Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So 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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 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.’ 7 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.
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? 9 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.’ 10 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 NRSV)
Never in my life has a coin or an animal repented of being lost. Though I have carelessly allowed money to slip through my fingers from time to time, it never expressed sorrow or remorse. I’ve never owned sheep, but I have owned several cats and dogs and if any of them ran away, they were always relieved to be home. Yet, never once did they repent.
This isn’t a set of parables about repentance. Rather, Jesus is talking about lost-ness and how God responds. Lost-ness comes in many forms. It can occur as a result of wandering. The sheep wanders from one tuft of grass to another until it discovers it’s alone.
Lost-ness can occur due to carelessness. Inattention can lead to my losing my wallet or a part of my life savings.
Acts of nature, too, cause people to go missing. Since the tsunami, Japanese families continue to look for lost loved ones. Some have even taken up deep sea diving, in order to search the ocean. The New York Times reports that a woman goes to the ocean daily and throws her late daughter’s favorite meal into the sea. They can’t quit looking for those who are lost to them.
Today is the 15th anniversary of the attack on our nation on 9/11. I still remember sitting in the conference room watching the TV news re-play the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Some 3,000 people died that day. Many hundreds of the bodies were never recovered. Those left behind still live with the emptiness of that loss.
When people are lost forever, they leave behind those who live with a sense of the incomplete. Part of the whole is missing. They would do anything they can, even go deep sea diving, if they could recover at least the body of the loved one.
Lost is the tragedy in these parables. Lost to the family. Lost to the community. Lost to God? No. And here’s where the message of the parable kicks in: God searches high and low, right and left, up and under, behind and beside, all around, never stopping until the lost are returned to the fold.
Lost tells the story of the wretchedness of the stray sheep, curled up in a bush unable to make a sound for fear the wolves will discover tonight’s meal. Lost tells the story of the shepherd who diligently and tenderly finds the sheep, lost and hungry and tired, slings it on his shoulders and returns it to the fold.
Seek. It’s a word that speaks to diligence and a pursuit that doesn’t let up. The shepherd and the woman seek and search and clean out and clear away, moving heaven and earth in order to find what is lost.
Joy. One lost sheep found out of 100? It’s not good business practice, you know. You don’t risk the 99 for one. What’s really over the top, though, is the joy of the shepherd when he finds the lost one. Celebrate with me, he calls out! So much to be thankful for!
When have you been lost? When have you kept your head down, working diligently until you discovered you were lost. You raised your head to discover that nothing looked familiar. Perhaps you lost family and friends. The landscape of your life isn’t what it once was. How did you get here? How will you get back?
How DID you get back? Did you feel God’s presence? or God’s silence? Did you trust that God would bring you home? Or did you jump down that rabbit whole in anger and fear? When did you finally discover that God had found you — in fact that God had never lost you?
The truth is, you were never lost to God. You were always and will always be already found by God even when you believe yourself to be lost. This isn’t a case of our sitting back and waiting for God to show up; nor is it a case of our action of saying, “Hey, God. Over here! I’m in the bush.”
Rather, we listen for God’s voice; we remain attentive to those footsteps approaching, always ready and willing to accept our Great Finder to hoist us onto those broad shoulders and bring us home.
This isn’t a parable about repentance as much as it is a parable about God’s activity in our lives. And it’s about the great amount of joy in heaven when the lost one is brought back to the fold. It’s a time of celebration and rejoicing!
So when the the drug dealer, the arms dealer, the terrorist are brought back to the human community, how do we respond? With derision or rejoicing? With snobbery or with compassion?
The lost are a source of deep grief to God. And while God does the work of seeking out and finding, sometimes using us as His hands and feet, can we be the ones ready to welcome into your community that one person who will make us feel that sense of completion?
All glory and honor be to God.