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Are you sure your deity is happy?

November 6, 2014

Luke 15:1-10                                                                         Thursday 6 November 2014

From the earliest times, throughout the world, across different cultures, down through history, mankind has shown an awareness of there being some divine power, gods, greater spiritual beings who rule over us and the world. And from primaeval times to the present, humans respond to this awareness of the supernatural by trying to identify who that god is. And once something has been identified as a god, it is then worshipped, and sacrifices are made. What is worshipped differs – it can be a mountain, the sun, elephants, the king. All sorts of objects have been worshipped as gods.

Have you ever wondered why even the most primitive religions, having identified some kind of god, then offer sacrifices. Why sacrifices? What is the sacrifice supposed to achieve? And sometimes that primitive worship involves the ultimate sacrifice, the offering of a human life. Why is that?

It’s for two basic reasons. First, humans discern that nothing happens in this world without some divine power or authority. It’s pretty simple to then reason that things go wrong because the gods are angry and are punishing us. So primitive religions offer sacrifices as a way of keeping in the good books of their gods, to keep their gods happy. The second reason sacrifices are offered is because we humans know that ultimately we are all going to die. And if we’re going to die, we want to make sure that the gods are not angry with us when we die, because that’s very likely to mean we’re going to be punished, even exterminated after death by the gods.

How come we have moved on from this pagan, primitive type of worship and sacrifice?

It is because we have learnt, starting with Abraham, that there is only one God. It is through Abraham, the prophets and the history of the Jewish people, that over the centuries, God has been revealed to us. Our primitive ideas have been replaced with a different relationship with God. Through these revelations we come to learn what God is really like.

That is why you may have heard Judaism and Christianity described as ‘revealed’ religions’. And the ultimate, most mind-boggling, far-reaching, history-changing revelation of God comes to us through His Son Jesus Christ. God made man. God made visible in the world, teaching mankind about God.

This morning we continue our journey with Jesus, as He teaches us about God, through the gospel according to Luke. Today we have reached a section in the narrative that is all about the mercy shown by God towards his people. This is a real eye-opener to the Jewish people. They worshipped God by complying with a strict set of rules and ritual sacrifices, and woe betide anyone who broke the rules. Then Jesus appears and reveals in a startling way that God is a truly merciful God – he loves each and every one of us, despite our faults and our failings, and he forgives us for failing to come up to the mark. That is what sin means – failing to come up to the mark. Jesus teaches us that God will forgive us if we come to Him and say we’re sorry for breaking the rules. His love and mercy is overwhelming. This really is a revelation to the people who had been browbeaten and denounced by their religious leaders and Pharisees for failing to match, even in the slightest failings, the really difficult standards they had wrongly assumed would keep God happy – the dreadful burden of the Jewish Law and its sacrificial offerings.

Like yesterday, Jesus uses really exaggerated language to show the extent of God’s mercy:

“‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it?”

Well the true answer is NONE! No-one would leave the 99 in the wilderness to find one lost sheep. The problem with sheep is that they can wander off. A bit like people who drift away from God. Jesus is telling us that God’s mercy, in human eyes, is astonishing – all that effort for one foolish sheep that has wandered off. And even more than that, then having a party to celebrate finding the lost sheep. Any shepherd, any business manager, would happily accept a 1% loss – it’s not worth worrying about. But it is to God. God goes out of His way to find the 1%. He goes out of His way to find the foolish person who has drifted away from God.

And the second example:

“What woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it?

Again, no woman would do that, turning the house upside down to find one drachma! A drachma was worth about 12 pence. A penny gets lost because it is small, and just lands in the wrong place. It’s the same a some people, who find themselves landing, as it were, in the wrong place, and getting forgotten. Like the homeless and poor. Seen by many as worthless.

And who, in their right mind, would hold a party when they found a penny that had dropped down the side of the sofa? It madness. A penny is worth nothing really – in fact you often see in petrol stations a tray of pennies that customers can use when they’ve accidentally had a penny worth too much of fuel. But to God, even something considered not worth bothering about in human terms is worth searching for and returning to its rightful place.

Oh, and note that the first example is a man – a shepherd, and the second is a woman – looking after the house. This is revolutionary, subversive stuff. God is revealed to us using both men and women!

God is revealed in today’s gospel as a God of mercy and love – a very different idea to some fearsome, militaristic god who mercilessly punishes transgressors. Through His teaching, Jesus set in motion a peaceful revolution in this world. We learn that God’s ways our not our ways. What we must do, as followers of Jesus Christ, is go out into the world and continue to surprise people by our own acts of kindness and mercy, for ewe now know that they are are simply small reflections of our own Creator.

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