Lost and Found (begins at 26:15)

September 15, 2019

Series: September 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Luke 15:1-10

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 people 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.”

 Lost and Found

 (Note, the sermon began with the song “Leaving 99” by Audio Adrenaline.  Lyrics are at the end.)

This is a beautiful scripture passage and a beautiful song.  How can we not be moved by the message that God will find us when we are lost?  Wherever we are, whatever we have done, we are never too lost for God to find us.  Amen!  It is my hope and prayer that if you are feeling lost right now – whatever being lost looks like in your life – you may hear today and you may know that God has found you.  Notice that I did not say God will find you.  I said that God has found you.  If you have done something that makes you think you no longer deserve God’s love, God has already found you and is already loving you.  If you have wandered so far from God that you wonder if God even knows where you are, God has already found you and is already guiding you back to God.  If you don’t think you are worthy of God’s care, God has already found you and is showering you with God’s amazing grace.  God continues to seek us and continues to find us … always.  Thanks be to God.

There is a part of me that wants to end right there.  This is such a good and powerful message.  Let’s stop while we’re ahead!  However, as I have been spending time with this passage this week, I keep coming back to the beginning.  Before the sheep gets lost, before the coin gets lost.  At the very beginning of this passage, the tax collectors and sinners are coming to listen to Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes – the religious leaders of the time – are grumbling.  They can’t believe that Jesus would dare welcome these people.  They are sinners, for goodness sake!

When Jesus hears them grumbling, that is when he tells his story.  He directs the parable to the religious leaders who would not dare associate themselves with sinners.  He asks them, “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?”  Notice that Jesus is not telling this parable to those who know they are lost.  He is telling this parable to those who think they are found.  He is asking them to identify not with the lost sheep or the lost coin, but instead with the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and the woman who scours her house for the lost coin.  Don’t sit there all high and mighty patting yourselves on your righteous backs because you’re not feeling lost right now, says Jesus.  No, get out there and seek the lost. 

Often, when this story is told, we assume that we are the lost and that God is the shepherd or the woman who looks for us.  As I said at the beginning, that is an important and meaningful interpretation.  However, in this story, Jesus is very clearly telling the Pharisees and scribes to go out and seek ... and find.  Sometimes we are at a point in our lives when we are feeling lost, and we really need to be found.  At other times, we are in a good space, we are confident in our belovedness, and it is our turn to seek.  To help those who are lost know that they are found.

How we go about finding and welcoming the lost is also important to Jesus.  We do not find with “tsk-tsks” and wagging fingers, and lectures on how they should have known better.  We do not find with grumbling or snide expressions, and the thought that we would have never gotten so lost.  No, when the lost are found, says Jesus, we rejoice!  That is the one thing that permeates both stories … joy!  Rejoice with me, says Jesus, for I have found what was lost.  Yes, there are often consequences to be faced and lessons to be learned, but says Jesus, the first order of business is rejoicing when the lost are found.

Many of you have talked with me about my most recent newsletter article where I wrote about my mom undertaking a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  She left in late August, and it was her plan to walk about 500 miles over the course of 6 weeks.  Before she left, she researched for months!  She read just about everything there is to read about the Camino, carefully planned how far she would walk each day and where she would stay.  She purchased all the supplies she would need.  I talked last week about how much of a planner I am, and I come by it naturally.  My mom had every last detail planned.

Then she started to walk, and her body did not quite cooperate with all the careful plans she had made.  First her knee began to bother her.  She was able to stop at a pharmacia and get a brace and some ointment to help with that.  Then her back really started bothering her … so much so that she had to skip a day of walking and take the bus instead.  Then she developed a serious-looking rash on both of her legs that would likely require anti-biotics.  And her back continued to cause her a lot of pain.  Finally, after about a week and 75 miles of walking, she made the difficult decision to end her pilgrimage and come home.

Throughout her struggles with her various ailments, she will tell you that she felt very lost.  Things were not going as expected!  Though intellectually she knew she made the right decision for the health of her body to come home, emotionally it was a huge disappointment.  Then came perhaps the hardest part of all - sharing this with the family and friends who had been rooting for her and following her journey.  How to admit that she was lost?

As you might expect, my mom received nothing but positive feedback when people learned that she was ending her journey sooner than expected.  So many people applauded her for listening to her body, and expressed delight that she had even attempted the adventure at all.  Most importantly, they rejoiced with her over the experiences that she was able to have in her week of walking.  And they rejoiced with her over the memories and stories she will carry with her always even after a shorter than expected journey.

Now, I wasn’t expecting that anyone would ridicule her for finishing early.  This is not a Friday Night Lights scene where someone yells at her to “tough it out.”  But, the overwhelming support of everyone was so meaningful to her.  Once she was ready to open up and share about her change of plans, it was the rejoicing and positivity of her family and friends that moved her from lost to found. 

When she returned home, she sent out a brief message which said, “Although I’m still processing the disappointment of not going as far as I had planned, thanks to all of you who have acknowledged what I did accomplish, and affirmed my decision to return home.”  Acknowledged and affirmed.  How might we do that with all those we encounter who are lost.  Acknowledge and affirm.  And rejoice.

Rejoicing with my mom who was feeling emotionally lost is one thing.  But who else might be the lost in our lives and in our world?  Episcopalian priest Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this passage from Luke in her book The Preaching Life, saying, “It deserves real characters … real Pharisees and real sinners brought face to face with a real Jesus.”  She then goes on to list who those “real characters” might be.  I will note that she wrote this book in 1993.  As you listen to her list, I invite you to wonder about who might be the lost in 2019.  She writes, “I imagine Jesus down at the plasma bank on Boulevard, standing in line with the hungover men waiting to sell their blood, or maybe down at the city jail shooting the breeze with the bail bondsmen who cruise the place like vultures.  I imagine Jesus at the Majestic Diner with a crack dealer, a car thief, and prostitute with AIDS, buying them all cheese omelettes.”[i]

A crack dealer, a car thief, a prostitute with AIDS.  Are we able to rejoice with them as they are found just as we are able to rejoice with my mom?  Are we willing to help find them?  Taylor continues, “If you are willing to be a shepherd – then the story begins to sound different.  The plot is … about seeking, sweeping, finding, rejoicing.  The invitation is not about being rescued by Jesus over and over again, but about joining him in rounding up God’s herd and recovering God’s treasure.  It is about discovering the joy of finding.”

Let us remember that when Jesus sings, “I’ll leave 99, leave them all behind to find you,” he sings that to everyone.  Not just those who are easy to find.  That is God’s amazing grace.  So when we are lost, may we know that we are found.  And when we are found, may we join with Jesus in seeking the lost and in rejoicing!

 “Leaving 99”

I'm lost and broken all alone on this road
The wheels keep turning but the feeling is gone
When I fear I'm on my own, you remind me I am not alone.  You say..


I'd leave ninety-nine,
Leave them all behind to find you
For you alone, I'd leave ninety-nine,
Leave them all behind to find you

It's dark and lonely and the path is unclear
Can't move my feet because I'm frozen with fear
And you say, my child, my child
I am always here, I'm at your side


You're never too far down, I promise you'll be found
I'll reach into the mud
Pursue you to the end, like a faithful friend
Nothing in this world will keep me away


  [i] The Preaching Life, by Barbara Brown Taylor, pg. 148.