby’s in New York for $2.4 million.

Imagine that - imagine you had a picture hanging on the wall of your house and one day you discovered that hidden behind that picture was another picture or a document worth a million dollars. Wouldn’t you feel lucky - wouldn’t you feel richly blessed.

But imagine the opposite. Imagine you’d had that picture hanging on your wall for years and then you decided to sell it at a garage sale for $4 or $5 dollars. Imagine how you would feel when you realized you’d let something so valuable sit undiscovered all those years and then sold it off for a pittance. I know I would feel really foolish.

The Bible teaches that each of us at the very foundation of our soul has something far more valuable than an old Shaker watercolor, far more valuable than a copy of the Declaration of Independence, far more valuable than silver or gold or any treasure of this earth. It is the image of God, the source of our life, the ground of our hope for life eternal. We have it, we possess it, it has been given to us for our comfort, benefit, and glory, and yet we turn away from it, ignore it, overlook it, forget it, lose it, sell it for a pittance.

As the Apostle John wrote:

1 John 3:1-3 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him;, we will see him as he is.

Let me say that I know this point is not a an easy teaching. I’m asking you to walk down a hard road here. I could have looked at the kinds of actions these parable call us to take - welcoming all kinds of people, seeking out the lost and lonely, not looking down on the person who is caught up in sin, scandal, addiction, failure, and so on. All this is true. That message is there in the parables and it’s important that we not lose sight of such truth.

But that is the external work of grace and faith - how we behave in the world. I chose this morning to look at the internal work of grace and faith - the necessity to recover what is lost in our inner life, to reclaim our true identity as children of God, to remember that the very life of God is hidden in our lives and that an inner connection with this life is, as the psalmist says: "more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold."

So it doesn’t matter if you’re a banker or a bum, a real estate mogul or a homeless family, an Olympic athlete or a frail resident in a nursing home; your outward station in life is not significant to this inner task. If anything, as Jesus points out over and over again, hard times and trying circumstances and reversals of fortune are often necessary to the realization that we have indeed lost a coin and necessary to the motivation to light a lamp and sweep the house, and search carefully until that coin is found.

Oh, by the way, here is your quarter back. Thank you, but it’s not the coin we are after here. We are after the coin that bears the stamp of God and the image of Jesus Christ, the coin that gives us our identity as people born in the image of God, sustained by the grace of our Lord, and looking forward to life in that Kingdom which has no end.

We all have that coin in our house. And no matter how deep it might get buried under the clutter, the mistakes, misfortunes, regrets, and all of life’s gain and loss, it is still there, it’s awaits our finding, and when we find it there will be joy in heaven and in our hearts.

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Let us pray:

We thank you, O Holy God, for our creation, our preservation, and for all the joys of this life. But above all we bless and worship you for the gift of love in Jesus Christ, the gift of seeking us out when we were lost, of lifting us up and bringing us out of danger into the shelter of your grace. In the gift of Christ you save us, you redeem us, you remind us daily of our true identity as your children and heirs of your eternal kingdom. May we not lose sight of our high calling but keep our eyes open to your presence, purpose, and power in our lives and in our life together as your church.

We ask for a renewed awareness of your spirit in our lives, a renewed commitment to love one another, to serve one another, and to pray for one another in our need. Especially we offer our prayers today for those we know are in need of your healing and comforting power.

For the family and friends of Ginny Wall, Richard Gershman, Estelle Akins, E. Raymond Adams, Grace Eddy, Gordon Street, Clarence Burden, Angie D’Aqulia, Charles Treat, and Herbert Schaltegger, in whose loving memories our flowers have been given today.

For Barbara Holstein, Bill VanBuskirk, Catherine Devlin, Verta, Linda and Bryn, Gail Bradle, Mary Ellen Lanigan, Doris Blackman, Elizabeth Whitlock, Laura Kussick, Dick Brown.

For all in authority among us, and all who give of themselves in the work of justice and peace.

For those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

We ask for your spirit of wisdom and forgiveness be with Peter Blunt and Christina Granja, Gina Profita and Wayne Marrow, couples beginning their life together as husband and wife. And with our church school teachers and students as they begin a new year of learning the truth about you, about each other, and about themselves.

Grant each of us to know the truth that will set us free, the truth that will guide us in all our ways, the truth that delivers us from fear and brings us to the gates of your heavenly realm, where you reign with Christ and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.

As we leave this friendly place

Let love give light to every face

And may the kindness which we learn

Be a light in our hearts until we return.

Go in Peace. Amen

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