Finding what was lost: a sermon on Luke 15

14188523_1260289087335740_7885670721171133113_oBy the Rev. Anna Doherty

Today’s gospel from Luke is affectionately called “The Lost Chapter” of Luke.

It’s called that because in chapter 15, Jesus tells three parables about “lostness,” two of which we hear in today’s gospel.

When we talk about these parables, we often talk about the things, the people, who are lost, who need to be found.

But the truth of the matter is, if you look at Jesus’ parables themselves, it is the shepherd, the woman, the seeker of what is lost, who are the primary sources of the action.

In fact, if you just look at the grammatical language of today’s gospel, almost all of the action verbs: finding, searching, calling, rejoicing, are ascribed to the shepherd and the woman.

In other words, put another way, the primary actor in the “Lost” parables is God.

It should be called “The Finder Chapter” of Luke.

These stories from Jesus, they tell us something important about God, and God’s relationship with the lost.

God, it seems, is a seeker; God actively looks for those who are missing.

And God, it seems, also finds what God is looking for.

There is a sense, in today’s gospel, that when God goes looking, God will be persistent until God finds who God seeks to find.

The woman, after all, sweeps her entire house, every nook and cranny, until the tiny silver coin is found.

The shepherd wanders in the wilderness until the one sheep is found.

The lost simply can’t stay lost.

God doesn’t just seek, God also persistently finds.

And what is perhaps most startling about today’s gospel is that when God seeks, and finds…God celebrates.

The part of today’s parables that seem the most strange, sometimes, is not just that the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in order to search for the one missing…

not just that the woman cleans her entire house in search of a single coin…

But that they both call their friends and neighbors together to rejoice and celebrate when they’ve found what they’ve lost.

You’d expect that a shepherd who has just left a significant portion of his flock behind would want to get right on with the business of shepherding.

Or that the woman who has searched so diligently for her missing coin would want simply to stash it away once she has found it.

But no, instead, they both bust out a celebration.

And not just for themselves, but for their friends and neighbors, for everyone.

God, it seems, is a celebratory God.

God rejoices and calls God’s people to rejoice whenever what is lost is found.

I think this is important to know in our relationship with God, especially as we start the program year here at Christ Episcopal Church.

God celebrates whenever God’s people are gathered together.

What is striking about the pharisees and the scribes in today’s gospel, is that they have a difficult time celebrating the presence of all of God’s people at God’s table.

They can’t celebrate the “foundness” of God’s people.

Not just of those who previously didn’t have a seat at the table, but the gathered community as a whole.

Here’s the thing.

It would seem, based on today’s parables, that a key part of the Christian life is our ability to celebrate the redemption of others and ourselves.

If we miss the celebration, then we lose a key element of the life of faith.

God celebrates; we celebrate along with God as God’s people.

That’s why celebrating and participating in our life of faith here together at Christ Church is so important.

It is part of the inherent joy, the rejoicing of what it means to have been found by God.

That God seeks us, God finds us, and then God celebrates with us.

What I love about today’s gospel is not just that God throws a party whenever God’s people are gathered together…

but that the celebration is one that takes place in community, even as individuality is valued and appreciated.

After all, there is a distinctiveness about the one lost thing.

the shepherd leaves his entire flock to seek the one lost sheep.

the woman searches her entire house for one tiny lost coin.

The individual matters, is important.

And yet the celebration takes places in community, with God calling everyone to rejoice at God’s table.

Put another way, you are missed if you are not here.

You are missed not just for your own individual wonderfulness and value, but also the Christian community is not complete when you are not here.

Each individual matters that much for the sake of the communal celebration of the life of faith.

Someone once said to me, that they realized that when they were not in church, they themselves as an individual would be pretty okay.

But, this person said to me, “I realized that I needed to be in church, not just for myself, but for the other people in the pews.”

This is what it means to celebrate in community.

This is a crucial part of who God is, a God who seeks, finds, and celebrates when all of God’s people are gathered together in celebration of the redemption of all of God’s people.

And I understand completely, that in preaching this on a Sunday morning, I am quite literally preaching to the choir.

You are here, you’ve been found, you are celebrating, why do you need to hear that God seeks you, rejoices and celebrates with you?

Isn’t this a message better shared with those who are not with us today?

In today’s parable, the Greek word that Jesus uses for “lost”, appolumi, carries two connotations.

The first meaning of appolumi, lost, is the usual one, lost, in the sense that something is missing or unable to be physically located.

But the other meaning of appolumi is of imminent or already realized danger or destruction.

Being lost, carries with it the possibility of devastation or destruction, either potential or real.

So that in Jesus’ parable, the shepherd, going after his lost sheep, not only tries to find it, but simultaneously tries to rescue his lamb from possible harm.

So that the woman, searching for her lost coin, not only tries to find it, but also tries to stave off the financial loss that losing a tenth of her income would bring.

When we hear today’s parable, we tend to hear Jesus’ words about being lost only in the first sense of the word:

We tend to hear Jesus’ words as an invitation to seek out and invite in those who don’t know Jesus, who haven’t yet been found by him.

Welcome the sinner, the unchurched, the unitiated, the young—whoever needs to be found, located, centered in some way.

And Jesus does say this, this is one meaning of what it means to be lost and found.

It is important to seek out and welcome those who are searching and looking for meaning in their lives.

But today’s parable is not just about the people outside these walls, about finding and inviting the people who aren’t here but should be.

That’s just one meaning of what it means to be lost.

In today’s parable Jesus also calls us to the other meaning of what it means to be lost:

Jesus also calls us to welcome and celebrate with those who are broken, devastated and destroyed.

Whoever is utterly ruined, they will be found, made whole, made new in Jesus.

And this changes the meaning of the parable for us.

For us, those who are in church today, those who try to live righteous lives, who try to do the right thing.

We’re not lost in the first sense of the word, in the sense of needing to be located by God.

But while we may be found in the conventional sense, we are lost in the sense of needing to be healed, made whole, bringing our difficult, and sometimes even devastated lives, before God.

All of us here, and those who are not here, might we all of us be lost in this way? In the broken parts of our lives?

Jesus’ parable is not just about those who aren’t here.

We too are lost.

We too need to be found.

And, thanks be to God, we are.

God seeks, God finds, and then God celebrates with us.

So let’s celebrate our presence here today, together, with each other, the community of the lost who have been found, and with God.