15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just 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. 8“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? 9When 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.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
When I was a senior in high school, I took a trip to New York City with my musical theater class. For many of us, it was our first time in the city and we were very excited. We saw a few shows, we visited the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Times Square. One afternoon, we had the choice of what to do, so we broke off into groups. My sister and I decided to go with the shopping group. So we joined the group of mostly girls, along with an adult chaperone, and ventured into the first store we came across. We were in there for about 5 minutes and then walked outside to the sidewalk- and that’s when we noticed that our friend Audrey was nowhere to be found. Surely she hadn’t just wandered off. We went back into the small store shouting her name, thinking she had just gotten sidetracked looking at something. We went back outside onto the sidewalk and shouted her name some more. The crowds of people walking by on the street made it difficult to pick out any particular face. After a few more minutes of frantic searching in the immediate area, we admitted to ourselves: Audrey was lost, and the search began. We came up with a plan. A few of us stayed near the store in case she came back, and a few of us walked a few blocks from either side of the store to see if she was in a different store or at an outside food stand. No such luck. Finally, after what seemed like 5 hours, Audrey appeared out of the crowd in front of the store- short of breath, scared, and apologizing profusely for getting lost, having wandered down the street and didn’t know where she was- but we all threw our arms around her and rejoiced that she had returned safely- she was no longer lost, but found.
Have you ever lost anything or anyone? Have you ever been lost yourself? One of the worst feelings is being lost! Since I have no sense of direction, I probably rely too much on my GPS to tell me where I need to go. But when the GPS is confused or not working, and I get lost, the panic sets in. I get this awful feeling in my stomach and my heart pounds a little bit, and there have been times, I’ll confess, that I’ve called Corey in tears telling him he needs to get on the internet right now and tell me where I am and how to get to where I need to go. Or what about that sinking feeling when you can’t find your car in the parking lot? I read somewhere recently that there are 105 million parking spaces in America, and if you have a car, it’s probably sitting in one of them- but which one? That’s really easy to figure out if you’re just parked out in the church parking lot, but even then, you might have a day where you walk out the wrong door or forgot that you drove a different car that day. But now think about parking your car at Disney World where there are more than 46,000 parking spaces. Disney World visitors are usually excited about being there and they don’t think about where they are parking, or they have a rental car and can’t remember what it looks like later on, or find that it is identical to 10 other rental cars within the same area. If you’ve been to Disney World, you know that the lots are all designated with a character name like Pluto, Goofy, or Dopey so you can remember where you parked. The tram driver even tells you to remember where you are for later. Still, so many people forget where they have parked that Disney actually has a “parking cast,” a group of people whose sole responsibility is to help you find your car! Only at Disney…and of course, there is much rejoicing over finding your lost car, Disney style (Homiletics). And pro tip- with all of our smart phone technology these days- just take a picture of where you parked!
But if you’re anything like me, being lost yourself or seeking something important that you can’t find, you feel helpless, scared, and even panicked. There are hundreds of stories of children getting lost and the panicked parents who are trying to find them- the desperation and heartbreak of not being able to find something so precious. And when there are reunions, that tearful moment and sheer happiness of rejoicing over that child or loved one who is found is a feeling beyond compare. That is what today’s text is all about. We hear Jesus tell two parables in this part of Luke- one of the lost sheep- the other of the lost coin as a response to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, giving him a hard time for welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners.
It’s important for us to understand what has happened here- Jesus is being challenged for basically “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Not just that, but the Greek wording here for “welcoming” literally means embracing these so-called sinners, and eating with them also- both intimate acts. And the Pharisees criticize him for it. So he tells these parables- “which of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in search of the one who is lost until it is found? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder and rejoices, and asks his family to do the same.” Sheep are helpless animals, especially when they are lost. When a sheep becomes lost, it will sit down and bleat until it is either taken by the elements, attacked by a wild animal, or hopefully, it is found. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, the sheep is so frozen with fear that it is placed on his shoulders and carried back to the rest of the flock the rejoin the fold.
In the same way, the woman with the lost coin was searching the entire house for it- a coin- an inanimate object that can do nothing for itself but to sit and be found- and when it is found, she calls her friends and rejoices over what was lost and is now found. In the same way, God rejoices over what has been found- even if it is just one. What we see in these parables is a God who actively seeks those who are lost and rejoices when they are found. We see a God who searches for those who are lost, no matter how frozen or helpless they are, and brings them back home. We see a savior who is willing to leave the large flock for a time to risk the elements, to risk the safety of the 99 in order to bring just one home. Even just the one.
(Desmund Tutu): When we think of Jesus as the great shepherd or see this depicted in church, it’s usually with a cute fluffy little white lamb. But we forget that the shepherd leaves the well behaved ones in the flock and goes after the one who has gone astray. That lost sheep is probably not the cute white fluffy thing that we usually see- it’s probably the dirty, smelly, rough around the edges sheep who has the tendency to wander off. And we are told that God rejoices over that one being found and rejoining the flock, even over and above the ones who have not wandered off. And at times, we are all that lost sheep who has gone astray. Yet God still picks us up and places us on his shoulders and carries us back into the fold where we belong. (Tutu)- Or if we think back to the story of Exodus- “God did not wait until Israel was deliverable”- no, God acted and delivered- that is a picture of our God who seeks out and saves the lost.
But what does it actually mean to be lost? The obvious answer is that when we are lost, we don’t know where we are or where we are going. We are without direction. Sometimes we know we are lost, and sometimes we have no idea until we look around and realize that we are, in fact, without direction or feel that we are without purpose. In some way, we are all lost, but we all possess the potential to be found. Shortly after these parables in Luke, Jesus gives his true mission to those who will listen when he says, “I have come to seek out and save the lost.” This means that we have a savior who is always seeking after us, no matter how many times we have fallen short, no matter how many times we have wandered off, no matter how many times we have felt without direction or purpose. We also have a savior who challenges us to seek out and save the lost within our own communities and the people we see every day- those who do not yet know the good news of the grace and mercy that is ours in Jesus Christ- those who are doing harm to themselves or to others- those who struggle to get by with basic needs who are reaching out for a helping hand or kind word. There are many who are lost and are in need of being found- we are called upon to seek out and save the lost, just as Jesus came to do.
Just this past Sunday, our youth group had a subtle rejoicing going on in our midst when a few of the young men who skateboard in our parking lot came inside for youth group. They stayed for dinner…then through the games…then through the devotion time…I don’t know about you all who were there, but I was thrilled that they were there, especially after months of trying to figure out how to reach out to them in some way, to offer hospitality, and have them respond- and this time, they did, thanks to some sincere invitations from Cathy and Christine. During the older youth devotion time, we watched a short video about how sometimes the voices that we hear about God in our world are the judgmental and hateful voices, such as those we see from the guys who hold the bullhorns and shout about God’s judgment and condemnation from the sidewalk, or from the so- called “Christian” voices that promote hatred of particular groups of people. We then talked about how Jesus is probably tired of the loud voices, tired of the bullhorn guy, tired of those using his name to promote hatred and intolerance. Instead, we need to be the voice of the church that promotes the fact that God loves us just as we are, and is always present among us in our lives, seeking us out, that we might be found. I have to tell you that as I sat there engaging in conversation with these young men about how much God loves each and every one of us, I was rejoicing inside because I felt at that moment that God was, in fact, rejoicing over those who were lost and now were found. Did we reach them that night? Will they come back? I don’t know. But I do know that seeds were planted and that words of assurance were spoken about God’s love for them. God is still seeking, finding, and rejoicing over them. That, I know, is true.
In life, all of us will fluctuate between “lost” and “found.” There are seasons when all seems to fall into place and we feel content with our lives and our relationship with God, and we feel that God is as close to us as our breathing. Then there are seasons when we feel lost and without direction- we can’t see the road ahead of us, there aren’t any road signs to help us, our GPS is coming up blank, and we feel stuck, hopeless, and full of fear. So we wait. We call upon God, we take deep breaths, we pray, we discern, and just when we feel that our hope has run out, God will carry us back into the fold. But when at times when we feel lost, might we look back and realize that God was, in fact, searching diligently for us the entire time, and really never left our side.
When we finally realize that we are found, we experience a status change- we were lost, but now we are found. On facebook, it takes literally 5 seconds to change your status to let people know what you are doing. On social media, people rarely think twice about changing their status, which sometimes gets people into trouble! But in real life, when our status is changed from lost to found, it is a transformational and life changing status change, not just a spur of the moment thing, not something you don’t think twice about, but a real change of heart and mind. Being found means that you actually realize God’s unconditional, unchanging, ever seeking love for you. That is a life changing reality when you accept it. It’s like walking into the arms of a warm embrace. It’s like seeing an old friend for the first time in 20 years. It’s like coming home again to be surrounded by your most favorite people in the entire world. It’s like being showered with affection after a long absence. It’s realizing that God loves you so much that he will come for you even if you are the only one. It’s hearing over and over again that you are worth it. You are worth it. And then it is being found, carried home, and rejoiced over. No longer lost, but found. And there will be much rejoicing. Amen.