Bible insights from your friends at La Jolla Lutheran Church

God is waiting for your return

The religious leaders didn't like the people Jesus was hanging out with. Some had little respect for God. Some had committed adultery. Some were thieves. Some had lied under oath. Some were fundraisers for the oppressive foreign government. Some were just unsavory.

Jesus told the leaders complaining about the crowds that God cares about everyone, especially people that others don't value.

He gave two examples of how long and hard God searches for such people, then told a story about how fully God accepts them. This week we'll look at those stories.

God, help us to be as merciful as you are merciful -- both to ourselves and to others. Thank you. Amen.

Luke 15:1-2 (NRSV)
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."

The religious leaders didn’t like some of the people who were coming to see Jesus. Some of these people didn’t follow the Ten Commandments and others were fundraisers for the foreign government. But rather than making these people feel unwanted, Jesus welcomed them and ate with them (a sign in his day of acceptance).

Who are you most like:
* One of the people (not on the scene) who were avoiding Jesus?
* One of the tax collectors or sinners eating with Jesus?
* One of the people complaining about who Jesus hangs out with?
* Jesus accepting everyone?

Tuesday Luke 15:3-7 (NRSV)
[Jesus] 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.”

When people complained to Jesus that he was hanging out with the wrong crowd, he gave an illustration. If you have 100 sheep and one gets lost, you look for that one until you find it, and you return with it rejoicing.

Who are some people you know that are like the lost sheep in Jesus' example?
How much time have you spent looking for them?
Who else is looking for them?
How much rejoicing do you do when a lost sheep is found?

Wednesday Luke 15:8-10 (NRSV)
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."

In Jesus’ illustrations, both the person looking for a lost sheep and the woman looking for a lost coin search until they find it.

Who do you identify with more in today’s story:
* The lost coin?
* One of the nine coins that aren’t lost?
* The woman looking for a lost coin?
* One of the angels filled with joy over a sinner who repents?

Thursday Luke 15:11-16 (NRSV)
Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."’ So he set off and went to his father.

The most common interpretation of this parable is that it is a story about God, who allows people to run away, even if it means them squandering their lives and resources.

In this story, the son eventually realizes he was better off at his dad’s [God’s] house.

Who are some people who:
* are like the young son spending his money – living large outside God’s kingdom?
* are like the young son after the famine hit – just scraping by outside God’s kingdom?
* are like the young son after he returned to God?

Friday Luke 15:20-24 (NRSV)
But while [the young son] was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’

What do you think of the image of God as being one who sees returning prodigals from a far distance and runs to them and hugs and kisses them?
What do you think of God’s full acceptance of people who have squandered their lives?
What do you think of God’s rejoicing over people who return, no matter what state they are in?

Saturday Psalm 51:1-12 (NRSV)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. . . .
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

What parts of the Psalm fit how you’re feeling today?
What parts do not fit how you’re feeling today?

What are you doing this week as a result of reading the Bible?
What would you like help with?