Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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. “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? 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.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We had just moved into a new apartment to start seminary and we splurged with a purchase of a book shelf from Ikea. I laid out all the pieces and started pouring over the instructions. I had the little hex tool ready to go and I dove in. The book shelf started to come together and as I was approaching the final pieces, all of a sudden I could not find the next piece! I looked under the couch and all around the room. I checked my pockets and the box and the bags that the Ikea stuff arrived in. I got down on my hands and feet with a flashlight to try and get the piece to reflect but I could not find it anywhere!
Have you ever had the experience of losing something and spending a lot of time and energy searching for it? What did that feel like? Were you worried, frustrated, angry, sad, exhausted?
Well Jesus is at it again. He is getting a reputation for doing things that he was not supposed to do, and people are starting to complain about it. Jesus is eating with sinners and tax collectors, people who he is not supposed to be eating with. Jesus is eating with those who have been excluded from polite society’s meals.
But Jesus wants more for the people following him than just complaints and misunderstanding at his radical inclusion. Jesus wants us to learn about a reordering of society and uses the hearers’ conscience to make a point. Jesus starts the parable by saying, “Which one of you… does not… go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Jesus appeals to their better nature in order to make this point.
Jesus goes on to show that Jesus is a searcher of lost things and lost people. Jesus is a shepherd who lost a sheep. Jesus is a woman who lost a coin. Jesus searches and searches until finding that lost sheep or that lost coin. Then Jesus celebrates the joy of finding that which is lost.
First, let us consider how this parable has perhaps been misinterpreted over time. How many of you were taught, like me, that the lost are those outside of Christianity? How many were taught that we need to go out to non-Christians to bring them back to the flock? But if we look closely at this parable, the lost are actually already part of the flock or part of the coin purse. The lost are people on the inside already. This story is not about evangelizing to those people out there but caring for those who are here and have been lost for whatever reason. It is about people in our community who have been pushed to the margins.
Second, these parables seem to suggest that God loses things! This is not the normal image I have for God. It is hard to imagine God leaving ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to go climb through bushes and look over ledges for a lost sheep. I don’t normally think of God as a woman bent over looking under furniture and in cobwebs hoping to find a glimmer of gold in the shadows. It is hard for me to imagine the Creator of the universe seeking out the small and seemingly insignificant things in our world.
But this points us to a larger truth that I think it is important for us to hear today. God is where the lost things are. God is searching in the hidden corners of the world, in the places that others do not want to go, the places where people who have been pushed aside reside. Meaning, if I want to find God, I have to seek out the lost and maybe get a little lost myself. I have to leave the safety of my people and my house to go out to where the lost are.
The good news is that I did eventually find that missing piece of the Ikea furniture. And there was much celebrating as the emotional roller coaster rolled on. The joy we discover when the lost things are found is multiplied even greater when people who are lost, discarded, and pushed aside are brought into communities of care and support. Because like that piece of missing furniture, it was absolutely essential to the whole. Without it the book shelf would not work. Without that sheep the flock would not be whole. Without that coin the purse would not be full. Without the lost we are not living into the wholeness of creation that God desires.
I have two takeaways from these parables that I hope will go with you. God is searching for you and for all those who are lost. No one is insignificant. No one is unworthy. Everyone deserves to be found. Especially those who have been most lost, those who have suffered because of systematic oppressions of greed and fear. And we can go out with God to search for the lost because without all of the pieces, we will be incomplete. We will not fully function.
So where are the lost places in our world? How will we as a church community go and seek out those places? How will we live into this divine call today? Let us follow God into the lost corners of the world and perhaps be found ourselves.