I know that none of you have this problem. I suddenly need to find a piece of paper, but it’s lost in a stack of other papers on my desk. Needing that one paper forces me to deal with the rest of the papers: recycle, recycle, file don’t pile, recycle, recycle, file don’t pile. When I finally find what I am looking for, I celebrate, for two reasons: first, because I have found the paper, and second, because I dealt with the rest of the papers as well.
Jesus tells a parable about a woman who loses one of her ten coins. She lights a lamp and searches in the dark corners of the house until she finds it. When she finally finds it, she is so happy she invites her friends to a party to celebrate. I caught myself wondering if she spent more than the lost coin was worth in the celebration.
When Mike and I moved here 5 years ago, we stopped at the house to let our cats Thankful and Cheerios get used to their new home over night while Mike and I went to a hotel. In the morning we went to the house to greet the cats and wait for our furniture to arrive.
Thankful came looking for us, but Cheerios was nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere in the empty house and couldn’t find him. We contacted the neighbor to see if she had come to check on the house and accidentally let him out. She wasn’t even home.
We were sad, we were worried, we didn’t understand what could possibly have happened to him. Hours later, when the movers were ready to leave, I took one more look in the kitchen cabinets and there he was, as small as he could make himself, way in the back, on the top shelf of a base cabinet. We celebrated finding him, and still love to tell the story.
Jesus tells the parable of a shepherd who does the same thing. A shepherd has 100 sheep. He counts them and discovers that one is missing. He looks and looks for the one that wandered away. Some commentaries suggest that the shepherd left the 99 alone and at risk while he went to find the 100th. Others suggest several shepherds minded the flock together, and so the 99 were well cared for. Whatever the situation, when the shepherd returns with his 100th sheep, he gathers the other shepherds so they can celebrate together.
When Jesus tells these stories, he is not really thinking about sheep and coins. He is really thinking about people who were rejected by the rules of the day, or those who had wandered away from the faith because it had no meaning for them, or those who were ill and feeling lost and unloved. In these stories, the searcher is God, who goes to unexpected extremes to find those who are lost. When one lost person is found, God and all the beings of heaven rejoice, throw a party, and celebrate.
… In our community, occasionally an older adult goes missing, wandering away from home or facility. If they are not found quickly, the Sheriff’s helicopter is called upon to help with the search. I remember the escapades that Gene often got into. One time I asked him where he was going when he left home, and his response was simply, “Out of here.” He was getting lost physically, because he was getting lost mentally. Each time he was found, the family celebrated, because there was always the possibility that he would not be found alive.
Rebecca was feeling lost. A number of girls at school were bullying her, even asking her why she was still alive. Last week, she couldn’t fight them any longer, and she killed herself. Her family is not celebrating, and the girls who bullied her may be charged with cyber-stalking or worse. What were these girls thinking? Yet, before we condemn them, it’s important to remember that they are lost, too. Did they really want Rebecca to die? Or were they just playing a game, with deadly consequences? I pray that God will make something good come from this, so in the future there can be a celebration.
Ellen has been in a rehab facility for a few months for several health issues. The staff of the facility is wonderful, and family members and friends come to visit her. Still, she feels lost, wondering if she will ever be able to go home again.
I have met very few families who do not have someone in the family with whom the relationships are strained or fully broken. A son or daughter says, “I’m out of here!” A mother or father says, “You’re out of here!” While anger may drive the words, the result is a bent or broken relationship, and a sense of loss. No one celebrates unless the relationship is restored. But that takes a lot of work, and the grace of God in their hearts. Until then, they are lost.
In recent decades, parents who have left the church have never taken their children to church, so we have generations of people who have no experience of God or church except for the folks they see on TV. They are lost because they had no chance, at least at home, to experience God’s love.
In all of these circumstances of lost-ness, the relationship with God is broken, and the person is lost, spiritually. I am often reminded about the old TV series Touched by an Angel. Three or four angels, in disguise as regular humans, show up to interact with the person of the week. The sadness, anger, and pain in the person’s life are exposed. At the end of the story, the person hears from Angel Monica about God’s love and forgiveness. The relationship between God and the lost person is repaired. The person allows God to find them, to love and heal their hurts and hearts.
We don’t have to be angels to be sent by God to find the lost, introduce them to God, and help them open their hearts to God’s love and forgiveness. In a recent issue of The Lutheran magazine Professor Lisa Dahill describes how she speaks about God with atheists. She says, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” As the other person answers, Lisa listens and then responds, “I don’t believe in that God either.”
We all have opportunities to introduce the God we DO believe in to those who are lost. We all have the opportunity to let Christ’s love shine through us into the lost hearts of those we encounter. We have the opportunity to spend time with those whose minds are becoming muddled. We have the opportunity more often than we like to stand up to bullying. We have opportunities to visit nursing homes and rehab centers and offer a few minutes of caring to someone who feels lost and alone. We have opportunities to remind folks that even Jesus was abandoned by his disciples.
We all know what it feels like to be lost. We wonder if God knows and cares about what we are going through. We wonder if God even exists. We can use our own experiences to help others when they are feeling lost, even if they don’t know they are lost. Our God never stops searching for us, even when we don’t want to be found.
Who do you know that is lost? Can you help them allow God to find them? Can you at least share God’s love with them? Jesus is counting on us to tell them his story, to share his concern for them, his desire to find them, and his willingness to go to extremes to reach them.
Please pray with me. Jesus, you never stop your search for us. When we wander away, you keep hoping we’ll let you find us. Forgive us. When we know we have been found, send us to help you love others, so they can be found by you, too. Amen