Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 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.’ 7 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. 8 “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? 9 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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I have a great nephew who developed cataracts as a little tiny kid. When he was five or six, he had surgery to remove them. After some healing time, he was outside with his parents as the sun set. When it got dark, he looked up at the sky and said, “What are all those sparkly things in the sky?” He had never seen stars before. Suddenly, he was looking at the world in a completely new way. Keep that in mind, because we’ll come back to that.
In this text there are some themes and parallels. Two parables include “lost, found, and rejoicing.” Jesus connects this to repentance:
Lost = Needing repentance
Found = Connected to repentance
Rejoicing = Result of repentance
Repentance seems to be a pretty central idea in these parables. So it would be worth figuring out exactly what is meant here by “repentance” instead of just assuming we know. Because I think you may be surprised.
The word “repentance” in Greek is actually a combination of two words. The first means with, together, or toward. So there’s movement involved. The second word means intellect, understanding, heart, purpose. So that has to do with the core of who you are and how you interpret the world. Combine these two words and you get something like changing the way you think about the world. And when you put that in the context of Jesus talking about God, repentance really means our thinking moving toward alignment with God’s thinking. Our view of the world moving toward God’s view of the world. Notice there really isn’t anything in there about feeling sorry for your sins and promising to do better. Biblical repentance, at least the way Luke records it coming out of Jesus’ mouth here, might include acknowledging sins and maybe even feeling bad. But more basically it has to do with seeing the world differently, more like God sees it. Having a heart that more closely resembles God’s heart. Living with a purpose that is moving toward God’s purpose.
With that understanding of repentance, can you think of a biblical example of someone who repents—whose worldview is changed because they are now seeing more with God’s eyes than they did before? Moses, Jonah, Zacchaeus, the Apostles after Pentecost, Saul/Paul, etc.
Now look back at these two parables. The lost sheep and the lost coin are found, and there is rejoicing and celebrating about that. Jesus compares that lost/found/celebration to a sinner who repents. There’s rejoicing over that. Celebration because of someone whose vision, whose purpose, wasn’t in keeping with God’s vision and purpose before, but now it is.
By the way, the word used for “sinner” here means someone who has deviated from the path. So a sinner who repents is someone who is off God’s way of thinking and has been brought back to God’s way of thinking. Jesus says that this is what God celebrates. Seeing the poor the way God sees them. Feeling about the vulnerable the way God feels about them. Including people the way God includes people.
That’s our journey as people who follow the risen Christ. It’s this being changed, this being moved closer to God’s worldview. It’s this being brought into closer alignment with God’s purposes in the world. It’s having our hearts being brought closer to God’s heart.
So what repentance really means is openness to being changed by God. Openness to seeing the world differently. Openness to having the cataracts removed and seeing the stars for the first time. Openness to grabbing hold of God’s vision in new ways.
Some of you are feeling that now. A little bit of “ahh-h-h!” because there’s a shift here that’s almost tangible. God is moving us still closer to God’s own heart. That is what’s happening in this congregation right now! Repentance in this biblical, Jesus-speak, sort of way. Let me tell you what I believe this means for us.
Jesus talks in these parables about having 100 sheep and 10 coins and losing one, and then searching to find that one until it is found. Seeking that one is the heart of God. God calls us to join God in seeking that one, finding that one, showing them the heart, the vision, the newness of God present right in front of their eyes.
100 sheep and one is lost. 10 coins and one is lost. Church membership across the country is declining. In Denver metro, it’s about 10%. Though that’s not the same thing as being lost, it does mean something. Generally, there is a declining percentage of people who are not even aware of God’s vision and heart and compassion. So they would be much less willing to be changed and be moved toward that. They can’t see the stars because they don’t even know they’re there. Lost people.
Yet, almost every church is competing for that 10% that are already open to church. Repentance, our hearts aligning with God’s heart, means we search for those that God is searching for. We see the 90% as God sees them. As people don’t recognize God’s love present in their lives and who don’t realize they can be transformed by that. As people who don’t see the value of forgiveness and compassion. As people whose purpose in life doesn’t have much to do with God’s purpose of living in peace, unlimited compassion, unconditional love, unmerited mercy.
It’s like 90% of the people around us don’t even know they can’t see the stars. Our future as church lies in finding them, showing love and compassion and mercy to them, and sharing the wonder of the stars they’ve been missing. They’ll never see the world in the same way again. That is God’s heart and God’s vision. That’s who we are called to seek and to find. Being moved to that is what repentance means. That is what’s happening among us now. We see the stars. Our future lies in finding those who can’t.