Sermon for 15 Pentecost, Year C
Based on Lk. 15:1-10
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Lost and found…Today, our gospel speaks of a lost sheep and a shepherd who finds it; a lost coin and a woman who finds it. These two parables both have been given the wrong names—because they show us what God is like and whom God is. The parables should be named “The Searching Shepherd,” and “The Sweeping Woman,” to emphasize the central action and Actor—God. Both parables focus on the activity of the shepherd and the activity of the woman. God—like the shepherd, like the woman—values what is lost so much that God will not stop seeking until the lost is found.
I’ve often wondered why the shepherd would risk leaving behind 99 to go and search for and find the one lost sheep. Why would the woman waste her lamp oil and broom on one tiny coin when she had the other nine? Why throw a big party over one sheep when you’ve still got 99 sheep? Why throw a big party over one tiny coin when you’ve still got nine coins? Why? Because the truth of the matter is that at one time or another, each one of those 99 sheep get lost too; each one of those other nine coins get lost too. The same is true of us! At one time or another, each one of us gets lost. When we get lost, we are helpless like the sheep and coin in the parables—there’s nothing we can do. The more we try to escape our lostness; to find our own way again; the worst it becomes; the more lost we get. As we prepare for worship on Sunday, we acknowledge our lostness publicly, when we confess: “We believe that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” God, like the shepherd and the woman, seeks us out until God finds us. Once we are found, God and all of heaven rejoice. Once we are found, we become partners with God to seek out others who are still lost.
Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, the famous preacher, once arrived rather earlier than expected in a town with which he wasn’t familiar. He had an evening engagement, and the only place he could find to pass the time was a public house opposite the church. He went in, ordered a glass of lemonade, and was soon in an animated conversation with some of the customers.
As he rose to leave, one of them said to him: “Sir, if the likes of you came in here more often, perhaps the likes of us would go in there oftener, too” –pointing to the church across the road. 1
Sometimes God is able to reach out to the lost by working through us, and leading us to the most unlikely places in order to find the lost. Sometimes God allows us to get lost in order for us to meet others who are lost and then find us all together. Sometimes, perhaps others who are lost may be more willing to be found by God if we spent more time in lostness with them.
Then there is this story of searching and finding the lost, as told by Prof. Paul Trudinger:
I was watching a television programme one night which focused on a group of people in Watts County, Los Angeles, who were counselling young people who had experienced trouble and despair in their lives. The group, called, I believe, ‘Parents of Watts’, had been founded by a middle-aged black woman known throughout the area as ‘Sweet Alice Harris’. When Alice was interviewed, she said, “My happiness is helping people.” “If you had one wish,” asked the interviewer, “What would it be?” Sweet Alice replied with a smile that simply radiated love and compassion: “I do wish for more help, so that I can go out and find those who won’t find me!” 2
Our God has found us, who also once were lost. God has called us, like Alice Harris, to be partners, to be God’s helpers, to be seekers of the lost by going out to find them and welcome them into God’s family.
You may remember the story of Helen of Troy. According to legend this beautiful queen was captured and carried away and became a victim of amnesia. She became a prostitute in the streets. She didn’t know her name or the fact that she came from royal blood. But back in her homeland, friends didn’t give up hope for her return. An old friend believed she was alive and went to look for her. He never lost faith.
One day while wandering through the streets, he came to a waterfront and saw a wretched woman in tattered clothes with deep lines across her face. There was something about her that seemed familiar, so he walked up to her and said, “What is your name?” She gave a name that was meaningless to him. “May I see your hands?” he asked. She held her hands out in front of her, and the young man gasped, “You are Helen! Do you remember?”
She looked up at him in astonishment. “Helen!” he yelled out. Then the fog seemed to clear. There was recognition in her face. The light came on! She discovered her lost self, put her arms around her old friend and wept. She discarded the tattered clothes and once more became the queen she was born to be.
God searches for you in the same way. He uses every method possible to look for you and try to convince you of your worth to him. 3
Today we learn Jesus insists that God places great value in the losers and the lost. At one time or another, we are all losers and lost. During those times of losing and lostness, we are helpless—there’s nothing we can do to get out of it. In fact, the more we end up doing, there more lost we may well become. Thank God that God keeps searching and sweeping until God finds us. Once God finds us, God invites us to join him in the ongoing searching and sweeping to find all who are lost—so that one day all of heaven shall rejoice at God’s great party, which will have no end. In the meantime, let’s not forget to party now too whenever we can, every time we and others are found over and over again.
1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book 1988, devotion for June 6th.
2 Cited from: Paul Trudinger, Indirections To God: A Book of Reflections (Winnipeg: Greenwood Place Publications, 1991), p. 19.