The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 15th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
1 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 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 sheep that was lost.' 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. 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 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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you ever lose things? Of course you do. We all do. As I was looking through this gospel reading this week, I wondered what kinds of things we could lose that would make us drop everything and go look for them.
The first thing I thought about was my keys. Did you ever misplace your keys? The very first week I was at my congregation in Texas, I locked myself out of my office. Everyone was gone for the day and all the phones were behind locked doors. I lived in the parsonage next door, but I couldn’t get into my house. I thought about going to a neighbor’s and asking to use their phone to call a council member or the secretary to come over and let me in.
I wasn’t even sure what would happen if I left the building. I didn’t know if the doors locked behind me. I was panicking, trying to remember who in the church might live close by when the Day Care Director came back for something she forgot and let me in. She was a good shepherd to me that day.
The second thing I thought about that would make me drop everything to look for it was my phone. How many of you have put your phone down some place and then had to ask your spouse to call you so it would ring and you could find it? We have all done that, haven’t we?
Stephen Merz gave me permission to tell you about losing his phone this past week. It’s a new phone. He just got it and he loves it. It does everything he wants it to. And he put it in an open pocket on the side of his pants and rode off on his motorcycle. And it fell out. When he realized it was lost, he retraced his path, riding very slowly, looking everywhere. After a while, a truck driver saw him, and called out to him - “It’s here under my truck.” The truck driver realized what Stephen must be doing riding so slowly when he saw the phone on the side of the road. That man was a good shepherd to Stephen that day.
We lose our keys. We lose our phones. We lose other things, too. My cat is totally an indoor cat. When we got him he had already been declawed by the previous owner, so he would not survive long outside. So he’s totally an indoor cat. However, if you could ask him, he would lie to you and tell you he is allowed to go outside. And he tries to get out every time you open the door.
Usually, he doesn’t get far. He is a lot like the sheep in Jesus’s story. The first place he sees grass he stops and eats it, so that when you find him and bring him in he can throw up on the carpet.
There was one time he got out of the parsonage in Nebraska on a Sunday morning before church. He decided he didn’t want to come in and kept running away from us. We were in our bathrobes trying to catch him and bring him back. Really, nobody but the altar guild was there yet, so nobody else saw us.
Today, Jesus tells us a parable. Parables help us understand what kind of God we have. Most people identify the Shepherd and the woman with the coin as the God figures in the parable. And that’s great. God is the Good Shepherd who goes to find the lost sheep. God is the woman who cleans her whole house to find one lost coin. God is the one who celebrates finding the lost.
So here’s a question for you to think about today.
God is the kind of God who searches for the lost. So, is God also the kind of God who loses things?
Did you ever wonder about that? The shepherd lost the sheep. The woman lost the coin. The woman and the shepherd represent God. We are made in the image of God and we lose things. Is this the kind of God we have? A God who loses people?
When we look back at our other readings today, they seem to support the idea that God does lose people sometimes.
Here’s the scene we have in the first reading. This part of the story takes place when Moses has to go back to God to get the 10 Commandments replaced. You remember, God gave the people the 10 Commandments as a gift, as the list of instructions about how the world works, about how to get along with each other. Moses comes down the mountain, face all shining from talking with God, and finds out they have melted all their jewelry and made an idol, a golden calf to worship. Moses is plenty angry and smashes the tablets. It looks like the people are lost. They have wandered away from their God.
God is plenty angry about this. Calls them a bunch of ungrateful, stiff-necked people. Considers smiting them. Considers writing them off because they are lost.
I get that. I get angry when the cat escapes and makes me run around to get him at inconvenient times, then barfs grass on my rug.
So we have a God who loses people and gets angry about it. That sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? I don’t think we like thinking about the wrath of God. We might prefer that God not let people get lost in the first place. We might prefer to think that God doesn’t get angry about it.
But, all of us know exactly how a parent feels when a child gets lost or makes a really bad decision. The anger is there. If we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t get angry. We wouldn’t care.
Our Psalm today is part of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart.” It’s a psalm of David, believed to be written after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sins related to Bathsheba and Uriah. King David, chosen personally by God to rule the people, had gotten very lost. He was guilty of rape and murder. This psalm is his prayer of repentance. David knew he had a God who is merciful to sinners, a God who rejoices when sinners repent and the lost are found.
Our epistle reading is part of the introduction to the letter from Paul to Timothy. Paul was certainly lost before he met Christ. He was arresting Christians and bringing them to face trial and death. He held everyone’s coats so they could throw stones at Stephen, the first martyr. But, Jesus, the Good Shepherd in our parable, found Paul when he was very lost, and used him to proclaim the gospel to the whole world.
So, we do have a God who loses people. And we are those people. But, we have a God who loves us, loves us enough to find us, no matter where we have wandered. Even when we are unfaithful, God’s faithfulness is great. God loves us more than we love our keys and our phones and our pets. God loves us even more than we love our own children. Loves us even more than life itself. Jesus came and proved that to us.
When we get lost, God says, “I have made you people in my very own image. You bear my imprint, a baptismal cross on your brow. You are marked as mine forever. You might be stiff-necked people. You might have made some terrible decisions in your life. It doesn’t matter what you have done. I will still drop everything and look for you. I have created everything, so you can’t hide anywhere that I haven’t been. I will persist until I find you and I will bring you home. And when we get home, we will have a big celebration. It will be the finest supper. I have invited everyone.
That’s the kind of God we have. Amen.