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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

I Am Found!

Luke 15:1-10

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”



Have you ever been lost? Perhaps it was driving in an unfamiliar area in the days before GPS, when you had to rely on a map to get you where you were going. In parts of New Jersey, such as areas of endless cornfields, a map might not have helped much! Even with GPS some question the accuracy of the directions, arguing with the disconnected voice on the best route to take.


Perhaps it was a cross-country road trip. Deciding to travel off the beaten path you discover that you have no idea where you are or what state you are in. Finding the interstate feels like a hopeless endeavor.


Perhaps it was as a small child who wandered off from the familiarity of home or the comfort of a nearby parent. Panic sets in and all you can do is cry.


Being lost can be disconcerting, uncomfortable, or even frightening. We’ve heard stories of a hiker that got lost, often by straying off the trail to explore. The hiker may be stranded overnight, unsure of how to find the trail or they fall and are injured so are unable to backtrack to where they were. When the lost hiker is found, they, as well as family and friends, rejoice at their return, even enough to throw a party.


How about losing something important or losing someone you were supposed to be watching?


Many years ago, my family took a trip to Disneyland. My sisters, brother, their spouses and kids, and my Dad joined us. At one point during the day everyone wanted to go on a Space Mountain. Three of the kids weren’t old enough to ride so my youngest sister and I volunteered to watch them in Toon Town, a children’s section of the park.


One of the attractions there was a bounce house that the youngest of the three loved. Now a bounce house has screens on a couple of sides so you can watch the kids having fun. I took my nephew to the entrance, took off his shoes, and watched the attendant let him in. Then I walked around to the exit to wait for him to come out. When I got there, I looked inside to watch him – he wasn’t there! I ran back to the entrance and asked the attendant where the little white-haired kid was. The guy told me that the little boy had walked back out the entrance. What?!! How could the attendant let a child walk out?


In a panic I went to find my sister. We began a frantic search for a two-year-old in the lost in the midst of a huge crowd. We went to a security officer for help. We ran to the food area thinking a little boy might be hungry. We split up and ran through the crowd looking, knowing that everyone would soon return – how were we going to tell our other sister that we had lost her son?!


Then we saw him. A person was carrying him towards the security officer. We immediately grabbed him, went to where we were supposed to meet everyone else, and swore the other two kids to secrecy. Just as we started to calm down, the group appeared. We had found our lost nephew in the nick of time.


The two parables here in Luke are about finding what was lost. Jesus addresses these to the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining about the company Jesus kept. Rather than giving them a stern lecture, Jesus, as he was wont to do, presented them with scenarios with which they could identify. Wouldn’t they go look for something important that was lost?


The truth that both Jesus and these religious leaders knew was that, although the shepherd would go look for the lost sheep, the likelihood of finding it was slim. The landscape of Judea was a hilly terrain that made it hard to see anything in the distance. There were many nooks and crannies that a sheep could get into that a person could not. Predators could easily attack the sheep. Yet, against all odds, the sheep was found.


They also knew that the likelihood of finding a lost coin in a house was also slim. Houses didn’t have the wood or tile floors we are used to. Those floors were dirt covered with straw making it easy for a coin to work its way under the straw and become covered in dirt. The woman would look anyway. Yet, against all odds, the coin was found.


Note that the shepherd and the woman were responsible for both the loss and the recovery of what was lost. The shepherd’s job was to care for the sheep – to keep track of them and protect them. The woman was expected to keep her money in a safe place. To lose what you were supposed to be caring for was akin to failing at your job.


Looking for what was lost was no easy task. The sheep and the coin couldn’t do anything to be found. The sheep didn’t have one of those tall red flags you put on a kid’s bicycle. The coin couldn’t turn on its brightness to make it easier to see. When one of these seemingly irretrievable things was found, rejoicing was a certainly in order – even enough to celebrate with others.


Jesus, in telling these parables, compares a lost sinner to the lost sheep and the lost coin. Finding a sinner who was lost, who repents, is cause for celebration.


Many interpreters of these parables identify God as the shepherd and the woman. God is the one who continues looking to find the lost sinner. God is the seeker of the lost. But, if we look at the idea that the shepherd and the woman were also the ones who lost what was important, what was their responsibility to care for, identifying God with each of them implies that God lost the sinner in the first place.


Another way of considering God’s role here is to look at the one who is lost. In Genesis, we read that humans were created in God’s image. Not as a replica of God like an image imprinted on a coin. But as those that bear God’s imprint. God’s character is inside of every person. God’s imprint is indelible on each person. So, a lost sinner is, to God, a lost part of himself. Searching everywhere for this lost image-bearer is God’s highest priority.


The search is not easy. Some want to be found. Others don’t want to or think they don’t want or need to be found by God. Some believe they are irretrievably lost. When one of those God is looking for is found, there is cause for rejoicing, for having a party in heaven!


What about those who aren’t lost? The 99 sheep who the shepherd left behind while searching for the lost one. Those who are grumbling and impatient, who want to get back to their pen for the night. They might not even care that much about the lost one. A similar scenario as that in the well-known parable of the prodigal son that follows these. The eldest brother, the one who stayed home, who considered himself the responsible one who did all that was expected of him, grumbled about the rejoicing for his younger brother who had run off when he returns.


Both the lost and the not lost are equally loved by God. The not lost who consider themselves in the fold, who do the right things and follow the rules as they understand them and the lost who are looking for something different from what they have or where they are. Those who go their own way. Who may not live a religious lifestyle. They need to be found, whether they think so or not.


The truth is everyone needs to be found, to have a fresh start, to return to God in one way or another. God is diligently searching, high and low, under the rocks, in all the nooks and crannies, for you whether you think you need to be found or not. The real you, stripped of all the trappings that are put on to mask who you are inside. God is searching for the heart laid bare that is seeking to be found, wanting desperately to be found by someone who cares and loves them.


In the searching, God challenges each of us to examine our life, to consider who we are and who we have become. To recognize that we do need to be found, that we deserve to be found. To choose to turn to God, the one who is looking just for us.


Imagine being shipwrecked on a deserted island. Some would find this delightful. Time to yourself with no interruptions. Time to relax, watch the waves roll in while sitting on the sand. Others would be frantically trying to find a way to be rescued. To wave a red flag or turn on a light in order to be seen. Still others would accept their plight, certain that they were doomed to be on the island until they die of hunger and thirst.


Eventually, even those who enjoy the experience would begin to miss civilization. They would want to have their cell phone, iPad, or television, to eat their favorite foods, and to see friends and family. A longing for home embraces them so much so that they desperately want to be found. Everyone on the island rejoices when the rescue ship arrives. They can’t wait to celebrate!


The joy at being found by God is unlike any other joy we will ever experience. God is looking for each of us, for every person. Some have strayed farther than others or have rolled into the darkest corner. Some are going about their lives not feeling lost at all, comfortable and complacent.


God’s greatest desire is that each person, each of us, discover that they want to be found. God wants us to discover or discover again the joy at being found by the One who genuinely cares about you and absolutely loves you.


And when you are found, oh what a party there will be!


Amen.

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