Concerning that which once was lost but now is no longer so
September 16, 2007 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 15:1–15:10
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
"Concerning that which once was lost but now is no longer so"
Remember way back when it used to be hard to find something? Now, in the age of Google, looking up a good school or checking on the hours of your local post office takes only moments. We can go online to get satellite maps and GPS coordinates for "geocaching" and hiking trails in the middle of the wilderness. You can have your car Lo-JackedTM and your pet implanted with a microchip, so that you can find them if they every get lost or stolen. For those of us that might misplace our keys from time to time, there are even devices you can attach to your keychain to beep on cue. The last time that you got lost driving to a new place, trying to find a particular street address, did you stop at a gas station to get directions? That's so decades ago! Now, you can just dial out on your iPhone, press your OnStarTM button, or follow your car's in-dash navigation system's instructions to reach your destination.
Despite the miracles of recent technological advancement, things can still be lost. At times, you might go looking for your eyeglasses, only to realize that you're wearing them. And there's that earring that you were certain you had when you got back from dinner a week ago, but now it's nowhere to be found. It's almost like some things wander off by themselves. It might be a truism, but you don't realize that something's lost until it's not where it's supposed to be, where you want it to be. And this applies equally to people.
In our Gospel text for today, we hear that a number of people are around Jesus as he is teaching. The sinners and tax collectors are there. These were not "good people." These aren't the kind of folks that you'd want to invite over for your big Sabbath dinner on Friday night: no, "good people" didn't spend time with these reprobates and cheats. The Pharisees and the scribes happen to be there, too. Looking at them, you'd have reason to think that they know what's what: pious, earnest types, the kind that would know more about how to live according to the law than Martha Stewart does about flatware. "Good people."
Luke notes that these two groups have two different reactions to Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes are grumbling - the phrasing here suggests it is something of a continuous action for them, something that they're prone to do - muttering complaints about how Jesus is actually welcoming and eating with these worthless tax collectors and various other sinners, something that no rabbi that they'd respect would do. The other people, however, are drawing near to Jesus in order to hear him. They want to know what he has to say, because they feel that they need to hear it.
Into which group do you fall? Are you a sinner or a Pharisee? Are you a "good person" who doesn't feel that they need to listen to Jesus' message, because you live a perfect life, doing everything that's required of you? Or are you someone who needs to be welcomed by Jesus, because you know that you have not lived a perfect life, that you are not where God wants you to be, where you are supposed to be? Have you gone and gotten yourself lost, someplace where even Google can't find you?
Jesus tells his listeners two parables, which we just heard read among us: two stories with a shared message. What happens in each? A man loses a single sheep out of his flock and, leaving the ninety-nine with the other shepherds, goes out into the wilderness to find the lost one. A woman loses a coin, roughly equally to 10% of a life savings, and sets about an intensive search to retrieve it. When the man finds the lost sheep, he picks it up, carrying it upon his shoulders, and brings it home. He gathers his friends and neighbors, inviting them to rejoice and celebrate with him, which usually would be done with a festive meal. The woman does the same when she finds her coin. That which once was lost is now no longer so, and rejoicing follows!
Explaining these parables, Jesus lays it out: God seeks out the lost, and delights when they have been found. Just as John the Baptist called the people to repentance, God's Word calls us to repentance, to turn away from sin. God rejoices when the sinner repents: the lost have been found. This is God's work. In both stories, God is the one going out to do the finding, the hard search for that which has wandered off alone. Jesus himself did this: he became one of us to find us sinners who had wandered off on our own path. We don't "find" Jesus, he finds us. He lifts us out of the forgotten corner, from out of the shadows, from the wilderness in which we've lost ourselves. Repentance, being found, comes from God, and joy follows. Jesus carries us on his own shoulders, just like the lost sheep. On the cross, he bears our burden and brings us home to the Father, who celebrates our return.
What does this celebration look like? We don't know - we can't know - what it looks like in its fullness; however, we get a glimpse of it here. We get a foretaste of the celebration feast to come when we gather around the Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion. God sets a festival meal before us, like the man who found the lost sheep and the woman who found the lost coin. He invites us to come and rejoice with Him because we have been found! That's what's going on here and everywhere that the Lord's Supper is rightly offered. Ponder upon this: when you come to this Table, you are receiving the real body and blood of Jesus Christ, who came to find you, with the bread and wine. God is here, touching our lips with His free gift of forgiveness and grace. We are in the presence of the angels and archangels of God and all those saints who have gone before us, who celebrate over the sinner who repents.
So, are you a sinner or are you a Pharisee? If you feel that you can go it on your own without God's work, if you don't think that you need the sacrifice that Jesus made, if you don't acknowledge your personal responsibility for Christ's suffering and death, you had better not come to the Table, because you do not belong there. If, however, you realize that you are not where you are supposed to be, that you have gone and gotten lost by straying from the course that God would have you follow, that you need to turn back, then draw near. Jesus welcomes you, along with the other tax collectors and sinners that he came to find. Come and join in this meal of celebration that God Himself has prepared.
We who once were lost are now no longer so. We have been found, and being found, we have been welcomed into the celebration. We can come to God's Table. We need to come to His Table. The effects of the gifts given here will be felt in our lives, not just on the way back to our seats and in the hours after the Divine Service, but every day. It is special! Rest assured, if you were to receive Holy Communion every week (or even more often) that would not make it less so. In the Lord's Supper, the Holy Spirit is at work in our souls and our bodies, fueling us for the journey ahead. Whatever may come, God carries us. And He will welcome us home.
Let us rejoice: we who once were lost are now no longer so!