Text: Luke 15:1-10
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
A beloved cat of my teen years got hurt and ran away for three days but then he came back. Other beloved cats in my life have disappeared and did not come back.
About four years ago I moved a filing cabinet into the garage and left the key in the lock so I would be able to find it. A while ago I noticed that the key was gone. I looked in every place in my house where a missing key ought to be, and found nothing. Two weeks ago the key appeared. I’m really not sure how that happened.
Years ago, in the bathroom of my college dorm, I found about $40 in brand new bills, floating in the toilet bowl. Do you think I scooped out that money? Yes I did!
These are humorous or interesting stories about losing and finding, but they aren’t really life-changing. As I pondered what it is to lose and find, to be lost and found, it occurred to me that I do know what it means to lose a part of myself.
When I look back on my life I can see that I have made some incredibly significant decisions, decisions that set or changed the course of my life, because I thought I should or had to, not because they reflected my own inner light or gave me delight. And some of those decisions were just dumb. I wish I could change them. I wish I had been a little more free, and sometimes wiser.
I think you can lose a part of yourself when you try extremely hard to fit into a role that has assigned to you that isn’t what you would have chosen.
So there Jesus was in a familiar situation. The Pharisees were on his case because he was hanging out with the sinners, with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and so forth. The Pharisees are like parents saying to their teenage kid, “I do not want you to hang out with those kids. They smoke and do drugs and cut class and they’re a bad influence.”
Jesus and the Pharisees had a complicated relationship and it was not one of enmity. The Pharisees disapproved of a lot of what he said and did, but they were fascinated by him, and he was a fellow rabbi. They warned him when he was in danger, and Jesus was always going to a Pharisee’s house for dinner.
There is even some speculation that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. If he was, then he would have been a sort of bad-boy Pharisee, like if your pastor smoked and had tatoos and cursed a lot and didn’t keep the rules.
Anyway, the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." Jesus heard this, of course – Jesus had very good hearing – and told them a parable.
"Which one of you,” Jesus began, “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? 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?”
I never read the parable in this way until this year, but I think that the answer to Jesus’s question is, “Duh, Of course you would. We all would.” I think it was a rhetorical question to which the answer was yes.
I think Jesus was saying, “If you as a shepherd would leave your ninety-nine sheep to go find one who was missing, and if you as a woman would turn your house upside down to find a lost coin because sheep and coins are valuable, wouldn’t I, wouldn’t God, go searching for a lost human?”
To paraphrase Matthew 10:31, Jesus is asking, “Are these children of God not more valuable than coins and sheep?”
And there’s more to parable than that. It becomes distinctively Jesus-like and very Kingdom of God/turn things upside down-like when he describes the what happens after the sheep is found and carried home, after the coin is discovered and dusted off. It’s what always happens in the Kingdom of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Rejoicing! A party!
I mean, really, Christians should be the most party-loving, party-giving people on the planet. We follow a God who takes every opportunity to invite people over for food, drink, dancing, talking, singing, resting, enjoying, rejoicing. Jesus was just all about this.
Remember that at the beginning of this parable, the issue was that Jesus was hanging out with sinners. By spending time with undesirables Pharisees were concerned that Jesus would communicate approval of their lifestyles, of their unclean or immoral choices. So they grumbled.
And Jesus, who, unlike teenaged kids, was not likely to be influenced by the bad company he had chosen, was saying sure, they may be sinners, but they are beloved and valuable and they are children of God.
Let’s not turn away or throw them away or abandon them, but reach out. Surely they can be found and returned to the family, to the fold, to the Kingdom, to God.
And maybe, Jesus was saying something more. Not about humans, who all are sinners, or about levels or layers of sinfulness, but something about God. Maybe this parable is about who God is.
Because I want you to notice something else about this parable. The actor is God. The one who does the finding is the Shepherd and the woman, both God-figures in these parables. The sheep doesn’t do anything to get found. It just gets found. And scooped up. And carried home.
Even more so with the coins. They are inanimate objects. If one rolls under the bed or into a dark corner, it’s not the coin’s fault. And the coin just sits there until it is found.
No, in this parable God is the actor. God goes looking, God God does the bending, the sweeping, the finding, the scooping, and the returning. Other actors, other characters only show up to join God in the rejoicing. They come to the party.
Maybe one reason God goes looking one sheep and leaves ninety-nine behind, and turns the whole creation upside down to find one coin when God already has a handful, is that in losing us, God has lost part of God’s self. God wants it back. God wants us back.
You see, we were made in the image of God. God’s image is stamped, imprinted, on us. God the creator and we the creation, God the poet and we the poem, God the potter, we the dishes, we’re part of God’s intention, God’s family, even God’s self.
We breath God’s breath. We share a mystical union with Jesus and God’s other children that makes us one. So God misses us when we go missing, and wants us back. God goes looking and sweeping and scooping, and brings us home and throws a party. God wants God’s whole family, God’s self, back together.
There are many ways to be lost. One can literally get lost, on the freeway or in a store. And there are people who seem to be kind of lost in their lives. Typically it’s as if they don’t have an anchor, or a center, and they wander.
It’s possible to lose part of yourself. I said earlier that in my own life when I’ve made decisions that weren’t in keeping with who I really am, some part of me – the part God made – was lost.
I think that one of the ways we are found, one of the ways God finds us, is to restore those parts of ourselves which were lost. How does this happen? There isn’t just one way, but it has to do with knowing and trusting, deeply and truly, and that our selves are valuable to God. That the God who made us, loves us, and that is our center. That is our anchor.
I’m sure many of you have heard of author and speaker Brene Brown, right? On the topic of midlife and growing out of, or giving up, childhood coping mechanisms that hold you back, she said,
“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up [for your life].”
You were made to live and love with your whole heart, and this life and this love is a gift from God. When we go missing, or when we lose parts of ourselves, which is often the same thing, God comes looking for us. When God finds us, God throws a party and there is rejoicing on earth and in heaven, because what was lost is found, and what was broken has been made whole. In finding us, God’s very self is restored. Amen.