Searching, Finding, Rejoicing!
First Reading Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm Psalm 51:1-11
Second Reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel Luke 15:1-10
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness."
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s gospel is about the lost and found. Not the box behind the counter filled with keys, cell phones, and sunglasses. Though that is is a concept to which all
can relate. Who hasn’t misplaced our keys, or had our cell phone slip out of its pocket, or left our sunglasses on a coffee shop table. Sometimes it is not a thing we have misplaced, but an appointment is missed, forgot to pick up that item at the grocery, or a deadline goes by without action. We have all experienced something misplaced, forgotten, or lost.
When Moses came down off the mountain, the chosen people had lost sight of God and his commandments. They thought they had found a suitable substitute in the golden calf. They were wrong. They were, as the country song states, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”
The Pharisees are grumbling again. They always seem to be grumbling about something, usually Jesus. This time, they grumble because Jesus chooses to eat with sinners. We understand that Jesus must do this to avoid dining alone, at a perpetual table for one. The Pharisees had lost sight of grace, believing they had found all they needed in the law. They were wrong. The law is incomplete without grace, without its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
How shall Jesus use this moment to teach? How shall he describe the lost and found in the kingdom of God? Jesus turns to his common teaching technique, the parable.
A shepherd who loses a sheep goes and looks for it. A woman who has lost a coin searches through every corner of the house. All of this sounds ordinary enough. If the gospel were written today, the parable might begin, “A person is ready to go out for the evening and misplaced their car keys ...” We all understand the anguish of something lost. Friends, trying to assist, offer wise inquiry such as “where did you leave them?” This is obviously not helpful.
More often than not, we find what we misplaced, and life goes on. The shepherd found his sheep. The woman found her coin. But this is where our experience of the lost and found and the reality of the kingdom of God are different.
The reactions of the shepherd and the sweeping woman are not normal. The shepherd is relatively well-off, having 100 sheep. And what shepherd has not lost a sheep now and then to a predator or disease? The woman might be relatively poor, with only ten coins to her name, but she only lost one. She still has nine. We live in such a world of abundance, who hasn't dropped a coin under a counter, and calculated it's not worth the trouble to get down on hands and knees to retrieve it. We know exactly where it is, yet we leave it be.
Jesus includes both rich and poor, male and female in these stories to include all of humanity in this confounding condition of losing something of value. In each example, they have lost but one of their several things of value. Against our instinct and experience, the shepherd's and the woman's reactions are wild, exaggerated, and radical. They expend all kinds of effort, energy, time, and worry looking for this one that is lost. Many often interpret that they even abandon the others to look for the lost. This is probably too extreme. The other nine coins are not likely to wander off on their own. The 99 sheep have not been abandoned, but are accounted for ... left out in the open to graze ... safe and well provided for.
The shepherd and the woman seek out their lost because all are of great value to them. Similarly, God values every sheep! God values every one of us! God's love for each of us is radical, exaggerated, and extreme. And when the lost are found, the rejoicing is extravagant! When the shepherd and the woman find their lost, they call together friends and neighbors to rejoice with them. Jesus even compares this to great rejoicing in heaven. The one sheep has wandered off, which is the real issue compared to the others. The shepherd places this wandering but now found sheep on his shoulders to protect, display, and rejoice ... our image of the Divine Pastor.
We are called to join in the searching. Who are the lost we encounter? Unlike the parables where only one is lost, our experience is that many are lost ... wandering on their journey down dark paths ... excluded and uninvited on the margins of society ... untouchables who yearn to be embraced ... those hurt and rejected by the world, or even the church. This week we remembered those lost on 9/11 ... those lost to this world by violence ... the lost who perpetrate violence ... and those lost by the pain, grief, and disappointment of violence. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and we are encouraged to turn our attention to those who are lost and see no way to be found.
We are called to be part of the finding. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, and join in finding the lost, even as we sometimes feel lost ourselves. What if our community shared God's message with the world that we have been looking for you, we have been expecting you, and you have been found. What if we were really prepared for sinners and tax collectors to show up at our door? What if we recognized they are already here? What if we rejoice in that and hold each other up high and celebrate? What if we join the search and go out into the world, confident that the flock is being fed, and purposefully seek, find, and rejoice? What if we are looking for sheep and find a goat or a dog or a snake, and welcome them home anyway? What if while we are seeking, something happens that is unexpected, and God blesses our effort? Will we be open to finding whatever, or whoever, God places in front of us?
We are called to examine our own status. Are we lost or are we found? Does it change from time to time? Each of us has experienced feeling lost, needing to be found, and longing to be hoisted on the Shepherd's shoulders to be celebrated ... the object of rejoicing. Each of us struggles daily on our journey to stay on the path, not get lost, and revel in God's rejoicing. We need constant reminding that God loves us, abides with us, invites us, and begs us to reconcile with God and each other. We need constant reminding that there is a way home ... that while we are seeking, we are simultaneously being sought. This is what our Christian fellowship is all about. Though our human relationships are not perfect, we experience God in the very failings of humanity, in the abiding sense that God is still with us, pouring out radical grace and love, and inviting us into community. Paul suggests we need each other ... to hold each other up when we cannot stand, to call each other back when we wander away, to be the example of Christ to each other when we cannot see Christ in ourselves.
And we are called to rejoice! Each and every sheep and coin, every soul is valued and loved by God. The searching is radical and extreme, and so is the rejoicing! The sinners and tax collectors accepted the invitation to the table and listened to Jesus ... now it is our turn. Each of us are called to find our way to the holy table and partake in the Eucharistic celebration of praise and thanksgiving. Each time we participate in the feast that feeds body, mind, and spirit, we are receiving our found-ness, and we are welcomed home.
We are called to accept and extend the invitation. We are called to seek out the lost. We are called to rejoice in those who have found their way to God, even as we ourselves are found. Our clue to our great value to God is the intensity of the search, a search that includes God sending His only Son to find us, bringing us into the light, and exposing us as found children of God! Our part is not to be saviors. The salvation is Jesus' part. Ours is to seek out the lost, shine a light on the path, to welcome, and to rejoice! Amen.