Lost and Found – Rejoice!Pentecost
This is a special Sunday because of the pulpit swap and because of the multi-congregational picnic at Esquimalt Gorge Park following the service. I hope this will be a time to deepen, renew and ignite relationships among those who worship at St. Andrews, Trinity and Knox. I remember when this day was referred to as Rally Sunday – the first Sunday after Labour Day and often when Church School officially started – when fall programs began – when committees launched new initiatives. It is the Sunday when congregations seek to recapture their enthusiasm – to muster their forces for the coming year. Maybe you still call it that – I’m not sure – but it is a good name for every Sunday.
To rally means to reunite so as to renew an effort, something we do every week both in worship and in fellowship. It means to stir up – to rouse from depression or weakness – through the message, our time of prayer and our music. When we gather on a Sunday morning to worship our God we intend to arouse enthusiasm in one another – to sing with joy and to pray with fervour – to recapture the initiative of our faith so that we will have strength for the journey of the coming week. Regardless of how unprepared we may feel for the discipleship we are called to – God helps us in accepting the challenge – God rallies us as we worship.
In our reading from Luke’s gospel, we see that Jesus is talking to a large group of people – it is a rally of sorts, intended to summon up the strength and courage of those who have been following and listening to Jesus. It is a diverse group filled with tax collectors, Pharisees, sinners and scribes – the lost and the found thronged together in an unsettled gathering. Jesus is stirring things up again, by welcoming people who are usually avoided – by eating with the despised. The religious in the crowd are grumbling and muttering – making disparaging comments about the lost among them and Jesus responds with these now familiar parables.
You sit in your customary places this morning – in your perhaps too comfortable pews – and hear again the parables of Jesus that reassure. We will be found if ever we lose our way – we were the lost who have, amidst great rejoicing, been brought back into the fold. We don’t even listen to the story anymore because we know it all too well: Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks diligently for the lost lamb – Jesus is the Careful Homemaker who sweeps every corner to reclaim what has gone astray. Repentance and rejoicing – but clearly the coin doesn’t repent and come home on its own and I don’t know – do sheep repent? I am guessing, “No”. Was the sheep even in the wrong? The word for lost does mean “on the way to destruction” but it seems to me we might be giving the poor sheep a bit too much credit for sinning here! Maybe it’s more about the rejoicing.
In these parable snippets Luke describes two states of being lost – wandering off ignorantly or being lost in the shuffle – and God’s joy in the recovery. No matter how one is lost, none is beyond God’s redemption. At any moment we can turn around and awaken to God’s grace. We are accepted – forgiven – we are already found – included – now we can change our life – be transformed – saved by God’s grace.
These are reassuring messages when we take the role of the sheep or the coin – when we are that which is being sought, recovered and rejoiced over. But consider that Jesus says, “which one of you…” Which one of us, quite honestly, if we had a hundred sheep and lost one, would put the other ninety-nine at risk to search for the stray?
I don’t know much about sheep, but I can take the idea and apply it to a school field trip. Which one of you, having a group of children in a busy downtown location and losing one, does not leave the group unattended and vulnerable, and go after the one who is lost until you find him or her? Would you do that? Not a chance! That is what Jesus is asking though and we say, “Nobody – nobody is quite that stupid, or reckless, or foolhardy to leave ninety-nine perfectly intact sheep to go after the one stray. No. You cut your losses and move on. That’s what a shepherd with any sense would do. (In my example of course, you can’t cut your losses and leave one child to wander the busy city streets so perhaps enlisting some help is a better option in that case.)
And how do the ninety-nine feel about the whole situation? What if we are the ninety-nine – the sheep tucked safely into the fold. The ones secure from danger and evil. The ones at peace in the presence of the kindly shepherd. The ones who are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. The ninety-nine are the ones greatly disturbed and dismayed by the shepherd who dashes out into the night in search of one silly, straying sheep. “There are ninety-nine of us here, why such a fuss about one lost lamb? Make us comfortable. Keep us safe. Leave everything the way we like it and forget about the one who is lost.” We like the story better when we are the one being sought.
Now consider the second parable. This one makes a little more sense at first: if you had only ten coins and lost one, you’d probably search – sweeping and sweeping until you found it. But once you found it, would you really call your friends and invite them to rejoice? After all, you don’t invite neighbors over to rejoice – to celebrate – without hosting them for a meal. So, think about it… would you really search high and low for a missing twenty dollars and then spend forty or fifty to party with your friends in celebration? It doesn’t make sense.
But that’s just it. When it comes to God’s children – God’s lost, confused, hurting children – God has no sense. It is all about excess and extravagance – a reversal of expectation – about a prodigal God who risks everything to find one who is lost – one of us – and having found that beloved child – gives everything again to celebrate. God is desperate to find us – to redeem us – desperate to draw us back into God’s abiding, abundant love.
Jewish mystical tradition proclaims that when you save one soul, you save the world. This wisdom provides a creative lens through which to read these stories – the parable of the lost sheep especially. The shepherd risks the flock, to some degree, by leaving them to find the one that is lost. But, perhaps more importantly, the ninety-nine cannot be fully saved apart from the lost sheep. They will remain ninety-nine and not experience the wholeness of the perfect number, one hundred. Salvation is relational – our salvation is connected to the well-being of others. We cannot be complete without the salvation of others. The joy of heaven is found in the welcoming home of all of us.
That is why we can invest so confidently in the collaborative ministry initiative our congregations are undertaking together – our salvation – our ministry – our opportunity to serve our community – is linked. As we take risks together, we open ourselves to the possibility of becoming whole in a way that is not achievable when we hunker down in our own sheepfolds.
Some years ago, I watched a show called America’s Funniest Home Videos – maybe you remember it. There was this little boy carrying a small container full of ice cubes. He kept bending over to pick up another ice cube and, in the process, one or more ice cubes would fall out of the container onto the floor. He never gave up. He continued to diligently search for more ice cubes, picking up all that he found despite the risk to those in the container. It was hilarious to watch! It made no sense – in the same way that throwing a party to celebrate the recovery of one coin – spending more in joy than you have collected through great effort, makes no sense. In the same way that risking ninety-nine in the wilderness to search for one, makes no sense. God is like that, and God expects us to be like that too.
God comes in Jesus searching for all of God’s children and inviting us to rejoice in the finding. There are all kinds of things to do once you’ve been found: tell others – share – shout – give thanks – celebrate with your friends – rejoice! That is what we are made for according to the catechism of The Presbyterian Church in Canada – joy: joy in knowing, loving and serving God, joy in knowing, loving and serving one another, joy in the wonder of all creation.
We love and serve in the care and compassion we show for others and for creation. Our purpose is to be in relationship with God and one another – to participate in God’s love for the world as fully as we are able by our praise of the divine and our work in the world. It’s easy to forget amid the hustle and bustle of this life that what we are called primarily to do is rejoice – for me being found – for you being found – and for the promise that God is still desperately searching – sweeping – looking for God’s lost and beloved children – and God won’t quit until we are all found. Amen