“The Lost & Found” Colchester Federated Church, September 11, 2022, (Luke 15:1-10) Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Rally Day

We often talk about Jesus’ concern for those on the margins of society—for the lost and the lonely, for the despised and heartbroken, for people who were different somehow.  Jesus’ ministry was marked by his concern for the destitute, for he was concerned for those who were oppressed and embraced people that others shunned.  Today’s Gospel text begins with Jesus speaking to these marginalized folks.  Luke sets the scene by telling us that all the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around Jesus listening to him.  Meanwhile the Pharisees and legal experts are grumbling, complaining that Jesus welcomes sinners and even eats with them.  It’s in this contentious moment that Jesus launches into what would become famous parables—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son (the Prodigal Son). 

Jesus begins with the parable of the lost sheep.  He presents a scenario to those gathered—both those “sinners” who were listening to him and those “righteous” religious folks who were grumbling about the mere presence of the “sinners.”  Jesus says that suppose someone among you had 100 sheep and one of them ended up lost.  Wouldn’t that person leave the 99 in the pasture and go out searching for the lost sheep until it’s found?  When that sheep is found, wouldn’t you be thrilled and place that sheep on your shoulders to bring them home to safety?  Wouldn’t you call together your friends and neighbors and ask them to celebrate with you because you have found your one lost, wandering sheep?  Jesus declares, “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.”[1]

This is one of those stories that we’ve maybe heard so many times that we almost become numb to its meaning.  We take it for granted.  But here’s the thing, what we translate into English as “pasture” (as in, wouldn’t the shepherd leave the 99 in the pasture and search for the lost one until he’s able to find it) well, that word is translated in other chapters of Luke (chapters 3, 4, and 7 specifically) as “wilderness”.  So perhaps a better translation (that would help us take to heart Jesus’ original intention) would be: “Wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and search for the lost one until he finds it.”  The logical answer is no!  Of course not.  And that’s the whole point!

In this parable the sheep are not in a safe and secure place at all.  Those 99 sheep are in the wilderness, in a dangerous place.  Though Jesus says that the shepherd still leaves them to go out looking for the one sheep that’s lost.  The shepherd leaves the sheep in the wilderness to go looking for the lost one because that one lost sheep is in way worse shape than the 99 (because at least they have each other for protection).  Jesus sums this parable up by telling those gathered that this is how God works.  There will be more joy in heaven over one person who changes their heart and life than over 99 people who didn’t need to undergo this kind of transformation.  God is no ordinary shepherd.  God’s mercy knows no bounds.  God goes out looking for those who desperately need God in their lives, whether they realize that or not.

Jesus also tells a parable about a woman who owned ten silver coins and lost one coin.  Now wouldn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house, and search high and low until she found that lost coin?  When she found the coin, of course she would call her friends and neighbors and want them to celebrate with her.  Again, sometimes our English translations from the original Greek make the meaning a bit muted.  Because these coins are drachma.  A drachma was a normal day’s wage for an unskilled laborer.  These coins amounted to 10 days’ worth of wages.  These ten coins were probably her lifetime savings. 

In some ways, Jesus uses the lost coin story to contrast the situation with the shepherd who could have afforded to lose that one lost wandering sheep (since he had 99 left).  But this woman could not have afforded to lose even one single coin because she seems to be from humble origins.  Though here’s the kicker—the woman throws a party anyway!  She might have even spent that one coin she found to have people over to celebrate!  Because hospitality was that important—whether someone was a sinner or a saint, God welcomes us.  Because joy over finding what was lost and then found is that important.  Because this is how God’s angels react over just one person who changes their heart and life and comes on home to God.

These stories are so famous for a reason.  Jesus was a master storyteller.  And don’t we often wonder about how God works?  It ends up that God is far more merciful than we can imagine.  It also ends up that God uses us to help God bring about the kingdom of heaven—where the last will be first and the first will be last.  It’s like the quote that is often attributed to St. Teresa of Avila says, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Or it’s like a story shared from Reverend Adam Hamilton who serves as the Senior Pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City (the largest Methodist Church in the world).  He once shared that he experiences God working in his own life by feeling nudges from time to time.  He explained that one evening his wife was out of town and he decided to go out for dinner.  Heading toward a particular restaurant he felt a strong urge to turn around and go to a different restaurant.  Adam Hamilton followed that nudge, not really knowing if it was just a random thought or the nudging of God.  Walking into the restaurant, a woman sitting at the front table looked at him and her jaw dropped.  She exclaimed, “Pastor Adam, I can’t believe you’re here.  I’ve been going through a really tough time.  Not ten minutes ago I had been praying, ‘God, can you show me some kind of sign that you still remember I’m here?’ and then you walked in.”  We could pass this off as a coincidence.  Or perhaps we could see that God was somehow at work here and speaking to both Reverend Adam Hamilton and this woman who was hurting.  It was a God wink!  It was an instance of being lost and then found.[2] 

Remember that “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 15:7, Common English Bible.
[2] Adam Hamilton, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say, 40-41.

Photo by Will Bolding on Unsplash