Lost and Found
Scripture this morning invites us to ponder one - perhaps THE - central theme of our faith: The surprising grace and mercy of God, who is pictured in the first mini story as the Good and Brave Shepherd, who seeks out each lost lamb -
Who in the second story is the Patient and Persistent Woman who will not give up until she has found her treasure. This is the God who throws a party when any one who has been away flies or is carried or even crawls back home to the One who loves us all.
The story would be so easy to tell if we just could be sure where we are located in it. Which part of the story belongs to us.
Which are we?
What are we supposed to be doing?
Searching for something that is lost?
or Celebrating what God has found?
In the set up to the story, do we identify with the tax collectors and sinners? Or the righteous folks who worried that Jesus spent too much time with those ne’er do wells? Let’s start there:
Suppose you were to walk into Steak and Shake after church and find Jesus already there, with a motley assortment of losers. Let’s people that table with . . . somebody just out of jail, a woman whose third or fourth marriage is on the skids, a kid who is always in trouble at school, someone whose always sick, I don’t know --- think of the people whose lives make you think, “Thank God I’m not them.” So Jesus is sitting in the corner booth with these guys, and some really nice folks who live down the street, who always keep their yard so nice and have really polite teenagers are sitting at a table there, and they sort of roll their eyes at the rabble in the corner, and wave you over. But you notice that there’s an empty chair at Jesus’ table, too. Where do you think you’d sit? Where would you feel most comfortable and at home? At which of the tables do you belong?
Maybe, like me, you’d see if there wasn’t a stool at the counter?
And while you are perched on that stool, suppose you hear Jesus’ voice and he’s telling about the shepherd who, because of one little lost lamb, leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to fend for themselves while he climbs hills and searches in ravines and wades through underbrush with bambles and thistles until the stupid little sheep who has wandered off is found, exhausted and panicked and vulnerable to predators, and freed from whatever has snared his wooly coat and kept him from following the flock. And the shepherd picks up the sheep and doesn’t drive him, but carries him back to be reunited with the rest.
You didn’t THINK you were lost, but you know you feel a bit like that lamb sometimes - you are alone, and you don’t know exactly where you are, and you seem to have wandered off the path you thought you knew so well. You know the world seems dangerous and you feel as though you lack any protection from those who would do you harm. And when Jesus describes the Shepherd’s strong hands lifting the lamb and placing him on his shoulders, you long to be carried in those strong arms to a place of safety and rest.
Maybe then you reconsider, and pick up your milkshake and start to join the table with Jesus.
But he’s still talking, and you don’t want to be rude, so you settle in to listen as he tells another story - a story of a woman who has lost an important coin. It is a tenth of her bridal headress, the only real money she will ever own for herself. And when realizes it is missing, she is frantic. She begins looking for it immediately, not waiting until the morning light might aid her in her search. She lights a lamp, and in that meager light she moves the furniture, she gets out her broom and sweeps every corner, inspects every crevice in the flooring until she finds it.
And you think of things that you have lost --- and given up on finding. Maybe it is the joy of living, which somehow slipped away awhile ago and you have been too busy to go back to try to regain it. Maybe it is a commitment to someone or something, even your best self, that just isn’t there anymore. Maybe it is a spiritual practice - - - prayer, or generosity, or hospitality that used to shape your life, but which lies forgotten . . . where? You aren’t quite sure. Maybe it is your faith. People lose their faith all the time, and not everyone bothers looking for it.
But whatever it is, the woman who sweeps and searches through the night reminds you of how much you miss it. You want it. And you think that maybe, if Jesus helps you, you might be willing to light the lamp, burn the midnight oil, upend your room and pick through the dust and spiderwebs in the corners of your life until you find it again.
The crowd at Jesus’ table is laughing and cheering again, as Jesus describes what happens at the end of the story - BOTH stories end the same way: There is a party, a celebration with rejoicing and music and food and good company. Jesus says, there is a party that reflects the party that angels have in heaven whenever the lost is found, when the wanderer returns, when a life is reunited with the God who loves us so. That’s the kind of happy ending you want for your story. You spin on your stool and head for the chair that’s been waiting for you this whole time.
One who has lost a treasure?
or one who is actively searching?
Where are you in the story?
Maybe you still aren’t quite sure.
But at least you know where you want to sit at Steak and Shake.