Luke 15:1-10 – March 11, 2020

As some of you might know, actor Paul Newman started a food company several years ago. Many products like popcorn and salad dressing now bear the name, “Newman’s Own.” With profits from this business, Newman helped build a camp for critically ill children. It’s called the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The name for the Camp was taken from his film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One day Newman was sitting at a table one day with a camper who asked him who he was. The actor reached for a carton of Newman’s Own lemonade and showed the boy his likeness on the container, “This is me,” Newman said. Wide-eyed, the camper looked at the picture on the food carton and asked, “Are you lost?”  

Jesus, responding to the criticism of Pharisees who are scandalized by his choice of dinner companions, asks them, “Which among you, doesn’t go after the missing sheep? Which among you wouldn’t look for your lost money?”  How much more would you look for a person?

When my daughter Abbey was about 5 years old, I took her shopping for shoes in J.C. Penny’s.  In between pairs I glanced over to look at a pair I thought I might like and when I turned around, she was gone.  I became frantic. I formed an emergency search party. I asked the clerk where she went.  The clerk hadn’t seen her leave.  We called the store manager and the manager called security.  They called her name over the Public Address system.  I was beside myself.  But then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a 2-foot-tall blonde pony tail in the shoe storeroom.  She was trying them out in the storeroom.  She ONCE was lost but now she was FOUND.  (There was great rejoicing)

God is like a shepherd that searches for a lost sheep. God notices when one tiny lamb wanders from the flock. And God is willing to get dirty bringing that lamb home. That’s who God is. That’s how much God cares. One little lamb goes astray, and God is willing to leave all the nice lambs that behaved themselves and went to church every Sunday to go through the briars and the brambles until God finds that one lost lamb.  God is no Little Bo Peep who says, “Leave them alone and they will come home wagging their tails behind them.”

Two thousand years ago in Palestine, shepherds rarely bathed. In that dry and dusty land, water was a luxury. It was used primarily for drinking not bathing. The shepherd spent most of his time around sheep, not other people.

To identify God with a shepherd was hardly a compliment. A comparable picture of God might be an image of God spending hours in flop houses where drug addicts finish out their days poking their arms with unsanitary needles.

It might be a picture of God who spends hours in the garbage heaps of a South American city where children scavenge for food. It is a picture of God stretched out on a cross between two thieves. This is how much God loves us. God is the God who searches for lost sheep.

You know what?  Sheep don’t have a very good image either, do they? There was a rather bizarre story from the Associated Press about 1500 sheep that jumped off a cliff in Turkey. First, one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned.

Sheep are dumb, but in many ways, we are even dumber. No sheep has ever been charged with abusing its own lamb. No sheep has ever been charged with stealing from a neighbor or with murder. Sheep don’t knowingly abuse their own bodies or minds. They don’t hate other sheep that are of a different color.  Even though some of them may have darker wool, sheep do not have black sheep in their family. 

Sheep don’t get lost on purpose.  They just nibble their way blade by blade of grass until they get away from the rest of the flock. Sheep only have one or two ways they can become lost. Humans have thousands, and we seem to be inventing new ones every day.

My suspicion is that some of us get lost by fancying the greener grass on the other side.  Some of us get lost because of an accident. And, I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are even some times when some of us get lost on purpose…who make intentional choices that cut themselves off from God.

Whether you’ve ever been lost or whether you have someone you love who is lost right now, it is great comfort that God cares about those who have gone astray–even and especially those who do not want to be found.  

One night, Anne and I went to B3- Bed Bath and Beyond.  (I’ve never gotten beyond the first two—Bed and Bath to find out what is Beyond)!  I came to the Welcome Mat section and there was a Welcome Mat that said, “GO AWAY!” 

We don’t know why the woman in Jesus’ parable was so concerned about one coin.  Perhaps it was necessary for the woman to find it out of economic necessity; or perhaps because it was one of ten silver coins linked together by a chain that formed the necklace of the head dress of a married woman, something like our wedding ring today.

The point is that Jesus uses an image of someone who in his hearer’s ears who was even lower in status than a shepherd to describe GOD!  Jesus says God is like a woman ….  who has lost a coin who searches and searches and won’t stop until the coin is found! 

I once lost my keys.  (can you believe it?) I keep them on a belt loop separate from my car fob.  I looked everywhere.  I was an embarrassed search party of one. I looked in my house, in the church office, in my car but they were nowhere to be seen.  I had extra keys to the church and was using our key from our Hide-A-Key to get by.  Finally, I broke down and asked Anne if I could borrow hers to make copies.  After making the copies the next night I sat in my recliner to watch the news.  I was eating some peanuts out of a bag and one of the peanuts escaped and rolled down into the crack of the recliner.  When I went to retrieve it…. I found my keys. They had come unattached from my loop and fell into the crack. “I FOUND THEM!”  I cried- rudely interrupting Lester Holt’s account of what was really important that day (There was great rejoicing)

My guess is that all of us feel lost or get lost from time to time. Some of us have hurts that were inflicted on us early in our lives, and those hurts still cause us pain. They may even cause us to lash out at others or to act self-destructively. We may not even know why we are doing some of the dumb things we do. It is like we are driven. Sometimes we don’t seem able to help ourselves. That is why we need a shepherd. That is why we need a God who gets dirty and comes to us where we are.  That’s why we need a God who diligently turns the house upside down looking for us.

I have studied world religions and all types of modern day efforts to find meaning in life, to find that something more, to find that something extra that will make all the difference in life, the one thing that I have found unique about the Jewish and Christian traditions is that the understanding of God is of a God who is a seeking God, a God who is like the shepherd who goes out looking for the lost sheep and a woman searching for a lost coin, and in the third example Jesus uses in this chapter that was didn’t read but almost all of us know God is like a Father searching for lost sons. (We’ll look at that story next week)

One of the most telling lines of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” is the line that says, “I ONCE was lost.” Grace understands that God’s love seeks and moves toward us even before we do any seeking or reaching out to God. Grace says that even WHEN we’re unworthy, God reaches out to us. If God waited to reach out to us until we were worthy, or till we made the first move, for many God would still be waiting.

The very heart of the Christian message is that God in his fullness sought us our personally in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said he came to SEEK and to SAVE the LOST.  Jesus came to seek and to save fools who say in their hearts there is no God.  Jesus entered into our world seeking to bring us the message of his love, his care.  In fact, I have a hard time finding anyone in the Bible who went looking for God. God came looking for them. 

Adam was hiding in the garden and God came looking for him.  Moses was a wanted man on the lam who left the palace life for the life of a shepherd.  But God sought him out in a burning bush that wasn’t being burned up and called him to be the deliverer of the children of Israel.

David who wrote Psalm 51 that we read last week in response to his being convicted by the prophet Nathan for his sin with Bathsheba was once a shepherd boy, the runt of the litter of his Father Jesse.  But God came looking for him through Samuel.

Saul was a Pharisee of Pharisees.  He was a part of the group to whom Jesus told this parable.  He was persecuting the followers of Jesus when Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus.  He was blinded for 3 days.  He fasted and prayed until God sent Ananias to go and pray for him and restored his sight and changed the course of his life and. ours.

Last November I served as an Assistant Spiritual Advisor for a Women’s retreat called Journey to Damascus.  I was told it is similar to Walk to Emmaus or Cursillo or Pilgrimage or Kairos.  I was assured that unlike Saul’s Journey to Damascus we won’t be blinded and fasting for 3 days.  I liked is so much I served again this last January for a Men’s version… and I’ve been asked to serve on another Women’s weekend in April.

There was a time in my life when God came looking for me. The summer that I turned 20 I took a break from my lucrative career of selling ladies shoes to teach music and drama to children at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Through children who couldn’t see, God turned on the light to this 20-year-old kid who could.  I once could see, but I was blind. to spiritual things.  Those students were the search party that God used for me to be FOUND.

Like a father searching for a 2-foot tall pony tail, like a pastor searching for his keys, like a 20-year old searching for direction in life there is GREAT REJOICING when the lost is FOUND.  Sometimes God finds the lost by calling us to join in the search party.  Is life getting you down?  Are friends letting you down, family leaving you behind, co-workers shutting you out? There are a thousand ways we can feel lost when we come into this room each week. We may feel lost, but we come because it is here that we are FOUND.    

Let’s pray. Gracious Father, thank you for seeking and finding us.  Thank you for not giving up.  Thank you for restoring us when we stray.  Thank you for the GREAT REJOICING in heaven on the day that we were found.  We pray for those we perceive to be lost, for those who have strayed.  We pray for those you have yet to call, that we might join you in partnership and be the avenues through which your call can come.  We want to share the love of Jesus we have received. We want to use our gifts; the gifts you have given us to bring you glory. 

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