1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Have you ever been lost?
Years ago, before the age of GPS, the soothing voice of Siri guiding us on the way, I drove upstate to Oneonta to visit friends. I was driving at night on an old country road, in pitch darkness. There were no streetlights, so I could barely see a few feet ahead of me. To my horror I discovered there was no way to see addresses. Driving with two young children in the backseat, I went back and forth along a lonely dark stretch of road, trying to find our destination, white knuckling all the way. I don’t know how long we spent desperately seeking my friends’ house, until by luck, or more likely divine intervention, we hit upon their driveway. We had arrived. I was overwhelmed with happiness to have finally arrived that I gave the kids big hugs and kissed the ground.
Losing things is a part of life. Who hasn’t lost their car keys or wallet at some point in their lives? Over the summer I misplaced my mother’s engagement ring, and as some here will tell, I put out prayer requests as I frantically scoured the house. Weeks later it resurfaced. Forrest had found it and put it with his grandmother’s heirlooms. The joy at finding this precious ring overcome my annoyance that Forrest had been watching me franticly upending couch cushions and poking into sock drawers without realizing he had it along!
Having lost and found a number of valuable things, even kids, I get what Jesus says in today’s parables about how heaven reacts when someone lost is found: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells us two parables about loss -- a lost sheep and a lost coin. The owner of the 100 sheep loses one sheep is clearly not engaged in an “act of frugality” by seeking the one lost sheep. The 99 are left in the wilderness, not in a safe pen adequately guarded by another farmhand. It sounds as if the 99 sheep are left on their own – the owner just trusts they will stick together. Doesn’t there seem a sense of recklessness on the owner’s actions since he could, for the sake of finding one sheep, potentially losing the other 99? It may not be wise human business practices, but it is how heaven’s spiritual economy works. Jesus is keen to get across the length to which God goes to save even one lost soul.
Jesus also tells another parable about a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins – which corresponds to ten days’ wages. The coins-- called a drachma—was worn often as an ornament and was vital for her and her family’s welfare. This poor woman lost 1/10 of her income. For a poor family this was especially significant.
The woman’s home is typical of the time. It was small room, had a dirt floor, and no window. The woman does three things; lights a lamp (which wouldn’t normally be done in daylight), sweeps the floor, and searches carefully– with effort and with great care. Imagine if ten percent of your savings were lost. In a poor household, a woman on a tight budget would mean the family would have to choose – which meal do we skip? Which child doesn’t get shoes – which child doesn’t get their school fees paid? No wonder that woman tore the place apart looking for the coin. When she finds it, she is overcome with joy and shares her happiness with her neighbors. Jesus is telling us our God is a God who lights the lamp, sweeps the earth diligently to find that one lost soul.
Just as Jesus has been talking to us in the past few weeks about inviting the poor, lame, blind and outcasts to our banquets, so now Jesus describes a God who upends traditional views about piety and faith. The Pharisees and elders are grumbling about how Jesus chose to eat with tax collectors and sinners – all the rift raft of society. Jesus is showing us a God whose heart is for the lost and those cast aside by conventional society. Nothing gives God more pleasure when someone unloved, rejected, who has sinned and makes mistakes, experiences the profound unconditional love and acceptance of God. Yet even the apostle Paul, for all his sins, received abundant grace, faith and the love of God.
Paul, the author of our first reading, describes in moving detail in the scriptures how once he was a leader and held in high esteem by the Jewish religious establishment. Despite his accomplishments and standing, Paul admits he was a violent man the worst of sinners. Paul declares to his audience, including us today: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” If Jesus can accept the greatest persecutor of the faith, Paul, how much more will he joyfully accept you and me?
As we begin a new church season, let’s remember what God cares for. To save us, lost wayward people. We have not only lost things in our lives, who hasn’t been lost at some time in their lives? We can have straight As, be an ace on the sports team or in extracurricular activities, but still feel emotionally and spiritually loss? Who has not spent countless hours wondering who we are, why we feel so scared or lonely in the midst of success? Who has not been at the pinnacle of a career, admired for our achievements and success, and feel so empty inside? We find ourselves lost when a relationship has failed. We find ourselves lost when our lives have been overcome by some addiction or sinful habits. We find ourselves lost when some illness overtakes us or someone we love. We feel lost as we navigate the economic and social insecurities of our country. Let’s admit it, we’ve all sinned, been led astray, wandered off and felt caught in some terrible situation we can’t get out of? Who hasn’t felt at some point, will I be loved, accepted, if people knew the real me, or what I have done? Who hasn’t felt lost in our faith, aware of how we’ve lost the fervor, the joy of true discipleship, and we feel like a ship unmoored.
Our new church season invites us to begin with the experience of being found. Found by Jesus. Jesus is that shepherd roaming the hills, Jesus is the woman searching her house inch by inch, for us. Jesus is here, reaching out to each of us, ready to carry us on his shoulders, ready to pick us up out of the dust. Jesus is seeking us in those broken places, our unconfessed sins, in our worries and anxieties. Let Jesus carry you today. Let him pick you up. May we experience the joy of being found, and as a found people, may we become the search party that Jesus sends out into the world to find the outcast, the poor, the blind and lame and bring them safely home.