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Friday, September 16, 2016

We Are Lost and Found People

Luke 15:1-10
            So, I have to confess what anyone who spends much time around me already knows; I lose things. A lot.
I am simply forever misplacing things. Actually, it is not so much that I mis-place them as that I mis-remember where I put stuff from time to time.  The other thing is, and can’t emphasize this enough - I swear this is true sometimes, some things – my glasses, my keys, a certain paper that I need to locate, the left shoe of the pair I intended to wear today – will sprout legs and walk away when I am not looking, losing themselves – truly - but making me look really bad in the process. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences. If so, my condolences.
When it happens that I cannot locate that missing thing, it leads to what becomes a sometimes long and involved search, hunting expedition, or even a quest to find what has gone missing.
Even when the cost in time and energy of the search itself far exceeds the value of the lost item, I simply can’t let go of the challenge of finding it. And when I find it, no matter how small a thing it is, I am nearly always giddy with relief, and happy to have found the missing item. Finding what is lost somehow makes me feel happy, complete, and maybe a little vindicated.
Even if you aren’t a habitual lost-and-found player in your everyday life like me, you probably have that story, the one that sticks out for you, of the time when you lost something – large or small, animate or inanimate.
So, think about an experience that sticks out the most in your memory of a time when you lost something. It could be animate or inanimate, large or small, something of monetary value or not.   What was that like for you? – what did you lose? What did it feel like to be missing the thing you valued, and how did it feel to find it?
Our gospel today begins with the Pharisees grumbling because Jesus is spending time with those people – the undesirable kind – the lost kind. So Jesus shares with them a couple of parables, lost-and-found stories, that begin with life as they know it and end with visions of life as God intends it to be, the life that is, even now, coming to fruition through Jesus.
The thing about parables is that they frequently begin with every day, recognizable situations for the people of Jesus’ time: a shepherd loses one of a flock of sheep; a woman loses one of her ten silver coins.
In the case of these parables, what unfolds is a depiction of absolute commitment to restore what was lost.
Jesus begins with a story about a lost sheep. One single, solitary sheep goes missing and the shepherd searches high and low to find it. Some might question why; they might judge a shepherd who would leave an entire flock unattended in order to find one missing animal.
But then Jesus turns the tables on those who might do so with the question – “which one of you,” he asks, would leave a lone sheep – defenseless and isolated – and not try to find and recover it? Who would leave it alone, to languish and die?
The shepherd neither waits for the sheep to realize it is lost and needs to return to the fold and then find its own way home, nor wastes time looking for backup – for help with the search or help looking after the rest of the flock. Instead, the shepherd takes initiative. The shepherd takes action and yes, he takes a risk. Ultimately, he finds the lost; saving it and restoring it was of the utmost importance. For the shepherd, it is and always will be worth the risk.
Likewise, in the story of the lost coin, the woman doesn’t wait for the lost coin to turn up in the laundry one day, or to eventually reveal itself in the pile of sweepings. She could do that, she could make do with the remaining nine silver coins and hope that the lost one eventually turns up. Instead she goes searching for it. She commits herself to doing everything she can to restore the lost coin to her purse.
            In perfect fidelity God searches out and pursues the lost. In these parables God is characterized first as the shepherd who searches out the sheep and saves it from danger, then lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. He is so giddy with relief and excitement and joy that he has to share it with neighbors and friends who will surely share in this happy occasion.
            Next, God is depicted as a woman who lights a lamp and then shines that light into every dark place, every dark corner, to try and flush out the single lost coin; then she also rejoices with great joy and throws a party for her friends so that they can celebrate with her. God is represented by both masculine and feminine images – as the universal character and love of God leaves no stone unturned to reestablish the placement of the lost back where it belongs.  
As we contemplate this text, we might look at it from various perspectives. We have already reflected with each other a little on what it feels like to lose something, and what it feels like to find it again. I can’t begin to imagine, truly, what it is like for God – when the stakes are so much higher – to save a lost one and return it to the fold.
Let’s think for a moment about what it feels like to be the lost one. What does it feel like to be lost, perhaps in despair of ever finding our way home? Perhaps your experience of being lost is to be, physically lost, but there are many other ways to be lost in our lives – perhaps being lost for you means battling addiction – yours or in someone you love; perhaps you have lost a relationship in its entirely, or perhaps you have lost the closeness or the trust you once felt for someone else. Perhaps you have lost your health, your youth, your job, your home. There are so many ways to be lost. Maybe it’s not such a stretch for you to imagine what being lost is like or to connect with a memory of being lost.
Back in a previous life, when I was doing medical lab work, I would have to look at slides of some body fluid or other under a microscope. It would be my job to diligently count things – bacteria, blood cells, other biological structures – and report what I had found. At times the element I was counting overwhelmed the slide. In those instances, the report I would make would be that the element was “too numerous to count.”
Too numerous to count are the instances of God’s forgiveness and love to God’s creation. Too numerous to count describes the sins of the world. Too numerous to count are the blessings and resources we are given to use and to share. Too numerous to count defines those instances when we were almost lost – but by the grace of God were rescued from the abyss.
Miraculously, God, who knows each and every one of us so intimately that he knows our sins better than we ourselves do, searches us out and finds us, in the bread and the wine, in the waters of baptism, in prayer and in times of silence, in the gift of community and in the shared stories and experiences of friends, in the kindness of strangers, and then with overwhelming joy, restores us to the fold, and calls the whole heavenly host to rejoice with him at the victory feast.
God’s love for us increases our worth and through Jesus, God shines the light in every dark place to rescue us from the dark and danger of our sin.
God has always been a God who seeks out the lost and redirects them in paths of light and life. In Jesus, the divine imperative of mercy extends to all people, as evidenced by these two parables.
Parables begin with the world we know and end in a world that is even now dawning upon us with metaphorical power. In the world we know – the world of mortal sin and loss, it is easy to stray. It is easy to become “lost.” But God never tires of seeking relationships or reconciliation--through the flood, in the wilderness, during the fall and exile of God’s people, to the incarnation of God’s son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who seeks us with his life, in his death, in his resurrection, and ascension…a miracle we remember each week when we participate in the meal of salvation in Jesus Christ.
As the shepherd sought out the sheep, God seeks us out, picks us up, and carries us safely home. It is with joy that God receives back into the fold or the purse those who had been lost.
The good news in the gospel is that God is about a new thing in Jesus, and we are witnesses and recipients of the great shepherd’s grace and mercy and love which knows no bounds, and leads to eternal joy. May we live our lives in this truth, trusting in God’s faithful promises, and rejoicing always in the gift we have been given.

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