Search and Rescue
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 15:1–15:10
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 14-15, 2013
“Search and Rescue”
Recently I watched a documentary program on TV that told the story of how search and rescue dogs (SAR) are trained. As you might imagine, this was very interesting. When someone is reported lost or missing, volunteer search and rescue dog teams are ready to respond 24/7, day or night. These are highly trained dogs who search for missing children, hikers or hunters lost in the wilderness and woods, patients with dementia or Alzheimers who wander away from home or hospital, victims of homicide, accidents or disasters. SAR dogs assist law enforcement officers on these special missions. Truth is, even when we think we’re squeaky clean and odor-free, dogs know better. All human beings, whether living or deceased, “constantly emit microscopic particles bearing human scent. Millions of these are airborne and are carried by the wind for considerable distances. The air scenting SAR dog is trained to locate the scent of any human in a specific search area” (http://www.nasar.org/page/49/Canine-Fact-Sheet). So what are the dog breeds that excel in SAR? They include German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Giant Schnauzers, and Labradors. It all comes down to the nose. “Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own… it's 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. ‘Let's suppose they're just 10,000 times better,’ says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. ‘If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well’” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html). And these amazing abilities of man’s best friend are put to amazing work with search and rescue operations. And that is the theme for the message today, “Search and Rescue.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
There’s a whole lot of search and rescue going on in today’s Scripture lessons. God is like the hound of heaven searching and seeking out his people who have gone astray and are lost. In today’s Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24), we read: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:11-12). The closing words today’s psalmody are a confession and a cry for help by one who is lost and knows it: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (Psalm 119:176). In the Gospel lesson (Luke 15:1-10), Jesus tells two parables of search and rescue: the first is that shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are accounted for and goes in search of the one lost sheep, and the second parable is the woman who tears her house apart searching for that one lost coin. Both search and rescue operations are successful. Both parables have happy endings with shepherd and woman inviting friends and neighbors to celebrate with them: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep/the coin that was lost” (Luke 15:6, 9).
What’s it like to be lost and find yourself in a strange and uncertain place? GPS technology and navigation systems on our phones and in our cars have reduced this, of course. But we’re talking about people here, and if it’s possible for us to still get lost even with a GPS, we’ll find a way to do it. Have you ever found yourself driving or walking somewhere where you really didn’t feel safe? That’s a scary feeling, and lots of prayers from the heart go up to heaven at that point. God does indeed provide help, sometimes in the form of very unlikely situations and people. What a relief it is when we finally get oriented in the right direction. A wrong turn can take us to places we don’t want to be. And this is what Scripture calls sin – trespass, going somewhere that’s not good, deviating from the path God would have us be on. Sometimes we do this unknowingly, but sometimes we know exactly what we’re doing and we do it anyway. Either way, we’re lost and we need help. What do search and rescue teams tell us if we find ourselves lost in unfamiliar territory, especially out in woods or wilderness? Stop where you are and don’t go any further. Let the rescue team come to you.
As I was working on this sermon, there was a faint knock on my office door – once, twice. I got up, but no one was there. “Hmm… is somebody pranking me?” I thought. But then I looked further out into the narthex and there was this tiny little woman, who spoke no English. She had a folder with her, and she opened it up to show me. She was here for an ESL class, and she was lost; didn’t know how to get to Room 308 on the upper level. So yours truly helped her get where she needed to be. And that is what Jesus does for us. In Jesus, the rescue team has come to us. Lost and gone astray, mixed up and confused, disoriented and not knowing where we’re going, Jesus comes to us as our SAR: not just Search and Rescue, but Savior and Redeemer. This is what Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy in today’s Epistle lesson: “The saying is worthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus’ search and rescue mission involved his coming into our broken and hurting world, becoming like one of us except for sin, and doing what the opening verses from today’s Gospel lesson tell us he did: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus receives sinners, and that’s good news for you and me. Not only does Jesus receive sinners, He is still on his search and rescue mission to seek all who are lost and have gone astray. This same Jesus who suffered and died to take our sins away, is at work in the world seeking those who are lost. He invites you and me to be part of his search and rescue team, mindful of his words: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). May the love of Jesus move us to do so.
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17). Amen.