Found

August 5th, 2016

Luke 15:1-10

Luke 15 is recognized for “lost things.” In our passage for today, we see two parables—one about a lost sheep and one about a lost coin. These precede a third and more well-known parable about being lost, the parable about the two lost sons.

Perhaps we get these back-to-back stories about lost things because Jesus knows that none of us really gets lost in exactly the same way. It looks like the so-called “prodigal son” was looking to get lost—and he succeeded—but getting lost happens in other ways too. Take sheep, for example. Although there are literally hundreds of images of God as the Shepherd in Scripture, we don’t much like thinking of ourselves as the sheep. Sheep get lost in what could almost be called “the stupid way.” They are also, however, noted for their one-track minds—sheep seem to nibble their way into being lost, following the greener grass and never looking up above their tasty fare. But if sheep do that for long enough, they can eat themselves into a very lost place. Sometimes when they do that they become the consumed rather than the consumer.

Some among us are like sheep—not necessarily because we’re stupid but because we get lost even without meaning to get lost—arbitrarily naming something as “the ultimate good” and unthinkingly striving to attain that “good,” no matter what. We’re unswerving too—we never look up, chasing after that goal (perhaps it’s a material possession, or something like a degree, a promotion, a raise, or making our child “the best” at this sport or that subject in school)—and before we know it, we’re lost.

“I didn’t mean to leave the flock,” we say when we come to our senses, when we realize the appetite that got hold of us was an alien one. Sometimes we come to our senses on our own. But more likely, if we are sheep, it’s because of a shepherd. The shepherd knows his flock. No matter how large the flock, it seems, there is this sixth sense shepherds have that tells them one sheep is missing. “It’s the one who has that spot on her head,” they may say as they walk purposefully around the brush.

Just as the shepherd knows his sheep and goes to retrieve them, the woman who loses a coin searches diligently until it is found. “But,” we like to ask, “how did the coin get lost?” It just did—a slip of the hand, a little gravity, a little roll across the floor or a disappearance into the grass . . . gone. Coins are not lost on purpose, and in our era they are not always sought after once they are realized to be missing, either.

In the ancient world, however, coins were valuable, and for many, they were also rare—women especially found themselves with a dearth of currency in the ancient world, especially if they were widows. Perhaps this helps explain why it is that coins were often wedding gifts in the ancient world. No matter how valuable, however, coins got just as lost then as they do now.

People get lost this way too. Sometimes life’s events just take you away, into some obscure corner of the world. But sometimes it is an event, a person, maybe a boss or a professor or a coach. You’ve been mishandled. Maybe you’ve even been dropped—totally dropped—thinking you’d never be found again. Perhaps you’ve said, in the darkest of moments, “I’m not just lost. I’m forgotten. No one is looking for me.”

In these stories Jesus tells us that there is a God who comes to save the lost. God knows us, knows our hiding places and the little nooks and crannies that we slip into from time to time, and he comes to save us. Salvation always looks different than we expect it to—sometimes pleasantly different, as when the “prodigal son” returns home to be a slave but is greeted with a fatted calf and a party; and sometimes it looks like rehab, marriage counseling, a job you wouldn’t ordinarily want—but a job is a job is a job.

We should also never forget that God has a body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:27), and that sometimes God retrieves us through this body. Pastor is Latin for “shepherd,” and in a sense, we are all called to be pastors, shepherds— gatherers of lost people—through our comings and goings, our liturgies, our various gifts. May God give us the diligence to search for the lost and the wisdom to know what to do after we find them. Amen.

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