Sunday, September 16, 2007

Luke 15:1-10

Let’s face it; being lost stinks.

Has anyone not been lost before? It was fun to recount stories with Trasie’s brother in town of the times Trasie had been lost. Such as her sophomore year of college; going to the beach with friends, which means in Georgia you go east. Two hours later, when she crossed the state line into Alabama, she realized she had been going west. The time she got lost in the Super K-mart; and her mom called her over the intercom—as if God was calling her from above—Trasie, come this way; I’m looking for you. Then there was the time she went to the haunted house (“it was horrible”) The men—Her brother and father—decided not to go in for whatever reason; so she and her mom bravely entered; and after all kinds of terrifying experiences, the person leading them around couldn’t find the way, suddenly the lights went out; tears began to streak down her and her mom’s faces. Finally someone came and grabbed them by the hand and led them out....And if being lost stinks: losing something stinks just as badly.

My Keys, my wallet, my phone, all tend to disappear more often than I would like.

I remember the time we lost my grandma Topple. All of her family was caravanning up to Canada in three different vehicles one summer. I was seven; and remember vividly when my uncle, driving one of the other cars drove up beside our van, rolled down the window and asked if grandma was in our car. NOPE? We shouted….I think we left her at the rest area!

30 minutes after we had left that place fortunately it dawned on someone that she wasn’t in any of the cars. Life before cell phones; Grandparents get lost. When we picked her up she was just patiently waiting there, confident that at some point we would come back for her. What a relief!

What a relief when we found one of the campers who had gotten lost on the mountain. I was a camp counselor one summer; leading a group of 12 boys ages 9-11 on a day hike. After making it to the top, a little race back to camp was instigated; so we all begin to run. The trail was well marked, no problem. Slowly but surely all the boys make it back, except for one.

Has anyone seen Billy? Yeah, I remember passing him down the mountain. We look at each other and yell, Billy, but no answer. A couple of the older boys and I take off running together back up the mountain; leaving the rest of the group behind. After about 10 minutes of searching and yelling, which seemed like 10 years, We finally hear a faint yell back; I’m over here. Thank God! Smart kid, once he realized he was lost, just sat down where he was and waited. A good lesson: When you get lost just sit down and wait till someone finds you, or call someone on their cell phone.

I doubt that that sheep that the shepherd lost really knew that technique of waiting in one spot until it was found. And they definitely didn’t have cell phones back in those days, as if it would have don’t that shepherd any good. Jesus is provoked to tell three incredible stories after the authority tell him he isn’t hanging out with the right kid of people. What are you doing hanging around here Jesus? With these kind of people, sinners, tax collectors, people of ill reputation? Three parables. parable from the greek word: parabole, literally “That which is tossed alongside.” Hmm. A comparison, an analogy, an elaboration, or an illustration.1 The sky’s the limit when it comes to telling a parable. It can have many meanings; it can have one meaning; it can be obvious, or hard to figure out. When we hear parables we are invited to insert ourselves into the story, and try to figure it out; this leaves a lot of room for the imagination.

After he is provoked, Jesus looks out and surveys the crowd, and sees some gathered around carrying staffs, others waiting intently and holding brooms. How might he describe the depth of God’s love—about how the lost are sought after and there is great rejoicing when they are found—how does he share this message with them? A sheep who wanders from it’s fold, a coin that has rolled behind the bench. A shepherd searching; a woman scouring her house for something terribly valuable.

So what do you think? Are the figures who search for the lost to represent God? Or Jesus.

We’re used to seeing the docile Jesus as shepherd with sheep draped around his shoulders,

but less often is Jesus, or God for that matter, portrayed as woman with broom in one hand and coin in the other; and a look of delight radiating from her face. And if these are to represent God, and the sheep and the coin that have been lost represent people, does that mean that God has lost something?

These parables can be tricky business: which is why they are so provocative; so much fun.

We can skate back and forth in these stories. We can envision God as the seeker and finder and ourselves as the found object; or at least we are hoping to be found. Or we can be the ones who are seeking out and finding the lost. And looking outside the parable, looking at the scene where Jesus tells the story: we can be the sinners gathered around Jesus; or we can be like the authorities, and think we’re all that.

Where are you sitting this morning? What is going on in your life? Are you searching for something or someone that is lost? Are you feeling a bit lost these days and just hoping to be found and brought back into the fold? Or maybe you’re hiding? Lost: Uncertain about life, about the future, not really having a sense of belonging. The sheep and the coin were both part of a whole, and when they were lost they were separated from that which they were a part of.

When we are lost, we may feel that we don’t really belong anywhere.

Trasie and I have been here for nearly nine months, now, and as we make friends and build relationship we are feeling more and more that we have a place, that we in-fact do belong here in santa fe, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t think about our family and friends and the familiar places once part of our daily life. Our sense of belonging depends on many factors;

how we’re received and perceived by others; how comfortable are we with ourselves.

In today’s world more and more people are migrating, moving here and there and everywhere.
Kids grow up and leave home, and often don’t come back there to live. Many move when they retire; seek life in a better climate. People are displaced due to war or economic conditions.

My friend Ramon from Mexico has been in this country for more than half of his life, but longs to return to Mexico. Separation from home, from family, from friends, from the familiar; he feels lost at times—he longs for belonging.

I think this is the concern Jesus has. That when someone is lost it is because of separation and brokenness; Brokenness and separation with our family and friends; Separation from our place of belonging. Brokennes and Separation from God! For any number of reasons.

We live in a world where we hurt one another and others hurt us. Our families and friends, strangers and enemies hurt us. And this leads to separation and brokenness, broken relationships, and a broken sense of self; and so we wander longing to be found; longing to find.

Often I have heard this parable interpreted to suggest that the church is to be like the shepherd or the woman and seek out the lost. But I wonder if we, who make up the church, are more often than not are more like the lost objects; seeking peace both within ourselves, with others, and with God.

Didn’t you find yourself trying to huddle around Jesus? Trying to listen to and understand his teachings? The people who felt excluded, detached, like we just didn’t belong; in need of salvation. Doesn’t this happen to everyone? So maybe the role of the Christian community is to first recognize our own need to be found, to be part of the whole, to belong. This is why we come together so that we can join in a collective journey, and support one another as we go.

Confident that God is seeking us by any means available until we are found; and found again, and found again! And as a community, we can provide space and care so that others who are wandering may find community, may find restoration, may find the love they may be seeking.

In this way we join in the party. There was a party of heavenly hosts, and I’m sure it was a wild one when each of us discovered within our hearts a sense of being lost, and so we turned toward the one who was seeking us; we allowed him to place us upon his shoulders and make us whole; we were delighted when she picked us up off the ground, dusted us off, and reunited us.

My friend Jon remembered growing up in a household with an abusive father; abusive to both his mother and him. One particular night, when he was still a child, things got really bad in his house. He hid behind the couch trying to hide from the horrible sites; he put his hands over his ears trying escape the horrible sounds; In that moment he wanted to believe God was with him, that God would stop the chaos; “I want to believe in you God, help us.” But the abuse continued, so he said to God that night, “I wanted to believe in you God, but I can’t; I’m never going to believe in you.”

Years later after Jon’s father had left his mother and him; his mother became depressed and at times abusive toward him. One evening, in total despair, he told his mother that he couldn’t stand to live anymore. She suggested that he go up to the top of their building and throw himself off. He went up to the top, Alone, feeling completely lost; he walked toward the edge; but something prevented him from jumping off.

When I met Jon, he was a quite, shy, awkward college kid. For some reason he was coming around to our campus ministry. He seemed to enjoy the parties, and bible studies, often times one and the same, and even though he would hanging back, this huge shell that surrounded his heart was beginning to fall off. About after we met Jon, he shared his story in a small group one day. And as he was telling this story, tears began to well up in his eyes, he said the only problem with his commitment to not believe in God now, was that everywhere he turned he saw God. He would go here and there was God; he would go there and God was before him. God’s pursuit of Jon was relentless.

Yes reconciliation is a possibility. It’s when you see a transformation like the one in Jon’s life that you can experience and grasp the joy, the party that must be going on among the heavenly angels. And perhaps there was even more joy than imaginable in another experience Jon had.

He came around to the campus house absolutely beaming. “I’ve just spoken with my father after years,” he told us, “the healing has begun in our relationship.”

What a joy it must have been for Jesus to welcome tax collectors and sinners, people of bad reputation into his world. What a joy it can be for us to open our lives and our world up to others whom God is pursuing right now; who desire so much to be part of a loving community of the lost, of the seeking, and of the found. It stinks to be lost, but what a relief and joy to be found! It stinks to lose something, but when you find it, it’s hard to contain your relief, your excitement, your joy when you’ve finally found it. Praise God!

1 Craddock, Luke: Interpretation.

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