"What would you do-oo-oo for a Klondike bar?" Have you seen the ads? The guy challenged to listen to his wife instead of looking at the big game on the TV...and then a wife had to actually choose to go see an action movie. The ice cream had better be good, right?
Really - the question is "What's it worth?" Today - in Luke 15, Jesus answers that question, but not about an ice cream bar. In this chapter about the lost sheep and the lost coin, the "it" of "What's it worth" is you. It's me. What are we worth? And not just us. It's all those people we run across every single day. It's those people that don't have a relationship with him...those people who are living so as to make that truth absolutely clear. They sin boldly. What are they worth? Are they worth you being passionate about them?
Put the question another way: What would you do for a soul?
The sky's the limit, right? I'd do anything to help someone get to heaven, right? That's easy to say. Not as easy to do.
Jesus gives an example of what it takes to do that. Luke 15:1 reads, "Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners' were all gathering around to hear him." Jesus was hanging out with the people the rest of society looked down on. He was caring for and teaching the "undesirables," those people everyone else judged and/or ignored. How often do you find yourself hanging out with and teaching that kind of people about God? The slacker who doesn't want to do anything but take handouts, the convict, addict, the derelict, the people whose names are on "the registry," the tattooed, the abused, or, for that matter, the abuser - the sinner. Can you see yourselves hanging in those circles? Jesus did.
And he was ridiculed for it. So he tells a parable to show why he did it. It's a simple story. There's a man with 100 sheep. He loses one. What would you do? Sure, one sheep is not going to ruin him financially, but you know what you'd do. You go after it.
Sure, the search may be long and dangerous, but there's no question in this shepherd's mind on whether or not the sheep is valuable enough to make it worth his time. The focus is on the passion of the shepherd, not the value of the sheep. The sheep didn't deserve to be found. It shouldn't have gotten lost in the first place. But all that shepherd is thinking about is getting it back.
We can understand that, right? If you lost something precious to you, if you lost your child, what would you go through to get her back? No obstacle would be so great that you wouldn't at least attempt to overcome it. You would seek the lost - not necessarily because there is so much intrinsic value in whatever it is you are finding - but because it has value to you.
So, what value does that worthless sinner have to you? They are precious to Jesus, even though they might seem worthless. Think about it. Do you think the sheep in that parable wanted to get lost? No. It was just a combination of getting distracted, losing focus, not realizing where the shepherd was going. It was so focused on whatever was right there in front of him that it wandered off.
Really, the question we should be asking is if you wanted to get lost. We can get just as lost as that sheep as we get focused on the work or the hobby or the hectic pace of life, and we lose our focus on our God. Then, before we know it, he's an afterthought, and without even realizing it, we're lost. We don't deserve to be found. If we couldn't keep our focus on the one who has done so much for us...we deserve every punishment we'd get.
What a thrill it is, then, that our Good Shepherd is the kind who comes after us. He sees the value of sinners - not in their worth, but in his heart, in the heart of our Good Shepherd. He came despite all the dangers and he fought off all the predators like Satan, temptation, sin and death. God, our Good Shepherd, left his comfortable field of heaven and came to earth. He came to seek and to save the lost. And for us, who had no value, he paid the price of his blood, his life, his all. Now, he carries us safely home. Why? Because his love had to do something. His love had to seek. The sinner is far heavier when he lies on Jesus' heart before he is found than when he carries him home on his shoulders after.
Do you see things the way Jesus does? Do you see value in those who seem to have none of their own? If our answer is ever "no" - it's because we forgot how lost we once were. If our answer is yes, we probably have to add an asterisk by the yes, saying "sometimes." The reality is that too often we've been the Pharisees, looking down on others, not acting as if they had the value Jesus gives them. That's when it's important to remember that Jesus has given us that same value.
And powered by that - we will seek. We will love. And our love will speak...passionately, overcoming every obstacle to speak, praying that God bless our love's speech. Love speaks passionately because it sees the value of the lost that need to be found. Make sure you look for this column next week when we'll talk about another reason love speaks passionately - because it likes the celebration when it finds what it was seeking.
In the meantime, think about it. What would you do for a soul? You can't help but speak passionately now, can you?
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.