Lost and Found – September 15, 2013 – Luke 15: 1 – 10

Our story today begins with distinguishing between groups of people gathered around Jesus. First are the tax collectors and sinners. Second are the Pharisees and scribes. There seems to be a difference between the two groups. The tax collectors and sinners are contrasted with the Pharisees and scribes. The tax collectors and sinners have a lifestyle or a way of living that they are habitual sinners while the Pharisees and scribes live lives seeking to be righteous.

Normally, I would talk about how we are all sinners and we all seek to be righteous. However, Luke is saying something different in comparing these 2 groups. Sinners are sinners who know they are sinners and keep doing what they’re doing while the righteous may sin but, above all, they seek to do God’s will. So, righteous doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not sinners; righteous means they try to not sin.

Comparing ourselves to these groups, we can count ourselves among the righteous. We know we are sinners, in that we can’t help but sin. Yet, we can count ourselves righteous, because we seek to do what is right.

Jesus’ message does not condemn the Pharisees and scribes for being righteous. Often as the case may be Jesus would condemn the Pharisees and scribes for being self-righteous. Jesus doesn’t have a problem with the Pharisees and scribes seeking to do what is right. Jesus’ problem is that the righteous refuse to commiserate with sinners in order to get them to repent of their sinning.

Jesus’ lesson is for the Pharisees and scribes. They judge Jesus for hanging around sinners while Jesus encourages them to hang around sinners. The Pharisees and scribes mutter that He welcomes sinners and has table fellowship with them. Jesus isn’t just grabbing a cup of coffee at the town diner with a few sinners. Jesus is going into their home, accepting their hospitality, and enjoying an evening of fellowship. He doesn’t do this in the name of having a good time or purposefully upsetting the righteous. Jesus does this in hopes that the sinners will see the grace of God and repent of the lifestyles that pin them to patterns of sin.

The first parable is about the lost sheep which the shepherd leaves the majority of his flock to find. The shepherd rejoices when the lost sheep is found. He throws a great celebration after finding the lost sheep. This story is meant to teach the length that God would go to to find the lost, unrepentant sinner.

I struggled with that parable this week. Unlike when I’ve previously read it; I found something disturbing in my reading it this time. The purpose of the parable is to teach the righteous that we should go where Jesus would go in order to find sinners and bring them to repent. It seemed to me, though, after a lot of consideration, that Jesus taught that God would leave a group of people to take care of themselves in order to seek out sinners. God doesn’t leave anyone alone, even to care for someone in great need or non-believers. God is big enough to be with the group of 99 sheep as well as the lost. So, I don’t want to give a sermon on evangelism to non-believers or about taking care of one another while God seeks the lost.

Instead, this morning, I’d like to focus on the second parable in the text the one about the woman and the lost coin. The woman has 10 coins. She discovers that night that she lost one of the coins. She lights a lamp in the house and gets to cleaning house to find the lost coin. Her home wasn’t very big, still she did some major cleaning to find that lost coin. She’d know where the 9 coins are and keep them on the kitchen table while searching through the one room house in search of the lost coin. She’d have all the coins in one place, but one would be out of sight.

We can think about this in terms of a $10 bill. Perhaps we have 10 $10 bills and find that we’ve lost one of the bills. We would probably search our wallets, women their purses. We might search around our desk or kitchen table. We’d try to trace our steps to when we last had all $100. We probably wouldn’t go to the length of the woman missing a coin. We wouldn’t turn up the entire house searching under mattresses and checking under every pot and pan. We’d probably give up fairly easily. Likely, we’d find the $10 in the dryer after it had been washed in the pocket of our jeans.

I’d like to suggest that we are both the woman and the lost coin.

First, God is the woman who searches for the lost coin, that is us. And, we are the woman searching for the lost coin, that is ourselves. While we are righteous, seeking to do God’s will, following Christ’s example, we are still lost, in that something may be missing from our lives or we have mixed up our priorities.

We may be “righteous in the sense that we seek to be Christians, might we also be lost?
• Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around their kids’ activities be lost?
• Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one and only priority be lost?
• Might the folks who work jobs they hate just to give their family things they never had be lost?
• Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?
• Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?
• Might the earnest Christian who is constantly asking whether people have accepted Jesus into their hearts be lost?
• Might the children who thinks they are not good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough be lost?
• Might…? Well, you get the picture.”

In our lost-ness, we are sought by God. God desires to give us an identity and purpose so that we may enjoy our found-ness. I can’t help but think about the beloved hymn “
Amazing Grace.” We sing, “I once was lost, but now am found.” In what ways are we lost, have been lost? How have we been found? What would life be like if we were found with a complete identity and right priorities?

God seeks us to restore us to wholeness so that what is missing is fulfilled, what is out of balance is leveled, and what is unhealthy is healed. It is not a matter of saving us from our sin. That was already done in Jesus Christ. We are counted righteous by our commitment to our faith. Our sinful nature is not in question. God is searching us for what is unclean that He may put a clean and right spirit in our hearts.

We are at once the lost coin and the woman. In that we are being sought by God, we are also searching ourselves. We seek to find of what is missing, where our life is out of balance. We want to mend our relationships that are estranged or right our wrong priorities. We come to realize that we have lost our way or given up our identity. We are searching for a way to be reconciled so that we can be whole.

Chances are in our brokenness, we feel unworthy. We may try to hide our mess from others. We might keep people at arm’s length not wanting people to get too close and have to bare our vulnerability. We might even feel unworthy of the love of those around us and unworthy of God’s grace to restore us. If we feel unworthy, we are unable to accept love and grace.

Our lost-ness is the unrealized potential as God created us. We don’t need to be concerned with what we’ve done or what we haven’t done. We don’t need to be trapped by who we’ve been or where we’ve been. We need only realize that God’s grace covers our past and gives us the opportunity for a great future where we live as God intended us to live, whole. When we realize our lost-ness can be recovered and our found-ness is a future with purpose and identity, we can be glad for who we are and who we can be.

I have a few friends around the country who are coaches for Girls on the Run. We consider it a ministry in our community and ministry with the youth in our churches and neighborhoods. Two of my friends are Girls on the Run coaches in Louisville, Ky. We were talking about the lesson this week that we taught. The girls talked about a brown, yucky cord that we are plugged into that gives us bad messages. My friends allowed the girls to talk about some of the bad messages that they receive and cause them to think badly about themselves. One of the 3rd grade girls said that the message she has received is that she isn’t good enough. A third grader thinks that about herself; others think they’re fat or not pretty. Our lost-ness begins at a very young age.

After the girls visualize pulling out that brown, icky cord, they visualize plugging in a pink, sparkly good cord and talk about what kinds of messages that cord might give them about themselves helping them think differently about themselves. Some of her girls had a hard time thinking differently about themselves. They had trouble shifting their thinking to affirming their beauty and self-worth.

It may be the same with us adults. We may think we are too lost to be found. We may not know where we’ve gone wrong, what is missing, or who we are. We probably still compare ourselves to others and think we’re not good or as good. We are plugged into the brown crowd searching for ourselves and how we can be whole.

But, God has the grace and love of Jesus Christ to renew our way of thinking. “God… is there to grant us an identity beyond what we have done, are doing, or may someday do.” To cover over the yucky parts of our lives and our thinking, it is God’s hope that we will forgive ourselves and love ourselves and begin to live up to our potential as we live in close relationship with our Creator who tells us we are worthy of love and we are worthy of grace and we are God’s own. We were lost but we can be found if we search for God in our lost-ness so that we can realize our found-ness.

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