Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 15, 2013

2013.09.15 “Lost and Found” – Luke 15: 1 – 10

Central United Methodist Church

Lost and Found

Pastor David L. Haley

September 15th, 2013

Luke 15: 1 – 10


“By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it — there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it — that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15: 1 – 10, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

In the recent Stephen Spielberg movie, “Lincoln,” there was one moment in particular that illuminates Abraham Lincoln’s sense of humor, his gift of storytelling, and how he used it to his advantage.
It occurs in the War Department office, late at night.  Commotion and anxiety are apparent, as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles and telegraph officer Thomas Eckert discuss the assault on Fort Fisher. Suddenly, President Lincoln, seated in a chair in the room wrapped in his shawl, yells out: “Come on out, you old rat!” Everyone is startled and confused. They all turn to Lincoln, who continues:
“That’s what Ethan Allen called to the commander of Fort Ticonderoga in 1776. “Come on out, you old rat!” `Course there were only forty-odd redcoats at Ticonderoga. But, but there is one Ethan Allen story that I’m very partial to –“

Secretary of War Stanton interrupts to say:

“No, you’re, you’re going to tell a story! I don’t believe that I can bear to listen to another one of your stories right now!”

Stanton stomps out, shouting down the corridor as he goes. Lincoln pays no attention and continues his story about Ethan Allen, which ends in a laugh shared by everybody, relieving the tension in the room, until the news finally arrives that Union forces have prevailed.

I thought of that moment this week, as I read our Gospel for today, Luke 15: 1 – 10. The text opens with a tense moment, with the Pharisees and religion scholars grumbling, because in their opinion Jesus was spending too much time with the wrong people. It makes you wonder if they were jealous, because they wanted to eat with Jesus too.

Because, you see, they would go to Cracker Barrel, and Jesus would already be there. Not only has he not saved a table for them, he’s sitting with a table of people of questionable reputation, and they’re all talking and laughing. All of them look like they have a story to tell, and all have tattoos, always a story in itself. There is a Middle Eastern proverb the Pharisees probably thought of: “I saw them eating and I knew who they were.”

So as the Pharisees and scribes gather round their table, and hold hands to pray, they hear loud outbreaks of laughter coming from the Jesus table. Hard looks are exchanged, and the grumbling begins, loud enough for Jesus to hear. Everybody at both tables looks at Jesus to see what he’s going to say, and he says, “There is this story I’m very partial to . . . “ At this point I wonder if the Pharisees rolled their eyes and said, “You are NOT going to tell another story,” maybe even stomped out of the room the way Secretary of War Stanton did.

But Jesus went on: suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one . . . or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one.”  And – though we do not read it today – he continues with a third story, perhaps the most famous story of all, one we are all partial to, which we know as the story of the Prodigal Son, but might better be called, “The Story of the Lost Son.”

These stories Jesus told were very clever, which tells us a lot about Jesus. They were not anecdotes like Lincoln’s, but a kind of story known as a parable.  Parables have been called narrative time bombs.  That is, just when you think you know what the story is about, it blows up in your face. Parables are open-ended, meaning that the point of the story is not found in the story, it is to be found in you.

For example, think about these stories: when Jesus tells his moving story about the shepherd who had ninety-nine sheep but lost one, we take it at face-value, even sentimentalize it. But really, think about it: if you had a hundred sheep and lost one, would you leave the ninety-nine out there in the wilderness – at risk – to search for one stray? No, you’d cut your losses and move on. At least, that’s what a smart shepherd with an M.B.A. would do.

Or consider the second story. If you had ten coins and lost one, you’d search, sure, searching until you find it.  But once you find it, are you really call your friends and throw a party?  Because if you throw a party, you’ve got to serve food. So, you’re going to search all night for your silver coin and then spend way more than it’s worth to throw a party? Who in their right mind would do this? No wonder she can’t find the lost coin: the house is still a disaster from the party she threw after the party from the last coin she lost!

But maybe this is the point Jesus is trying to make. You see, when it comes to God’s children – God’s lost, confused, hurting children – whoever they are, God has no sense.  This is a God who will wade into the thicket to pull you out, the God who will crawl into the hole you have dug for yourself and lift you up and out. God is willing to risk everything to find even one who is missing, even his own Son. And then, having found even one, God spares no expense celebrating. As David Lose, at Working Preaching says, “There’s only one kind of word for this behavior – desperate. That’s right. God is desperate for us, desperate to find us, desperate to redeem us, desperate to draw us back into God’s abiding, abundant love.” (David Lose, “Desperate,” Working Preacher, September 5, 2010.)

After all, think about it: as parents, don’t we understand? Have you ever lost a child; I mean, temporarily?  How desperate are you to get them back?

Once when our daughter Anna was small, we were on a trip to China. We were in a hotel riding an elevator. The elevator stopped at a floor – not our floor – and Anna, before we could catch her, got off and the doors closed! I pressed all the buttons at once, got off at the next floor and went tearing down the stairwell, only to find her with one of the cooks from the kitchen, standing by to keep her company.  Desperate!

Jesus is saying, God is like this, desperate to get back every child who is missing. In fact, there is a saying that’s painfully true: a parent is only as happy as his/her least happy child. Based upon the stories Jesus told and the life Jesus lived, God is like this too. (David Lose)

When we hear these stories, initially we may imagine ourselves as the searchers, the shepherd looking for the sheep or the woman for the lost coin. But what these parables really do is make us not the searchers but the one lost, the one being sought.
Although, by now most of us understand that we do not have to live a wild and wandering lives to feel lost. You can be no collar, blue collar, or white collar, and still feel lost. You can be sitting in church on Sunday morning, and still feel lost. How was it Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) put it in The Divine Comedy: “In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” How good to know, when these times occur, there is a search party out looking for us!” And not only for us, but for all those we love, who lose their way. Remember, God is looking for volunteers to be part of that search party.
Now in Jesus’ case, you would think that if the lost were found, the Pharisees would be as full of joy as Jesus was; “on earth, as it is in heaven.” If they were not, why not?  Does it raise the question, as to who’s really lost here? The English Bishop and scholar Lancelot Andrewes once said of Christ, in an Easter sermon in 1620, in the convoluted language of his time: “He is found of them that seeke Him not, but of them that seeke Him never but found.” (Scott Bader-Saye, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4, p. 70)

And so, the theological issues of these great “stories of Jesus that we’ve become partial to,” circle around questions the church has always asked and is rightfully still asking, about who is in and who is out, who is lost and who is found, what it means to be saved by Christ, and what it means to be the community of Christ today.  Warning: it might not be who we think.

Seven years ago in the Christian Century magazine, Brian Jones, the pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, shared the story of the most memorable wedding he ever held. I would venture to guess that it’s an experience similar to one most of us clergy have had, at some time or another.  A woman not connected to his church begged him to officiate at her wedding. She was six feet tall, with spiked hair, and thighs like a professional football player. “Please,” she pleaded, “It’s going to be a small ceremony, just friends and family at our house.” (How many times have we heard that one?)  Pastor Jones narrates:

When I showed up on the day of the ceremony, dozens of “choppers” were parked in the front yard.  Men with long handlebar moustaches wore black leather jackets covered with leather straps, and German-style helmets with spikes on top.  The women with them looked as if they had been picked up from a Las Vegas showgirl convention.  People streamed into the house with a case of beer in one hand and a food dish in the other.

Inside I was greeted by heavy-metal music and a haze of cigarette smoke.  A woman noticed that I was the only one wearing a suit and screamed over the music, “You must be the pastor. Take a seat, and we’ll start in a moment!” I looked around for a chair, avoiding the couple that was making out on the couch.  Soon after I sat down, the best man stumbled into the chair next to me and passed out.

Forty minutes and five beers later, the bride’s sister called everyone into the living room.  A few guys propped the best man up against the wall and someone hit the tape player – “Misty Mountain Hop,” by Led Zeppelin. As the bride walked into the room, the guys hollered to one another. The lace of the wedding dress covered her massive arms but couldn’t hide the tattoos that stretched from her wrists up to her shoulders. I quickly delivered my standard wedding sermon and pronounced the couple husband and wife.  Then someone screamed, “Let’s party!”

Within seconds everyone in the room swarmed the couple with smiles, hugs, and kisses. I waited my turn in line to congratulate them and then explained that I needed to leave.  But the father of the bride overheard me, grabbed my arm and yelled, “Let’s make a toast!” Someone handed out bottles of vodka and wine.

The bride said, “I want to make a toast myself.  I want to toast you guys.  You are just like family to me.”  She looked over at her maid of honor and said, “Jackie, you are just like a sister.”

Jackie immediately stopped her and said, “No, you’ve always been like a sister to me.”  With her arms around the bride’s neck, she sobbed, “Do you remember when I lost my baby three years ago?  I wouldn’t have made it without you.”  Then she turned to the group and said, “Or without all of you.  I wanted to die.  You gave me a reason to live.”

The bride continued, “Richard, when my brother passed away, you were there for me.  You were driving a rig cross-country at the time, but you still came over every weekend.”

Someone interrupted her. “You’ve been there for us too.  when I lost my joy, you brought groceries over to my house and bought school clothes for my kids.  I’ll never forget that.”

This went on for ten minutes. People shared stories of friends in the group who helped them buy cars when they couldn’t get to work, who watched their children when they were in a pinch. One man told how two guys in the room picked him up from jail and let him live with them until he was able to afford his own place.  After everyone finished, the bride looked around the room as she lifted her beer and said, “To friends.”

Said Pastor Jones, “I looked around the room and thought, church should be like this.” (“Biker Wedding”, by Brian Jones, The Christian Century, April 18, 2006, Vol. 123, No. 8, p. 12)

Judging by the stories he was partial to, Jesus thought so too. Don’t you agree?


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