Lost and Found

Meditation on Luke 15:1-10

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 11, 2022

Link to livestreamed video from worship: https://fb.watch/fu580OT4l6/

I had a funny beginning planned for my message today. I was all set—and then late last night, I started over. Because it’s Rally Day—and this is so important, our ministry for the children and youth. 

I was swapping stories with one of our members last Sunday after worship. We were talking about what it was like going to church as a young person. We all have stories to share—and some of them are painful.

The pastor leading our youth program at my Lutheran church growing up in Damascus, Maryland, was a former Catholic priest who married a nun and became a Lutheran minister. I didn’t understand at the time that what he told our class wasn’t what all Lutherans believed. They were just his own personal beliefs. But I looked up to him and respected him as an expert, the authority for our church and our Christian faith.

We were discussing a passage in Genesis that talked about how old people were when they died. And he told us that people didn’t really live that long, even in Bible times. This was just the way ancient writers could say that people were OLD. They used exaggeration, like folk tales. We couldn’t believe everything the Bible said, he went on. And we couldn’t expect to understand the Bible because it was too complicated for youth.

I went home that night and put my Bible on a shelf. I didn’t open it again for a long time! The saddest thing is, I had been someone who as a child had prayed and read the Bible—a white leather, King James Version, with gold trimmed pages and the words of Jesus in red.

Because what was the point? I wouldn’t be able to understand it, anyway. This brought me much suffering. If only I could look back and reassure my teenage self that my faith was real. If only I could look back and reassure my teenage self that I could trust the Bible to be true. Because it is true! And that the Spirit of God would teach me and help me all the days of my life.

I was lost.

***

Our reading today in the gospel of Luke chapter 15 includes the first two of three stories about people looking for things that are valuable, things that are lost and then found after a great deal of searching and effort.

Each story ends with the community rejoicing. Faith is nurtured in community; it is the work and responsibility of the community, which isn’t complete or whole if even one member is missing or lost.

Jesus tells these three parables after the Pharisees and scribes see all the tax collectors and sinners” coming near to him and listening to him. They start grumbling, saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The wonderful thing about the complaint of the religious authorities is that they are right. This is exactly what Jesus is doing! He wants them to see him welcoming the outcasts and marginalized and eating with them. He wants everyone to see this. He wants us to see this! Here is his opportunity to say why he is doing this in a compelling, meaningful way, through these 3 stories—the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son.

Our lectionary reading only includes the first two stories—the lost sheep and lost coin—but all three are connected and have essentially the same message. The point of Jesus repeating himself is to make sure that his audience understands. He wants everyone who hears these stories to find themselves in one or more of these stories, in one or more of the characters. He wants everyone to hear God’s love, mercy, and grace for sinners—and the joyous welcome from God and the heavenly beings for all who turn back, repent, and come home to the Lord.

Say, you are a shepherd, and you lose one, Jesus says in the first story. Are you going to shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh, well. I have 99 more?” Nope. Shepherds and their sheep had a strong bond. Shepherds were with their sheep 24 hours a day, leading them to pasture, watering and feeding them, protecting them from wolves, thieves, other dangers, caring for them when they were sick.

Jesus compares that strong bond and close relationship for shepherd with their sheep with his disciples when he says in John 10 that he is the Good Shepherd and, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

When the shepherd in Christ’s story finds the lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders to carry it back to the flock. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.”  

Jesus explains the meaning of the story to his audience of so-called experts. Jesus explains the meaning to them. He tells them that like the joy of those who celebrate the recovery of one lost sheep, there will be even more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

This leads us to wonder who he is talking about. Who are the 99 who need no repentance? Who is the one sinner? Is there anyone, anywhere who isn’t a sinner and needs no repentance?

Paul tells us straight out in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Jesus rolls into the second story. Remember this—when the message is important, it will be repeated. It’s like when you tell your children something 50 times, 50 different ways, hoping they might finally get what you are trying to teach them. This matters to Jesus—that we get what he is trying to say. We all need to hear this.

The second parable is the story of a woman who has 10 silver coins. That’s a lot of money for a woman, living alone, probably a widow. One day, she discovers she only has 9. She doesn’t just say, “Oh, well. I didn’t really need 10 silver coins. Nine is plenty.” She lights a lamp, pulls out her broom, and sweeps the house carefully until she finds it. And when she does, she doesn’t celebrate alone. She calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her—for what was lost is found! The community of faith has done its work! It everyone’s responsibility when one is lost—and it’s everyone’s joy when all are found! The community is whole and complete.

Finally, the third parable that we didn’t read today is the story of the prodigal son. He demands his inheritance while his father still lives, leaves, and squanders it all. He eventually hits rock bottom and, starving, he returns home to ask for mercy and be treated as servant and not a son.

While he is still far off, his father sees him and runs toward him. He welcomes him into his embrace and dresses him in a fine robe. He calls for a feast to be prepared and for all the community to celebrate. When his older son protests his father’s great mercy for the younger, rebellious son, the father says, But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Today, my friends, is a time of celebration and renewal for our congregation. We call this Rally Day or “Homecoming.” This is our opportunity to start again after a summer of traveling and busy-ness and a dry, weary 2 plus years of pandemic. Today, especially, we celebrate the One Spirit that holds us together—and keeps us strong—and the promise of the Spirit’s transforming, empowering work in each of us.

God isn’t finished with us, yet! We’ve only just begun. This is the day when we ask God to bless and guide us in our ministries in Christ’s name for the sake of God’s children of all ages—and especially our children and youth.

I shared my story with you today to help you understand why I feel called to make a difference in the lives of our children, youth, and young adults—and help them avoid the pain and suffering that I experienced when a few careless words were taken to heart and perhaps misunderstood.

If it weren’t for the young women and men in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship reaching out to me while I was in college, I would still be lost. The Bible would still be closed on my shelf.

I would not be here today.

They knocked on my door and invited me to an ice cream social before the first day of school. They also asked if I might want to read the Bible with them in a small group. I hadn’t read the Bible in years. But I had brought it to college with me—the white leather, gold trimmed pages of the Bible that my grandmother had given me when I was a little girl. King James Version. Words of Jesus in red.

I went to the ice cream social. And I went to the Friday night worship services led by students and young adults, and the student-led Bible studies. I learned how to study the Bible for myself, with some basic study guides—and to pray and ask God to help me understand the Scripture. That’s what we do when we pray the prayer for illumination before our Scripture reading every Sunday—so that everyone will be able to understand God’s will for their life.

Looking back, I can say with all honesty, I was like the lamb that wandered away and fell in a hole—that the Good Shepherd pursued and rescued, carrying me back home to the fold.

Can you hear the heavenly beings rejoicing over my repentance and return to God?

Can you hear the heavenly beings rejoicing?

Who can say this with me as their own testimony?

“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

My heart is for everyone to know about our God’s love and mercy for sinners—for all imperfect people in this world—and the joyous welcome from God and the heavenly beings for all who turn back, repent, and come home to God. For all who are lost and found.

Let us pray.

Amazing Lord, thank you for your amazing grace—for sending your Son to lead us back to you when we like sheep had gone astray. Help us to put the past behind us and heal, and not be judgmental and cruel and grumble like the so-called experts of Jesus’ day. Teach us to hold onto what is good—and all that You will continue to teach us through Your Word and Spirit and the perfect example of our Savior. Strengthen us to go forward, walking by faith, pursuing the things of God. Lead us to serve others, to be kind and tell the world about your love for all and joyous welcome for those who turn back to you in repentance and come home. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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