Joy in Finding the Lost

14 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Rev. Meg Lovejoy

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few days ago, my sister called me from her car. She was vacationing in Galveston and needed to check Google maps for directions to a restaurant. When her companion looked in Libby’s purse for the phone, it wasn’t there. Libby was driving so her friend looked and felt all around where she could reach, but the phone was lost. So, Libby called me using her car’s Bluetooth and asked me to call her back thinking the phone location could be discovered with the sound of the ring. Unfortunately, that didn’t work because the ring tone was picked up by the Bluetooth and came through the car’s speaker. We both got the giggles and Libby said she’d have to pull over and look for the phone. It wasn’t too long before I received a text from her with a happy face and celebration emojis to let me know she found the lost phone and was celebrating.

Maybe you’ve had a similar story with your cell phone. That phone is very important to you and was lost, so you stopped thinking about all your other technology items such as your TV, computer, I-pad, or tablet until you found your cell phone. Maybe you’ve lost your driver’s license so you freaked out and forgot about all your other forms of ID such as your passport, Social Security card, and voter registration card as well as your credit cards. You knew where the other items were and considered them to be in a safe place but where could that driver’s license be?

The Gospel from Luke we heard today tells the story of Jesus’ reaction to the criticism from the Pharisees and scribes when he did something that was different from what was the social norm. Jesus told parables in response to the negative comments. The Pharisees and scribes knew the law. They knew it was not right to welcome those sinners and tax collectors and to eat with them. Jesus was not right in his actions. So Jesus explained in terms the people could understand. Sheep were precious during the time of Jesus. Without sheep, the men had no livelihood, no social standing, no food, no wool to sell, no milk for cheese. When one sheep is lost, it was understandable for the shepherd to leave the others who are safe and go to look for the one who is lost. And in the second parable, Jesus speaks of a woman who lost a coin. His intent is to include all, both genders, so all may listen and understand the importance one who is lost and the joy of being found.

Jesus knows and understands that God does not play by our rules. God doesn’t punish the sinner, the tax collector, or even the rule breaker. God is a generous God who allows the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust. God grants us the ability to live and grow into what should be rather than what is. These lessons Jesus teaches in these parables help us to better understand generosity: sharing joy, providing for others, loving those different from us.

This story is somewhat of a relief after the hard sayings of the previous lessons. Here we are reminded of how God searches out and seeks the lost, the sinner, the wanderer. Not one lost soul is beyond the pale or outside the reach of God’s mercy, because no matter how hard we try, no matter how great is our desire, we are human and we sin. We separate ourselves from God. We give up on those who don’t follow “the rules”, on those who don’t fit into the “norm” of society, and those who insist on living in and enjoying sin. But God never gives up, always seeking, and ultimately finding even the most miserable sinner.

As we heard in the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, judgment came to the people of Jerusalem and Judah when the prophetic warnings were ignored. Jeremiah spoke of devastation, chaos, and gloom that would come from invading armies. The judgement is almost apocalyptic, saying “The whole land shall be a desolation”, but not quite with the next statement, “yet I will not make a full end.” (Jer 4:27) Jeremiah was correct in his prophecies. Jerusalem and Judah did fall to the Babylonians. The towns and cities were destroyed and the people were forced to leave their homeland, becoming refugees in Babylonia. It was almost one hundred years before the people of God were able to return home and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The people of Jerusalem and Judah changed their ways and began to follow the law, so much so that the law overshadowed love and kindness. The Pharisees and the scribes understood that in order to receive the hope of God’s grace, one had to first repent and part of that repentance was to follow the law without waver. The prophetic words of the Old Testament continue to serve as a reminder to us that we do sin and we fail as people of God.

When Jesus came he brought a new understanding of the law. In these parables, Jesus teaches that God gives the sinner grace and it is by this grace that the repentance comes. There are no laws given or conditions required before that grace is given. The parables illustrate such grace that we are led to understand that anyone can receive the grace of “being found.” We continue to receive God’s grace and we continue to repent and work toward embodying the compassion of Christ Jesus. As Benedictine nun, theologian, and author, Joan Chittister said, “It is not perfection that leads us to God; it is perseverance.”

With perseverance may we live into that grace that is freely given and may we continue to seek the lost and bring them into the knowledge of God’s love.