When my daughter Hannah was a toddler, she had a treasured and well-loved blue elephant that she took everywhere. It sat with her in her highchair and stroller; it was tucked in nearby for naps and nighttime. She would walk around the room with the trunk of the elephant hanging from her mouth. Its fur was matted – to be honest, it was stinky -- but she refused to be parted from it.
One day our worst fears come true. We were doing errands in the neighborhood and we got home to discover that Mr. Elephant was missing. Propelled by Hannah’s cries, we retraced our steps, asking every shop owner if they had seen a scruffy blue, stuffed elephant. When we reached the grocery store – the culprit confessed. A stocker found the elephant and instead of putting it aside, he threw it away with the rest of the store’s garbage. Instead of seeing it as an object of love and affection, he just saw it as a discarded, worn out toy that needed to be disposed. Hannah for inconsolable for several days.
Loss raises its painful head in all our lives. Some of us are more losing prone than others. Have you ever parked your car and discovered you couldn’t find where you parked after shopping (or partying?)? How many of us have lost car keys? House keys? A credit card? Important documents? Have you ever taken a wrong turn in an unfamiliar area that not even the GPS could fix? How many of us have lost our children – or other family members or friends – to death, conflict, addiction, illness, changing values, to the lures of the world? I don’t know about you, but I can say yes to about every item. Last week, my family lost our beloved scraggly 181/2 year old cat – and I still find myself tearing up. Loss, even the small stuff, can leave us disoriented, upset, frustrated. Along comes that sinking feeling that we’re not on top of things; our game is slipping. There have been times, I admit, while searching for something that my Catholic roots slip out, and a prayer to St. Anthony -- patron saint of lost items-- escapes my lips: “"Tony, Tony, turn around. Something's lost that must be found."
Our lessons today talk also about loss. Especially loss from God’s perspective. In Jeremiah, the prophet relays God’s judgment on a leadership and nation gone astray, a nation filled with evil schemes, a people skilled at doing evil, which will now result in an invasion by foreign powers, war and defeat. God suffers as his people are captured, killed and no doubt tortured and injured – God suffers as his people fall apart due an unwillingness to act righteously and follow the laws God has set forth for their life as community.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells a few parables about loss -- loss from the perspective of God-- images that his audience could relate to – 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 safety. The owner doesn’t even leave the sheep with a shepherd. It sounds as if they are left on their own – the owner just trusts they will stick together. There is a sense of recklessness in the owner’s actions since he could, for the sake of finding one sheep, potentially losing the other 99. Not wise human business practices. In the eyes of God, we, respectable church members, can be left in the wilderness while the one sheep, the least sheep, the lost, foolish sheep is rescued. In a rich irony for our age, Jesus turns our modern metaphors on its head in this story by showing our God as the God of the one percent! Not the one percent wealthy, but the one percent lost –that one percent that God does not forget – and is willing to risk the 99 percent for.
Jesus next tells a parable about a woman, a poor peasant, who lost one of her ten silver coins – which corresponds to ten days’ wages. The coins-- called a drachma-- 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 diligently – 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.
Jesus tells us that this is how God initiates action. God is a seeker. A searcher for the lost. God risks on behalf of the lost. Jesus teaches – we too, who know what it is like to be lost, must find those who are now lost. Once found, we must celebrate.
We begin our Church season confronted by loss. Today is great, but numbers are down. Offerings are down. Our commitment to church is down. Why is this? We are like that lost sheep; it’s lost its way. It’s lost it’s home in the flock. We need to be found.
Jesus wants us to know, that God of the one percent will leave the other sheep behind, and search until he’s found us. As we begin a new season, we are given the mandate to seek the loss, to find what’s missing in our lives. To sweep every inch of the house, use up the precious fuel, until what is lost is found. God will find us in every mistake, in every wrong turn, in every lost place we find ourselves in. Once we are found, no matter what we have done, there is no recrimination. No punishment. No judgment. There is rejoicing --- with friends, neighbors and the angels of heaven.
Let the lost be found – let faith be found, let our commitment to God be found, let our commitment to church be found -- because God has shown us that nothing that is truly loved is truly lost – but will be found on the loving shoulders of our forever seeking, searching God, to the rejoicing of the angels in heaven and to all God’s people on earth. amen.
Interpretation: Luke [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 185.).