Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Good Shepherd and The Good Sweeper Look for Us

Psalm 51; Luke 15:1-10


Today we have in the Gospel reading two familiar stories. Actually, it’s probably one very familiar story and one sort of familiar story. Frequently, Luke includes parallel stories, one about a man, another about a woman. This time the stories are about a person searching for something that is lost and finding it, and then rejoicing.

We love the story of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go looking for the one who is missing. Probably, the shepherd would have left the care of the 99 sheep to an assistant shepherd, perhaps even his son, a shepherd in training. There are lots of paintings, stained glass windows, and sculptures of Jesus carrying a lamb, the missing lamb.


Why a lamb and not a sheep, as the story goes? Because sheep are heavy. I found a chart that said the average weight of a 2-month-old lamb is 36 pounds, and a 4-month-old weighs 69 pounds. A six-month-old weighs close to 100 pounds. It must be a young sheep if the shepherd is carrying it on his shoulders.


We love to imagine Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying the lamb home from some dangerous place. The lamb may represent us, when we have strayed from the flock, the church, at a time when we have “left the building.” Or, the lamb may represent someone else, someone who has no use for God, and we are happy God continually looks for them. Whoever the lamb is, we know that lost sheep are worth looking for.

We don’t usually have as much of an emotional connection to the story about the woman looking for her lost coin. But I can so easily relate to her! I can’t tell you the number of times I have searched the house looking for a particular piece of paper! A bill, a check, a Christmas wish list, a scrap of paper with a phone number or email address. The house gets clean – as I discard all the now-worthless pieces of paper that are not what I was looking for, along with all the dust bunnies I disturb in the process of cleaning.


One commentator I read called this woman the Good Sweeper, in comparison to the Good Shepherd. The woman cleans her house, and it takes a while. The coin is a drachma, a day’s wage, so in today’s money, maybe $200.


She has ten of them, so one suggestion is that the collection of coins is the family emergency fund, their savings account, carefully squirrelled away over the years. Another suggestion is that this coin is part of her dowry, which guarantees her place in the household. A woman may not cash in her dowry coins without her husband’s permission, so she has to find it. Some husbands would be understanding if she lost that much money, but many would not, especially in the patriarchal age Jesus lived in.


Whichever purpose the coin serves, the Good Sweeper cleans her house, moves everything, upturns all the jugs and bowls, shines a light into all the cracks. She does not stop until she has found the missing coin. It must have taken her a while to find it, because when she finally finds the coin, she calls in her friends and they celebrate.


In this story, as in the story about the lost sheep, those who lost are worth searching for, and worth a lot more than $250. As he tells these stories, Jesus could be talking about one person who is lost, or a particular group like the scribes and Pharisees, or he could be talking about all the Jews.


Jesus came because they were all lost, and God wanted them to be found. They needed a new way of thinking about God, as a lover, not as a rule-enforcer. Jesus ends each story with a comment about how God rejoices when those who have been lost become found. When the lost is found, recovered, there is rejoicing, on earth and in heaven.


Most of the time, when we consider what these lost and found parables mean, we relate them to whether or not we – or they – are participating in church. Most of us have at least one close family member who was raised going to church and youth group, but who now wants nothing to do with church. We want to be like the Good Shepherd picking up the lost lamb, as the Good Sweeper searching tirelessly for a lost coin, and bring them back to church with us.


We also may think about those who are lost to God due to drugs or alcohol or some other addiction, or those who are homeless. We think about those who care more about earning money than about spending time with Jesus. We want to find them and fix them by giving them a Bible, a meal, a hug, an invitation to return to church. And lots of times, over time, it works. We find them, and through us, God fixes them.


But what if the one God is searching for is the real us, the real me? What if, deep down, the real me is broken? What if this picture shows the real me, curled in a fetal position, crying out my despair because there is no hope?


I’ve been there a few times, fortunately not often, and fortunately, not for long. I’ve been there when my first marriage was ending. I’ve been there when my Dad took too many pills and was rushed to the hospital. I’ve been there when my brother Rob was plagued with the demons of schizophrenia and took his own life. I’ve been there watching my mother struggle to breathe with emphysema. I’ve been there when I realized how I had been wrong, so wrong.

Fortunately, I remembered that there were people who loved me. There were people who brought Jesus to me. And I remembered that God never leaves me to suffer alone. In those times, I read scripture, playing Bible Bingo, reading any story in the Bible, and was reminded that God never abandons us. Even when we feel totally alone, we are not alone.


Our God who is the Good Shepherd and the Good Sweeper never stops looking for us, never stops looking for ways to pry open our hearts to find the real us, the real me. There is nowhere God won’t go to find us, to heal us, to work to make us whole, to create in us clean hearts.


Take a moment. When have you been so despairing, you felt broken, too broken to fix? When have you been so lost, you thought you would never be found? I remind you that our God is persistent. Our God never stops looking for us, never stops trying to shine a light on us, to find the real us, no matter how lost and broken we feel.


And when we allow ourselves to be found, there is joy in heaven and on earth. We don’t have to die to feel the arms of Jesus around us. They can be found in the hands that hold ours and offer a tissue, or in the arms that offer a hug. Maybe that’s why so many of us are huggers. We can’t wait to feel the love of Jesus, given by those we already know and love, or given to us by a total stranger with whom we, somehow, connected.


This week, I hope you will reflect about those times when you have felt lost, and how it felt to be found again. Pray about it, let the Good Shepherd and the Good Sweeper into your heart to heal you.


And pay attention to those around you. Are some of those you know also lost and broken? Maybe it will help them to hear your own story of being lost and then found. Don’t be afraid to share your story. Jesus may be using you, your own story, to find and heal that lost person. Maybe you are the one to help the Good Shepherd and the Good Sweeper find them and rejoice that they have at last let themselves be found.