When We Lose Our Way

A sermon from the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (9-12-10)
Children’s Time: I’d like to share with you some puppets for playtime. But where did my favorite one go? The tiger? Can you help me find it? There it is, under the pew, whew! Did you know that God cares about you? In our lesson today, Jesus tells a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and one went missing. Well, he left the 99 to look for the lost one. I want you to remember that whenever you feel lost or all alone, God is searching for you and will never give up, because you are very special to God!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been lost? I mean hopelessly lost? What is the most effective way to get back on track? Ask for directions? Right. But most of us want to give it a try first. As long as I can see the sun angle and have my bearings I’m sure I can get us out of here. Just keep heading West!

But if you’re lost in the woods what do most wilderness experts agree is the best way to be found? “Sit down, make friends with a tree and tell it your life’s story.” There are times when a map and a compass just aren’t enough! If you’re lost in a snowstorm or have grinded to a halt in dense fog, you truly are a sitting duck. And the only option is to freeze to death or be found by someone who can see clearly.

We can lose hope when we lose the way. We can lose our temper because we’re losing valuable time, or we’re afraid of losing face. We can lose our perspective or feel lost at sea. We can fight a losing battle, or just plain lose our marbles. “Get lost!” someone might say to you… but not Jesus. Thanks be to God that there is someone who cares only about finding the lost! When we say, “What a loser!” God says, “I’m on my way.”

I admire the tenacity of the shepherd – for setting out in search of the lost one – and stopping at nothing until he’s found the little sheep. I admire the woman who, when she lost a silver coin, dropped everything she was doing and turned the house upside down to find it.

Me? I’m not as patient. I’m more likely to say, “Oh, it’ll turn up eventually. It’s gotta be around here somewhere. It’s just a coin. In the grand scheme of things I can do without it.” One of my lambs, however, is a living thing. But even that is considered a commodity, to be bought and sold. I can spare one.

But God can’t. I may choose to stay with the 99 to prevent any more from straying, but God doesn’t. That coin? It’ll turn up sooner or later. But to Jesus, it’s different when we talking about lost souls. Here’s someone no one would bother going after – the mess ups and the write-offs of society – the kind of folks I am tempted to look down my nose at: deadbeat dads, dropping the ball on child support; illegal immigrants getting free healthcare at the taxpayer’s expense; welfare queens playing the system while never raising a finger to help themselves. We have a lot of easy categories for people who are lost; but seldom do we think of ourselves as lost – let alone inviting such folk for dinner! So why does Jesus?

Here is a God who will stop at nothing to track you down. And when we are found – a party is thrown. After the woman found the coin she was searching so diligently for, she invited all her friends over to celebrate! (which probably cost more than the coin she’d been looking for!)

This is a common theme in Luke’s gospel. God searches for the lost and brings them home, often with no scolding or rebuke. In the lesson to follow, Luke tells of a certain prodigal who was lost… and upon his return, a great feast is held in his honor.

I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand Jesus’ way of going after the tax collectors and sinners. What was it that drew them to him? The text says they were coming to him. Why? Greg Carey, Prof. at Lancaster Theological Seminary / Lancaster, PA summed it up this way: “Eating with sinners means taking sides.”

When Jesus opened the door to sinners he took sides with the likes of these we often write off. And it offends the rest of us who are living according to the law, nary to stray from the fold of God’s sheep.

So, on the one hand, it’s good news that God doesn’t give up on us! And yet, are we ready to welcome the other sinners Jesus is looking for when they end up back in his house?

Who have you given up the search for lately? In many parts of the world, children are sold by their own mothers as sex slaves. They will earn income for the family through forced prostitution. And for the rest of her life she will be looked down on by passers-by as “damaged goods.” Every day we write people off: The gay pastor looking for a call. The Tea Party activist protesting excessive government spending. The oil tycoon obsessed with greed and making a profit. Kids these days! They got no respect for authority! Men! Women! “You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t shoot ‘em!”

We give up on all kinds of people believing that “they’ll never change.”

Even God (in our first lesson for today) was about to give up on the sheep he had freed from Egypt and led out of slavery. When they made the golden calf and bowed down to worship it, God told Moses: “Step aside and let my wrath burn hot against them!”

Moses talked God out of calamity he had planned against his people. “Don’t let the Egyptians have the last laugh. After all, they are your people.”

And God changed his mind and welcomed the sinners back.

Let’s be people who do the same. On any given day, I too, know what it is like to be lost. Each one of us knows we do not deserve this amazing grace God lavishes upon us! And so, filled with gratitude that we are loved in spite of our sins – that God will stop at nothing to find us – let us welcome the others God is bringing into our midst – with celebration and rejoicing! Amen.

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