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: "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.
"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? 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 15:1-10
I remember the story a priest told about attending a funeral of a stranger. He was tagging along with an older, Orthodox priest. My friend was shocked at the homily when the priest said that the man who they were burying was a rude and difficult guy. His shock deepened when the priest continued to talk about the man troubles and abusive character. Head around the room were nodding in agreement. At the end, the priest said, "isn't it wonderful that there is room in God's kingdom for one like this. God's mercy is so wonderful that sinners are welcomed home at the last."
We hear this story from our Gospel about the good shepherd, and these other stories about God seeking the lost. Although we probably all remember these from Sunday School, the message is not for the children alone. It is not a story for cotton balls and glue, and sweet childlike verses. The stories were for the religious leaders, for the gate keepers and those who judge others. God seeks out the lost, the shattered, the broken, and the sinners. God seeks all of us and is willing to go to the darkest places, the most dangerous heights and the deepest oceans for love of the world.
Today I ask God to help me refrain from any judgement and instead live with gratitude. May we all be grateful for God's incredible love that surrounds us in good times and bad, in our joys and in our sorrows, and which seeks us out when we break apart and wander away from everything that is good.
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.