Season 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture Luke 15: 1-10
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Prayer: Loving God, have mercy upon us. For although we are sinners, we find the sin of others more abhorrent. For although we are powerful, we rarely reach out to the weak. For although we have wealth beyond the imagination of many, we withhold our gifts from the poor. May the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our love and our life. AMEN
“LOST and FOUND”
So, I want to begin today’s sermon with a question for you to answer. Why did Jesus welcome sinners and eat with them?
(Because Jesus didn’t want to eat alone)
This morning, we are presented with things that are becoming rarer and rarer in our society. The first is sheep. I know a few of you know sheep farmers, some of you even have a family member who raises sheep. However, I’m doubtful that any of you actually have sheep on your property today. We see fewer and fewer people raising their own sheep.
The second are coins. While more of you have coins than sheep, the fact is that fewer and fewer of us actually carry cash with us any longer. We may have a few dollars tucked in the back of our wallet for an emergency. We may even have some coins floating around in the bottom of our pockets or purses, but fewer people have cash. My husband recently paid for something with cash, and the cashier said, “Okay, I have respect for someone who does things the old way.” More and more we depend upon credit and debit cards. Why, you can even make donations to your church using a credit card.
This is interesting only because, as millennia go by, it can become more and more difficult to relate to the stories Jesus told. Even if you do use cash on a regular basis, how many of you would search your home for a coin until you found it? Numismatists excluded.
Yet, these are the human concerns that Jesus uses to help us understand God’s love and concern for us. The very nature of these two parables help us to see two aspects of life that are slipping through our fingers: our agrarian lifestyle and our relationship with currency.
If you grew up as a Roman Catholic, you might have heard this ditty: “Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost that must be found.” I’ve always been some form of Methodist, but I’ve had lots of Catholic friends who have encouraged me to ask for the help of St. Anthony when I’ve lost my car keys, my phone, you name it. Anthony of Padua was the patron saint of lost things. He left a wealthy family and lifestyle to become a poor priest. According to the story, Anthony had a book of psalms that to him was priceless. There was no printing press yet, so all books were valuable, but Anthony had also written notes and prayers in the margins. It seems that a novice in Anthony’s order had grown tired of living the life of a religious, so he left the community and took Anthony’s psalter with him!
Anthony prayed and prayed for the return of his beloved book. After he prayed, the thief was confronted by some sort of spirit that convinced him to return to the Franciscan Order, and to return the book to Brother Anthony. The novice did and was accepted back. Of course, Anthony got his book back as well.
“Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost that must be found.” So many things are lost today. Like lambs, some of them just wander away. In particular, I think about young people in the church. We are in the business of finding those lost wandering sheep. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ as we risk skinned knees and scrapped arms to reach into the thickets where our children have stranded themselves in
a society steeped in secularism,
a lack of Christian friends,
the inability to see the need for a Christian community that is here for them regardless, and
a mythological God who comes in handy only when science has failed.
For so many, it is just too hard to come back to the flock on their own feet. They have spent so much time defending their absence from the faith community, convincing themselves that the hour spent in church might better be spent reading the paper or sleeping, and finally finding themselves lost and afraid. It is then that we are carried on the shoulders of the good shepherd who never stops seeking us until they are found, then, knowing their spiritual exhaustion, carries them home to the flock, where they are tended with the nourishment of prayer, meditation, worship, communion.
Sometimes this takes decades, and years of pain and struggle. During that time our function is to keep the lights on, the building warm, and the welcome sincere.
A couple of Sundays ago, I was searching the church trying to find someone’s prescription sun glasses. I didn’t find them, but I did find a set of keys, some reading glasses, a sweatshirt. There’s a lot in our lives, like lost coins, that can be lost and found in our lives, lying around while we go about our lives.
Lost coins are different than lost sheep. Sheep wander away on their own 4 hooves. Coins don’t have the capacity to leave on their own energy. Instead, they are lost due to our inability to steward them. We can slowly lose our friends, our faith, our focus without even noticing it, just like we slowly lose our hair, our teeth, and maybe even our mind. Much like the woman searching for her coin, we have to be diligent in caring for the people we are closest to, feeding our faith through study and worship, praise and prayers, and maintaining our focus on the God who keeps us from wandering off like a lost sheep.
This morning we are going to baptize a child of this congregation, a lamb of this flock, our beloved Lily Zhang. We will all be charged with making sure that Lily is raised as a member of this Christian community, as a part of this flock. We will join together as community to hold her near and teach her all that there is to know about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
And together, we will all be a community in which all are included and none are lost. A community in which Jesus welcomes us all and eats with each and every sinner.
In the name of….