The Word This Weekend – September 15, 2019
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
“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.” (Luke 16:1-3, 810)
As we gather this weekend for worship, we also inaugurate a new season of learning for this parish. At 9:30am, a new study series, “Living Lutheran,” will challenge us to discover anew the distinctive Reformation voice to liberty and service. Our Middle School youth will gather with Hannah Blackmore to help form a more profound “yes” to the gifts and calling of Baptism. At 10:30am, our new Sunday School Coordinator, Sherri Miller, will lead a team of volunteers in teaching the great stories of faith to a new generation of God’s children. Whether kids, youth or adults, the call will come to gather around the holy things, and particularly around the treasure of the Gospel as we encounter it in the words and works of the Savior.
And our Gospel text this weekend is also a “learning moment,” drawn from Luke’s collection of Jesus stories. The Lord who taught of broken families, errant and wandering sheep, and all manner of confused and all-too-human characters, tells a story of fear, consternation, searching and eventual joy. And all because of a coin – a lost and irreplaceable coin.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but coins don’t seem to have as much currency as they used to, do they? They clank around in our pockets, and can seem more of a nuisance than things of value. We sometimes drop them absent-mindedly into “Tip Jars,” or into the car’s center console, or perhaps into the Piggy Bank of our favorite little one.
Because, for children, coins still hold a note of wonder. Long before they learn the value of paper money, or checking accounts, or (heaven forfend) credit cards, coins are magic. They clink and shine and beckon. They make us “rich, rich I tell you!” They wait under our pillows, where a lost tooth becomes a magical treasure, while we sleep and while we dream.
For Jesus’ hearers, and for we who stand on their shoulders, the story of the Lost Coin isn’t at all trivial. In our world of trivial metal money, they’re a lot more like golden Kruggerands or “worth their weight” coinage. The woman in our story is terrified over the loss of something so valuable, so precious. Otherwise I doubt that she would have spent her whole day sweeping and searching, apparently in vain – only to announce the eventual find to her neighbors and friends. Can you see her holding up the elusive coin, thought by her to have disappeared forever into the deep cracks of her black basalt floor? What would cause such celebration, such relief and such joy?
My guess is that she had a husband. And I’m not alone in this. A number of scholars opine that this lost coin may have been more to her than a “Benjamin,” or even a roll of $100’s. They believe that this coin may have been a part of her dowry, that sum that was given by her family to the man who would take her into his home and claim her as his wife. In Palestinian and other ancient cultures, a married woman might actually wear the dowry coins as a testament to the honor of her family in securing her marriage with such a valuable transfer of wealth to the bridegroom and his family. And to lose such a precious symbol would be shameful in the extreme, bringing dishonor on her and on her entire birth family.
If this reading is correct, we can see her fear and consternation as more than just the loss of material property – this is a loss that will bring shame on her kin, and perhaps even violence at the hands of her spouse. In this Honor/Shame society, a lost coin is a lot more than lost wealth – it’s lost honor, lost status, and maybe a beating waiting to be endured.
Imagine this woman’s terror and fear, if you will. Every sweep of the broom, every lamp lit in that darkened house to try to peer into the deep crevices of those stony floors, every whispered prayer for divine intervention – all this to stave off a seemingly inevitable and cruel fate when the husband returns home and says, “Where is your headdress? And where is the coin that should be hanging there among the rest?”
So now we’re back to the children in our lives or in our memory. I can still remember the time that Sharon and I forgot to put the Dollar bill under little Hannah’s pillow to mark the latest nocturnal visit from the Tooth Fairy (it was me, really). Entering her room, dollar in hand, hoping she was still asleep – instead I watched as she flipped the pillow several times, shaking it and staring in disbelief, as the latest baby tooth sat there judging her failure of a Daddy. “Why is my tooth still there? Where is my dollar? And why did the Tooth Fairy not come???”
I lied. Yes, my friends, I lied to my child. “Oh Hannah,” I said (fingers and toes crossed), “She left it under my pillow, not yours. And here it is!”
“But my tooth is still here! She can’t leave me a dollar unless she takes the tooth!” (How is it, by the way, that children are so knowledgeable about the Rules for teeth and money? I don’t recall going over the contract with her – perhaps her older siblings did.)
“Just give me the tooth, and I’ll see that she gets it.” No kidding, this was my lame attempt at a Plan B for the money-for-tooth exchange. And she didn’t seem convinced.
Not until she saw the Dollar. “My dollar!” she exclaimed, and suddenly my mawkish try at covering my own lousy parenting disappeared into the joy of the Gift.
And that’s why I sense in the story, and why it matters. The ways and means of the Tooth Fairy fade into the maelstrom of fear and loss, and all because the Gift is all that finally matters. Into her hands it went, and into the Piggy Bank, till that moment when she could shake it all out and buy something truly wonderful with the accumulated treasures of grandparents, neighbors, and even “Oops, I overslept” Dads.
For the woman in our story, fear of punishment or disgrace fades into memory, as she clutches the rescued coin in her grateful hand. No aggrieved husband, no judgmental neighbors, no wrath or shame or condemnation. Just grace.
Grace. Grace in that dark room of sweeping and praying. Grace in the hosts of heaven at every lost soul who is redeemed and reclaimed by the God of lost sheep, lost sons, lost chances, lost virtue, lost possibilities or lost destinies.
Or lost coins.
So, my friends, see you at font, table and community this weekend, as we learn again to cherish all our gifts, and our rescue – all through the grace of the Christ who is our brother, our redeemer, and our rescuing, restoring hope. Even for lost coins like us.
With You in God’s Good Work,