Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
At first glance, the two stories of lostness in Jesus’ teaching, as told by Luke, end with foundness. I think we got that one some time back in the 19th century with the writing of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” That hymn, one of Protestantism’s favorites, is almost two hundred years old now. Are we still singing “I once was lost but now am found?” I hope so! I also hope, however, for something more. What comes after the part about being found?
It is possible in the scriptural account of these lost and found stories to forget, momentarily, what comes afterwards. In both examples, the seeker throws a party, and draws friends and neighbors in to celebrate the finding. Jesus doesn’t end there, however. He completely re-nuances the meaning behind these parabolic lessons with verses seven and ten: “7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” “10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
I confess, for me this requires more thought than just acceptance of the teaching Jesus proposes. If, as the parables suggest, the seeking ones – both the shepherd and the woman, are representative of God, then who are God’s friends and neighbors that are called to come celebrate? That part of the parallelism is incomplete in these stories. In verse seven, we find the phrase “more joy in heaven,” while in verse ten we find “joy in the presence of the angels of God.”
I freely admit I’m going to go out on a limb with my interpretation of this passage today, so bear with me, both metaphorically and literally. In light of this coming Friday’s student – led activism movement to bring political and global grown-up attention to the climate change crisis, “joy in heaven” and “joy in the presence of the angels of God” is nothing less than the very metaphorical and very literal planet we live on, the air we breathe, and the water that sustains all life in this cradle of earth. Who are God’s friends and neighbors, when God, as Trinity, is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all? I submit we, and all that God has made, are God’s friends and neighbors.
Just as in Douglas Wood’s Old Turtle, we, as God’s created beings on earth, have been tasked with stewardship of all that God has made. I must ask as Old Turtle does, have we lost our way? Have we lost God? Have we lost what it means to belong to one another and the community of Creation? Listen to the wind that murmurs and the seas that roar, silent snow in the mountains and hail stones in the valley. Rain on the roof or streams in the desert. Delight in the creatures and their many singing, chirping, growling, yipping voices – yes, listen even to the whisper of butterfly sneezes – perhaps even the butterfly sneezes of those precious few Monarchs and Karner Blues left in the world; for these are friends and neighbors of God – and so are you.
I wonder, sometimes, if we could but alter our perspectives just a bit to see and hear, smell and touch and taste, as if for the very first time, all that is good that our Great Good and Gifting God has made.
Fair moon, look down. Illumine me, orb of light
God’s fingers made thee nimbus-soft, moon of night
When Christ was born you shown in splendor bright
The Earth you held with all embracing shadowed light.
Mountains tall and sunset deep
Moon shines full, and so I weep
For love of thee, O nature-sweet
For there God walks on creature feet.
If we could but alter our perspective of salvation history itself, would we turn and see that perhaps, as it seems to be implied in these parables, that the moment of being found is not the ultimate moment, not the be-all, end-all? Not the goal of this universal process of transformation into something of God, found by God, and now belonging to God again, but the realization that, “salvation consists not purely or even primarily in rescue, but in being drawn into the eternal celebration?”
As one commentator reminds us, “Jesus understands the struggle with being lost, the emptiness of being separated, and the struggle to return. Jesus [also] understands … what the community in all its fullness should be. These parables call the community to open its doors and rejoice… When one in our community goes missing, we are all affected. When one is restored, we are all better off for it. That is how it is in the household of God.”
I would be remiss as an educator and as a student of intergenerational formation if I did not point out all manner of efforts to seek out and save “the lost” are currently being applied to generations in the church, as well as the greater community of Creation. I would also be remiss as a pastor and theologian if I did not point out that it is not God who is lost to us and to our youngsters, but we who are lost from God – Let me repeat that: not because God lost us; heavens, no; God knows exactly where we are. But because we have simply, like sheep, wandered off and become lost in the midst of our own individualistic and sometimes herd-like journeys of life. Help us find ourselves, O God! Light the way home for all of us, our children, and our children’s children, that we might find ourselves at home with you once more. And for those of us who have been called to tend the lamps you have lit along the path, help us to be strong, faithful, and courageous in the midst of all manner of dark and stormy weather as we carry out your business of lamp tending.
Yes, Lord, help us to “Keep those lamps, trimmed and burning…” for it is in the light that we find that which is lost – and once it is found, then the party, the joy and the rejoicing, can begin.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Scott Bader-Saye, “Theological Perspective, Luke 15:1-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Helen Montgomery Debevoise, “Pastoral Perspective, Luke 15:1-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
In Luke 15:1-10, Jesus tells the parable of a shepherd who seeks out one lost sheep and a woman who searches for a missing coin. In what place do you visualize yourself in these illustrative stories? Are you the shepherd? The sheep? The woman, the coin? Friends? Neighbors?
Household Prayer: Morning
Persistent God, as the day begins and the light increases, let me drink deeply of your grace. As the day unfolds, when my heart strays from you, call me back to this moment. Come after me as surely as a woman searches for treasure lost. If I am deaf and satisfied or if I resent the needs of others, blow strong against me. Do not leave me in my foolishness, for I would be a refuge for those who wander; I would lend my heart to celebrations; I would speak your name. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Patient, persistent God, I offer the day-that-has-been to you, knowing that I was not alone, even when I wandered and filled my heart with noise. As darkness falls, as I yield to sleep, seek me again in my dreams. Call to me in ways beyond my knowing that I might find the strength to feed your people, that I might live again to call your name, that I might know the joy of every stranger headed home. In the mercy of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.