(I was really impressed by and influenced by Jill Duffield's take on the scripture this week.)
I was reading an article by the Reverend Jill Duffield this week about today’s text of the Lost Sheep and lost coin. She said “The World never looks as big as when someone is lost.” And while I know that Milo is no longer suffering, while I know that he is in a better place, the world seems very big and slightly more frightening to me without him there.
“The world never looks as big as when someone is lost. This is the last sentence from an article in The New York Times about Japanese families who continue, five years after the tsunami, to look for loved ones lost in the great wave that overtook the island. They are so desperate to find their lost loved ones that some of them have learned to deep sea dive, repeatedly taking to the ocean to search. Daily, one woman takes food, her missing daughter's favorite meals, and throws them in the sea. "You will do anything for your child," she said.
Years have not eased the urgency of the search. The man who dives in hopes of finding his wife says, "I have no choice but to keep looking."
This morning on the radio I heard that a GoFundMe site has raised $130,000 to fund the search for two American hikers missing in Pakistan. The site was updated with the following: "Our friends and the families of Kyle and Scott are working vigorously with local Pakistani heli, porter, and fellow climbing teams to locate them on the mountain. Weather has not been in our favor. Visibility is next to none. Heli has not been cleared to launch. Our rescue team at basecamp has attempted to climb the descent route but have been turned back due to weather. They will continue to try with each window of opportunity."
The world never looks as big as when someone is lost."[i]
The world never looks as big as when someone is lost.
The parable that we heard this morning from Jesus, about the lost sheep and the lost coin, stop before the perhaps better known story of the prodigal son. That particular text is covered in another Sunday. Today we get the first of Jesus’ responses to those who are criticizing him for his habits. They do not like the people he is associating with, the people he chooses to be seen dining with in particular. They are down on him for spending time with tax-collectors and sinners.
Jesus turns to them and tells them these two stories. One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin.
What in Sam hill do a lost sheep and a lost coin have to do with sinners and tax-collectors, one might ask. Those of us who have made it around the lectionary a few times know that Jesus is equating those called sinners with those things lost. But it is an interesting point to think on.
What does the scripture mean when it says sinners? Sinners were individuals whose pattern of sinning were so well known, so a part of their identity, that the whole community is aware of the sin. Sort of like how a lot of families have an Uncle Jim, you know, the one who drinks too much at every family event and winds up cussing out grandma and apologizing to the refrigerator. (You don’t have one of those? Must just be me then)
Well then if sinners are habitually fallen, who are the righteous? These were not holier than thou people who pretended to be perfect. The righteous were those who tried their best to really live by the law.
Here we have Jesus being friendly with those who should not have been in polite company. Jesus is extending his reputation to those he eats with and Jesus has had his fair share of meals with Pharisees in Luke. Jesus is hanging out with the riffraff and the Pharisees, the decent folk are none too pleased.
That leads me to ask something. When we see people outside of our particular community, do we see sinners? Or do we see the lost? That’s an important distinction my friend.
If we see sinners, then we can easily pass judgement. They know they are in the wrong, they know they are less than, they should know their place, and it certainly isn’t here.
But if we see lost ones, might that change the way we interact? We don’t blame them for being lost, there is no fault finding of the sheep or the coin in these parables. Would we instead seek to bring them into safety and shelter, like Jesus?
When we see people as lost we would go to great lengths to recover them, if they are of value. There is the rub. Of value. What do we value? Have any of you lost your car keys? How long did you search? Until they were found.
Have any of you lost your cell phone? How many times did you call it to find it? How long did you look? Until it was found.
I realized as I was walking to my car that I did not have my wedding rings. Steve and I went back inside and tore the place up looking for those rings. Someone from the church went and got his metal detector and we poured all of our trash out on the corner of Mendehall and Walnut Grove Road in Memphis, TN. We found 37 foil topped jelly packets but no ring.
The next Sunday this Gospel reading was the reading for the day and the children’s message was a plea for anyone who might have seen the rings to give me information.
A week later the rings turned up, in someone else’s pocket book. Her son had placed his pile of candy on a shelf and when she came to pick him up he racked the candy, and my rings, into her purse. She had been looking for change to buy a coke and she pulled out my ring. Her son exclaimed “That’s Mrs. Cardelia’s mom, keep digging, there are two more!!!”
The rings were important, but compared to losing a child in the store, they were nothing. How much more would you seek a lost pet? How much more would you seek a loved one who didn’t come home from school or work one evening? Or maybe a son missing on a mountain? A daughter washed away by a tsunami? Someone lost in the rubble of collapsed buildings?
The world never looks so big as when someone is lost.
Jesus will do anything for the lost children of God, in fact he is setting his face for Jerusalem in Luke, towards what he knows will be his death, so that the lost might be found. No price is too high to pay.
You see my friends, these parables are not about the sheep or coin choosing to become better, or different before being welcomed back into the fold or purse. They are about the grace of God.
The grace that seeks even when it seems extravagant. The grace that sweeps even when it seems pointless. The grace that searches even when all others have given up hope.
Duffield says “The common denominator, however, is sin and Jesus' relentless desire and unquestionable power to overcome the division, isolation, destruction and pain of the separation it causes. He has set his face toward Jerusalem in order to recover the missing, find the lost, save the doomed.
The world is never so big as when someone is lost. Thankfully, Jesus has the whole world in his hands: sheep, coins, prodigal sons, sinners, tax collectors, Pharisees, scribes, you and me. Therefore, we can rejoice."
My friends, church is a place for all of us who feel lost, righteous or sinner. In the end these parables are really about a God who loves us so extravagantly, so crazily that God will do anything to find them. To find us.