Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 15:1–15:10
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
I don’t usually lose my keys. They’ve got a regular spot in my pocket each day so that I can drive my car, get into the church, and get back home later in the day. If my keys got lost, I’d be in a tough spot. How about you?
We lose stuff. It happens. And it happens often enough that some clever folks have invented tools to help us find our lost stuff. There’s a company called Tile that’s been around for several years, and they make little tracker tags you can attach to things like your keys, purse, backpack, bag, or water bottle. I’ve even got a Tile tracker built into my key holder. They connect to your phone and the wireless devices of other people who use Tile to let you ring the thing you’re trying to find, or show you on a map where your thing was last seen. Apparently, people lose enough stuff that other companies, including Apple, are getting in on item-finding business. I can’t say I’m surprised. Finding lost stuff seems like a growth industry!
As I mentioned, I don’t usually lose my keys. And then, sometimes, the Lord provides you with a timely, if painfully obvious, sermon illustration. Last weekend, I threw the key fob for my wife’s vehicle in my pocket, since we needed to bring along some outdoor chairs for the Kick-Off Sunday tailgate event in the parking lot here at the church. After the event, I stowed our chairs back in the car, closed the tailgate, and didn’t think about the key fob again – until later that evening when I was going to drive the car out on an errand. My key fob was gone. It wasn’t in its usual spot. It wasn’t in my suit pants pocket. It wasn’t in my vehicle. How could I have lost it? And there there was the salt in the wound: since I’d been driving my car that morning, I hadn’t attached the key to my keyholder – you know, the one with the built-in Tile tracker? At first, I was annoyed, both with the situation and myself. Then I became concerned. What if someone else found it and took it? How much is it going to cost to replace it? Monday morning, I came back to the campus here to try and find it: in my study, in the street where I’d parked Sunday, all to no avail. I searched all over, and nothing.
We lose stuff. We even lose ourselves. It might happen gradually, imperceptibly. A seemingly minor choice here, some inattention there… and then, one day, the reality of the situation hits home. Other times, it might seem like outside forces have kidnapped you, spiriting you away, leaving you deserted in a strange land. You wonder how you got to where you’re at; you wonder if there’s any hope of making out, away to a place where you are meant to be. We lose ourselves pretty easily. That’s our broken human nature. We wander off, or the world around us confuses us and leads us astray. We get lost.
God knows about our situation, all too well. We human beings have been wandering off since the very first generation. We’re not like my lost key: God doesn’t misplace us. In big and small ways, we’re going off in our own directions, each of us choosing to chart a course through life that’s guided by our own will, not God’s instruction. You start to lose yourself, lose your way. But the Way doesn’t give up on you.
You are never lost to God. He will always know where you are; He will always know your need to get to the place where you are meant to be. And God continually works to rescue His lost sheep.
Jesus tells two parables in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 15. He’s speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, people who thought they knew exactly where they were in God’s sight, and to the outcasts and undesirables, the tax collectors and sinners. But these two parables aren’t about the lost sheep or the lost coin, per se: most of the parables are spent talking about the actions of the people who are working to find the lost and restore them to the place where they are meant to be. The good shepherd who discovers that one of his flock is missing in the wilderness leaves the 99 in the care of his colleagues, going out to look for the lost one. He finds it, maybe injured or trapped, and lifts it onto his own shoulders to carry it all the way back to the flock. The woman who discovers one coin of her life savings is missing does all that she can to find it. Houses back in first century Judea didn’t have large glass windows, so she lights a lamp. She sweeps out the straw and dust covering the floor of her home, seeking until she finds it. And both the shepherd and the woman celebrate, rejoicing because what was lost is now found.
I had resigned myself to the reality that my car key was gone. I had searched but not found. Monday night came along, though, and what do I happen to see tucked in the edge of a seat in our living room? I’ll tell you: there was great rejoicing! I immediately put that key fob right back in the place it belonged… and might have done a little happy dance to celebrate. If it had been a Friday evening, I might have even invited you all to come celebrate with some appropriately Lutheran beverages!
I didn’t have to do anything to find my lost key. But God does everything to rescue and restore us.
Ever since our first parents lost their way, God has been at work to bring humanity home. The same Jesus who told these parables to the Pharisees and scribes, the tax collectors and sinners, he himself is that shepherd who goes out to find and deliver the lost sheep. Our Good Shepherd even became the Lamb, a person like you and me, stepping down into his creation to be one of us and live in this lost world for us. He sacrificed himself to win our rescue. And now he gets to celebrate our return as he brings us home.
Jesus says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” You and I, we have each been that sheep. With St. Paul, each of us can confess: “The saying is trustworthy 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) We’re born lost. And even after we’re brought into the body of Christ through Holy Baptism, we still wander off. We still sin and make our way away from Jesus and his flock. And yet, God never stops working to bring us lost and lonely sheep back home on his shoulders. He came for you, along with the Pharisees and scribes, the tax collectors and sinners, for every human being. And he rejoices in each one of us that he brings home to his Father’s presence.
Living as found people in Christ Jesus, we need not be like the Pharisees and scribes, people who would look down on others who are lost or trapped in sin. You and I can know exactly where we are in God’s sight, because God tells us. You and I, we are sinners, each of us a candidate for being the foremost. If you feel particularly lost right now, if you feel crushed by the weight of sin in your life or misled by the world around you, call out to God. Call out to God, along with His people throughout time, including St. Paul, people who have come to understand the reality that we can’t rescue ourselves. The grace of our Lord overflows for you with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14). God loves you, coming into the world to rescue you from being hurt and lost and alone, shining the light of His Word into our darkness, finding you and bringing you home on His shoulders. We can’t look down on anyone, because we’re all on the same level, all in need of Jesus’ work to save.
You are a beloved member of God’s flock. You are found. And through Jesus’ rescue and restoration, you will be exactly where you are meant to be: home with God.
[i] Passage for memory:
The saying is trustworthy 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