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  • Kurt Reiter

Lost And Found

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10

Lost: Last seen somewhere east of Eden, a man named Adam.

Lost: His God, his garden, his way.

Lost: The faith of our fathers.

Lost: A planet with over five billion people on it.

Lost – what do we do now? Is there anything written on the subject?

Fortunately for us, there is. Luke gives us three of Jesus’ stories in his Gospel. The third story about the prodigal son is famous – well-known – popular. The first two, our Gospel lesson for today, aren’t so famous – so well-known – so popular. But they’re still masterpieces on the subject of being lost. But of course they are – they were told by the master storyteller!

Someone who has lost something doesn’t just continue on his way but goes back over everything again. And if you’ve lost anything important, like yourself, it’s time to turn around and return to God and His Holy Word.

“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear Him.” Jesus got into bad company very quickly. This wasn’t an isolated incident – this was a conspicuous habit! The New Testament has a lot of shady characters in it. Jesus appeared in public with them, and He ate with them. That caused a scandal which helped to wreck His career and put Him in an early grave.

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered,” and tried to corner Him. But instead of turning bitter, He told these wonderful stories. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep.” The story gives God away right away, and what He’s like and what He does. David knew when he said, “The Lord is my shepherd.” People say they believe in God, but then qualify their belief until He turns into “the man upstairs”, “someone in the great somewhere”, “something good inside all of us”, or some other man-made god – with a small “g”. Some even say He’s dead.

But God isn’t the obsolete ignition system that started existence and then burned out. A.D. does not mean after working hours for the Creator. God doesn’t do less as He nears the deadline. Right now is the busiest part of His day so far. What makes us think we would just evolve into humanity completely unsupervised? How do we deserve any more credit for our prosperity than the sparrows do for theirs? Haven’t we noticed the hand that feeds us and looks after us? Someone with more sense than sheep?! Whose fault is it if we wander around “like sheep without a shepherd?” We don’t have to follow our noses. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness,” David said. God is on the job at breakfast, at work, at school, at the ball game – all day – all the way – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

The solid citizens were after Him for slumming, and Jesus silenced them forever with this story: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doesn’t leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Everyone leaves everything to look for something as little as a hat! Now what would you do if you were God, and lost some people who belonged to you? What could be more natural than for God to look for His lost people who look for their lost hats?

If “all we, like sheep, have gone astray” in this world, it doesn’t mean we mean less to God – it means we mean even more to Him! He’s a wonderful God in an emergency. He’s up and on His way in the middle of the night when we need Him. He’s fully equipped for rescues, coming to the aid of His helplessly, hopelessly lost, and panicked sheep.

Jesus never once charges sin in this whole story. His word for that is “lost.” We like to call ourselves sinners – it’s kind of glamorous, I guess. It identifies us as one of the guys, or like the rest of the girls. It brags that we’re not goody-goodies.

But we’re just fooling ourselves. Sin is why – and it’s what happens – when a person loses his sense of direction. And that’s hard to own up to. No one likes to admit that they’re lost. Especially men. It’s unmanly, humiliating, and a man will do anything to prove he’s not a baby anymore. That’s why they’re so often missing from church! Davy Crockett was asked, what with all his traveling through the wilderness, was he ever lost? “No,” he said, “though I was confused for three days once!” “Real men” don’t ask for directions – do they, ladies? But God knows – and we really know – that we’ve often wandered off or sailed out too far and are at the mercy of God.

Then Jesus goes on: “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” Here again we see God’s interest for the lost. This can’t wait until morning. She lights a lamp. She doesn’t just make a casual investigation. She makes the dust fly. God isn’t satisfied because the rest of His universe is running smoothly. There are people lost on this planet. His eye is on the spot where His creation is breaking down. Jesus’ story tells of a woman doing a thorough housecleaning. The coin is in there somewhere, and she’s sweeping as fast as she can. Will God give up any one of His children for lost with any less effort and determination than a poor woman trying to find a coin worth about one day’s wages?

“Suppose… she loses one.” All of these stories told by Jesus shout “one.” We have the idea that more and bigger is better. It’s hard to realize that God, with all His galaxies of stars and billions of people could really care for “little old me.” But God is a family God who made man after His own heart. Apparently, even more important to Him than creating is reclaiming a person – the second birth. That’s why He sent His only Son into the world. While we tend to think of God mainly as Creator, these stories of Jesus show Him to be more interested in repair and maintenance. “Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” This does not mean that all lost people will be recovered as a matter of course! Redemption and salvation are not routine. They’re a death struggle with the Devil. The Bible is a warning as well as a promise – Law as well as Gospel, we Lutherans like to put it. Our wills can block God’s will. “How often,” Jesus said, “I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

But the phrase, “search carefully until she finds it,” is a lifesaver in itself. It means God cares, and He won’t give up as long as there’s still work to do. He’s not satisfied with a good harvest – He wants every planted seed present and accounted for. Ninety-nine aren’t enough – He wants a hundred. Nine aren’t enough – He wants all ten. These stories tell us that there is a “love that will not let me go.”

When the shepherd finds his sheep, “He joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep.’”

And when the woman finds her coin, “She calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I’ve found my lost coin.’”

Rejoicing! The weary shepherd and the hardworking woman were thrilled to see their lost sheep and missing coin once again. The scenes give us a glimpse of God with His eyes shining with happiness. Our Heavenly Father knows how to enjoy Himself and His children.

Imagine God’s excitement, if late some night, looking through the wilderness, He comes across the boy or girl He lost – ages ago it seems. The Apostle John tells us that we shall see God as He is. (1 John 3:2) And these two stories tell us that we shall see Him smiling!

A find is too good for God to keep to Himself. He knows just what pleases the angels and the saints in Heaven. This is the news they’re interested in. This it the word they love to hear: Found! So, “there is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents!”


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