Exodus 32:7-14 ~ 1 Timothy 1:12-17 ~ Luke 15:1-10
These days I get lost a lot. Last winter, after I had come here to St. Peter to supply for a couple of weeks, I was excited that I could find my way without launching the GPS on my phone. But now that I’m here regularly and exploring the community and trying to find out where many of you live, I’m back to needing that GPS.
Whether you use a GPS, a map, or you just have a great innate sense of direction, these kinds of getting “lost” aren’t usually too much of a problem. You might run late for an appointment, you might feel frustrated or embarrassed or occasionally even frightened, but usually its not too hard to get back on track—even if sometimes we do have to make the dreaded stop at a gas station to help get our bearings.
I have a pastor friend who has to be feeling pretty lost right now. We were in seminary together, and after we graduated she was called to serve a congregation in western Kentucky. She was excited about the call, but I know it was an adjustment for her to leave Florida where she had made her home for most of her adult life. But God was really calling her to this congregation, and besides, it was closer to her roots in the Midwest.
A couple of years ago, back while we were in seminary, her dad died, and as you might expect, it was a tough loss for her.
Then early this summer, her mom found out she had cancer, and after a brief struggle, she succumbed in late August. My friend was busy grieving the loss of her dear mother just a few years after her father’s death… when the unthinkable happened. Her only child, her son, died shortly after her mom’s funeral.
Talk about lost. She’s single, and with her son and both parents dead, everyone she was close to in this world was gone. She’s living on her own in a town that still must feel a bit strange after just a year. That’s a kind of lost that none of us would ever want to have to experience.
There’s one more way I want to think about being lost. This kind of falls into the category of “preaching to the choir”, but we have to think about those who are lost because they don’t know Jesus. Think about all the ways you use the tools of your faith to help in your life…maybe you have some favorite bible passages that you turn to when things are tough. Or maybe you look forward to the chance to come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday mornings. Or maybe it’s knowing that folks here at St. Peter are praying for you when you’re having troubles.
There’s no way I’d want to contemplate life without the toolkit that my faith gives to me, but we know there are lots of folks who haven’t opened that toolkit, haven’t taken advantage of the good things that God offers us.
Speaking of lost, it’s too bad the shepherd in today’s gospel couldn’t have implanted a GPS chip into that wandering sheep; or maybe the woman who lost the coin should have had one of those things you can put on your keys so they’ll “beep” when you push a button to find them.
Losing that coin was a big deal for her, and she went to a lot of trouble to find it. She lit her little lamp, using up some of her precious, expensive supply of oil. She does the hard work of sweeping…and don’t picture picking up a nice clean broom to sweep the linoleum floor in your nice, bright kitchen—she has a rough broom made of twigs bound together with twine and she’s sweeping on a floor of hard-packed dirt. But she took the time to search everywhere— it was important to her to find that coin. That coin was a tenth of her savings—savings that she needed to live. You know, in the first century women on their own didn’t have any respectable options to earn a living. Imagine losing your paycheck or social security check—or more likely a whole year’s worth of them. You’d search everywhere, in every dark corner, every place you could think of to try to find those lost checks.
These 2 parables in Luke show persistence in looking for what is lost—in fact it might even seem like overkill. The shepherd doesn’t give up until he’s found the lost sheep, no matter how long he had to leave his other 99 sheep, even though they might be in danger. And the woman doesn’t stop searching her dark house until she finds that one little lost coin. Both needed to find what was lost. Both were determined to keep searching until they could find the lost and feel complete.
Now remember back to how this reading began: the religious authorities were complaining about who Jesus was spending his time with. He was welcoming sinners and eating with them! Scandalous! Jesus, the rabbi, the teacher, should know better than to eat with such unworthy people.
But actually, Jesus is telling these parables as a response to those leaders, because Jesus has a different idea. He hardly ever does things the way the world thinks he should do them. Jesus tells the parables about losing and finding to make the point that the sinners and tax collectors are exactly the people that he should be eating with. They are the LOST, and God won’t rest until they’re found!
lighting the dark corners of the world,
God will do whatever it takes to find the lost and bring them into God‘s kingdom.
When I drive around, especially when I’m not lost, I always look at the signs in front of churches. Sometimes they’re announcements of worship times or activities happening in the congregation, sometimes brief inspirational messages. Recently as I drove around I noticed a message that caught my eye. It said: “September 18 is National Back to Church Sunday.” That was new to me, but a quick internet search gave me some details. It seems that almost 30,000 congregations across the country have agreed to advertise “back to church Sunday” and encourage their members to invite a friend to church that day. It sounds like a good idea. Maybe this is a way God can find some of those “lost.”
I keep thinking about my friend. How lost she must feel as she gets used to living without her mom, which is hard enough, but also without her son. Mostly she and I are in contact now using email and Facebook, and I saw some Facebook posts from her recently that let me know that God isn’t letting her stay lost. God is reminding her that she’s a child of God and is loved by God and by so many of God’s good people.
The other night she posted about gratitude…even in the midst of her dark time, she can remember to be thankful for the blessings in her life. And she posted about love and relationships. Even as she wakes up each morning bearing the heavy weight of grieving the loss of the people dearest to her, she remembers that God created us to live in relationship with one another, to treat one another with love. Even in her sorrow, she can feel that love. She knows that no matter how lost she feels, God won’t let her stay lost.
Like the shepherd looking for a single lost sheep, and the woman looking for her lost coin, God can’t rest while God’s kingdom is incomplete. God’s going to keep searching; if you are lost, sinful, frightened, or just plain worn out, know that God is seeking you. God wants to give you the peace that comes from being found by God. In our Gospel from Luke today, both the shepherd and the woman were excited when they found what they had lost! Each one called friends and neighbors to celebrate together. And just like those celebrations, God’s throwing a party for everyone who’ll come. Remember that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them, and today Jesus welcomes sinners to the table where he is both the host and the meal. As we gather around the communion table to share together the body and blood of Jesus Christ, remember that all are welcome, lost or found. YOU are welcome—and why not bring a friend?
Preached at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Trenton, OH on September 11, 2016