God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
All of us, at one time or another, have heard stories on the news where a young child has wandered off from their yard or a playground and the panicked parents cannot find the child. After the call to the police, and word gets out about the missing child, the whole neighborhood seems to stop what they are doing and they help with the search for the missing child. Oftentimes, the child is found, no worse for wear, and is joyfully reunited with the child's parents. The whole neighborhood rejoices and celebrates. The lost has been found.
Our two parables this morning about the lost sheep and the lost coin, follow the same pattern of losing, searching, finding and rejoicing. These stories tell us that each person, each and every one of us, is precious in God's sight and that God's realm will not be complete until all the lost are found.
Jesus story about the lost sheep asks the question, "If you had one hundred sheep, would you not leave all of them to search for the one that is lost?" Although all sheep may look alike to us, shepherds knew each sheep by name and personality. If one was missing, the shepherd would know it. It may seem to us reckless and irresponsible to leave 99 sheep unattended to search for the one that was missing. If something happened to that flock, it would mean economic disaster.
Although what Jesus is suggesting may be bad economics, it is faithful shepherding. Jesus puts the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep before other practical considerations. When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices, the very image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The recovery of this one lost sheep is cause for a community celebration.
Jesus ends this parable by declaring that the joy in heaven over one repentant sinner is more than over 99 righteous ones.
The parable of the lost coin is unique to Luke's gospel and is similar to the parable of the lost sheep. As is often the case with Luke, he pairs two similar stories, one with a female character and one with a male character. The woman's unfailing determination to find her lost possession is extravagant and illustrates the overwhelming abundance of God's love and forgiveness in seeking the lost and welcoming them back.
Through the actions of the shepherd and the woman we see the compassionate concern of God, who never stops searching for the lost. God does not wait for people to return. God actively seeks them out.
It is God's nature to seek us out, to seek out those who stray due to willfulness - not caring about this God who others say loves us, wanting to break as many rules as possible, not having empathy for another. God does not give up on us, no matter what. God seeks after those who have wandered away from the fold, those who have gone their own way. Not one lost soul is outside the bounds of God's love.
One of my favorite lines in the service of Holy Baptism, is when the person is sealed with the holy oil and the celebrant says, "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever. Forever. Not until you mess us. Not until God gets tired of you. In the sacrament of Holy Baptism you belong to Christ forever. Now that does not mean we can go and do what we want because God will still love us. We have to adhere to the vows that were made at our baptism - to follow the commandments of God, to do the wok that God has given us to do, to be the people that God wants us to be.
While it is human nature for us to give up on someone who doesn't follow the rules, or doesn't fit into society's norms, or who seems to enjoy living in sin, it is God's nature never to give up, constantly seeking ways to draw us back into the fold, to find and bring back even the most miserable sinner.
God cares supremely for the individual, each and every one of us. Nothing is too small to bring to the throne of God because God cares about every detail of our lives. I once had someone ask me how that could be with the billions of people in this world that God could hear all of our prayers. I had to answer "I don't know. God is God and we are not." We often tend to think that someone's illness or situation is more dire or more important than ours, so we don't want to trouble God with our petty problems. But God wants us to pray, to be in relationship with God, to tell God what is in our hearts and on our minds, no matter what it's about. It is hard for us to comprehend the scope of God's love for us.
When God finds one who has wandered away and they return to his fold, God rejoices and celebrates. When God finds those who are lost or feel they are outside of the loving arms of God and they return to God's care, God rejoices. God welcomes them back into God's loving embrace with open arms.
All of us are sinners. All of us at some point or another, sometimes daily, sometimes several times a day, need to repent of our sins and ask for God's forgiveness. And God forgives us just as God forgives those who have done all kinds of awful and unspeakable things, if they choose to accept God's invitation to be a part of God's flock and follow God's ways.
Just as Jesus ate with sinners, sharing a meal with them which the Pharisees grumbled about because that was breaking the law, Jesus came to show us a better way to live, to be loving of all people, and by example, to draw others to Christ. All sinners are welcomed into God's fold. God will seek out the lost and love them and rejoice that they have been found. Amen.
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