“Lost and Found” Colchester Federated Church, August 23, 2020, (Luke 15:1-10) Confirmation Sunday/Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

My father was the Assistant Principal at Central Middle School in Wadsworth, Ohio when I was a student there.  And he relished finding ways to be embarrassing.  (Though in retrospect it was mostly my age and being the principal’s daughter that were the main factors in everything being so embarrassing about my parents back then.)  One of the funniest things he did was orchestrating an occasional fashion show during lunch.  My father would collect items from the lost and found box and ask student volunteers to wear them around the cafeteria and show off the latest fashion trends for all to see and admire.  It was the Lost and Found Fashion Show!  Inevitably a kid would jump up from their seat as they saw a fellow student parading around the cafeteria like a model on the runway and say, “Hey, that’s my hat!”  Or “I’ve been looking for that hoodie everywhere!”  Students would laugh and cheer as the lost items were happily reunited with their thankful (and forgetful) owners.  What once was lost had now been found at Central Middle School.

It’s a good feeling, right?  When something that we’ve lost seems to magically appear.  Whether that happens in a school cafeteria or underneath the seat of our car or in some forgotten corner of our homes—the reunion with our lost item can feel fantastic.  And that feeling is even better when we’ve been searching high and low and finally find what it is we’ve been looking for.

Now Jesus told his followers relatable stories about items that were lost and then found.  He begins in the Gospel according to Luke Chapter 15 with the story of the lost sheep.  Jesus relates that suppose someone among us had one hundred sheep and lost one of them.  Wouldn’t that person leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until they find it?  And when that sheep is found, wouldn’t that person be thrilled and place the sheep on their shoulders?  Wouldn’t they arrive home and call together their friends and neighbors, saying, “Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.”[1]

Or imagine a woman who has ten silver coins and loses one of them.  Wouldn’t she light a lamp and sweep the house searching her home carefully until she finds that one lost coin?  And when she finds it, she would call together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.”[2]

Because that’s sometimes what we do.  We find something that was lost and we can’t help but shout it from the rooftops!  We can’t help but say to our loved ones, “You won’t believe what happened!  I found my watch that I’ve been looking for!  It fell behind the dresser somehow and was there this whole time.”  The point is that we rejoice when something lost has been found, even simple everyday items.

Jesus tells us in our Gospel story that rejoicing is the reaction that happens in heaven when one person changes both their heart and their life and comes back to God.  Because Jesus told these stories about the sheep and the coin being lost and found after he was criticized by the Pharisees and the legal experts.  Jesus is welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners.  In those days tax collectors were despised, almost universally despised.  In the First Century, tax collectors were known to be untrustworthy cheaters.  In their line of work they collected tolls, market duties, and all kinds of local taxes (sales tax, income tax, property tax, and inheritance tax.)  Though tax collectors made a better living by overcharging people, and some of their fellow Jews saw them as Roman collaborators.  So it’s understandable that Jesus was criticized for welcoming tax collectors and sinners and even going so far as to eat with them.

Though Jesus obviously saw the situation differently.  He responds to this criticism by these “righteous” religious folks by telling these stories—about the one sheep that went missing and the one coin that went missing.  About how much the shepherd and the woman rejoiced when they found what had been lost.  Jesus ends these stories by saying to those who criticize his welcoming ways, “In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”[3]

It ends up that God isn’t looking for our perfection, but our sincerity.  God knows that we won’t be perfect, and that sometimes we end up lost like that coin and that sheep.  We sin—we end up separated from God, from one another, and from being the person that God is calling us to be.  The point is to remember that we can be found and that there is much rejoicing in heaven when we’re found.  The point is that separation can be overcome.  There’s rejoicing (not judgment) when we come back home to God no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done or left undone in our lives.

Now we cover various topics in our Discipleship Class throughout our time together.  We learn about—worship and the sacraments, the Bible, the history of Christianity and the history of the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, sexuality and our faith, world religions, the meanings of the UCC Statement of Faith and the ABC Identity Statement, witness and service, justice and peace, forgiveness and grace, and eternal life.  What wonderful information from all these classes which cover all these topics is retained in our minds is always another story. 

Though indoctrination is not what Discipleship is all about.  Memorizing facts and figures is not what Discipleship is about.  Asking questions.  Being open to new ideas.  Hearing what each other believes or struggles to believe.  Finding a belief or two that you can hold onto and can anchor you when life gets a bit stormy.  Knowing that faith is a journey and that we’re on this journey together.  Feeling the power of community that one can experience by being part of a church family.  Those are some of the overarching lessons that we hope you will carry with you beyond this Confirmation Sunday.  I also pray that you will never forget that you are loved by God for exactly who you are—Evan, Ava, Jack, Elliot, and Ryan. 

And remember (especially since you chose this Bible story) that sometimes in life you may be the lost sheep or the lost coin.  Most of us are from time to time.  Though living a Christian life isn’t about perfection—it’s about loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves with all we’ve got and being open to God’s grace when we get it all wrong.  Because there is rejoicing in heaven when once we were lost, and now we are found.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 15:6, Common English Bible.
[2] Luke 15:9.
[3] Luke 15:10.