Jesus Never Stops Searching, or Finding
Sep 11, 2022
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
I recently overheard a man who was about my age trying to explain the concept of a “Trip Tik” to his teenage granddaughter. Many of you remember the Trip Tik, those series of printed directions and maps that AAA created at the travelers’ request to get them from home to a particular destination, usually some distance away. I could picture the spiral-bound folder as the man attempted to describe it to the young woman who, to her credit, was paying attention but could not grasp the concept. He gave me a pleading look, something akin to “Help me!” or “Can you believe this?”
So, I affirmed that, yes, such a thing had existed; she looked back and forth between us and then asked, “How did they (AAA) know where you were going?” (It was hard not to laugh.) After further explanation about visiting the Travel Agent to share one’s hopes for the trip, the time frame and desired stops, she shook her head and said, perplexed, “After all that, did it work?” I did laugh then and responded, “If you opened it, read it and followed it, it did.”
Thankfully, the gentleman chuckled and patted her arm as she announced, “Don’t blame me, I only know the GPS.”
I guess every generation has its tools for not getting lost, with happens to be the theme of today’s Gospel lesson – sort of. I say that because these parables of Jesus about the lost sheep and the lost coin really do not focus as much on lost-ness as found-ness.
There are two audiences listening to Jesus as he tells these parables, the Pharisees, who are criticizing Jesus for the “bad” company with whom he is sharing meals, and the “bad” company themselves, described as tax collectors and sinners. As far as the former is concerned, the latter were not God’s kind of people. They were lost to God, lost causes – too lost to be helped by a Trip Tik or even a GPS.
So, when Jesus tells these parables – plus one more that we title the Prodigal Son – those who were considered lost must have heard it as Good News. A shepherd leaves behind 99 sheep to seek the lost one; a woman seeks diligently for one lost coin, conveying the message that that which is lost is important, worth seeking.
Did you notice that the focus is not so much on the lost-ness as the commitment of the one who is searching? Just look at the verbs – the shepherd leaves, goes after, finds, lays it on his shoulders, rejoices, comes home and calls friends together for a celebration. The woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house, searches carefully, finds and calls together her friends to rejoice with her.
Commentator Chelsey Harmon describes this as searching without counting the cost. For example, although it is likely that the 99 sheep are in relative safety when they are left behind by the shepherd who is searching for the lost one, the shepherd still leaves the bulk of his wealth to get back one percent of what belongs to him. The woman spends resources, time and energy to find the coin. The message is that finding the lost is worth the effort. (1)
Another interesting detail is that the ones doing the searching were themselves not deemed significant; they are from the bottom of the social ladder. Could we say they were lost? Shepherds were despised; they were considered unclean and thus unable to participate in religious practices. They could not be called upon as witnesses because they were not trusted to tell the truth. Women, of course, had no social standing in first century Palestine; they too could not serve as witnesses, not because they were considered dishonest, they just weren’t considered at all. In his parable, Jesus not only includes these two outcast figures, he casts them as the “heroes”, the ones who represent the determined love of God. The message is that we belong to God. When we stray, lose our way, or even run away from God, God will persistently look for us and rejoice when we are found. (2)
That, my friends, is grace. It is God’s gift to us. We all are lost in different ways at different times in our lives. Our eternal “lost-ness” has been eliminated through God’s grace, in Jesus, through whom we have been forgiven of the sin that separated us (humanity) from God. That’s the ultimate example of being found.
But, we still struggle with lost-ness, Commentator Caroline Lewis gives these definitions of being lost: not knowing where you are or how to get to where you want to go; unable to find your way; feeling unmoored, confused, disoriented, bewildered, abandoned and lonely. (3) When this is our reality, it is vital to trust that Jesus never stops searching for us AND Jesus never stops finding us.
Sometimes we feel lost when that’s not completely true. For example, on my return trip from visiting friends in St. Louis last week, I ended up on a detour that took me south of Indianapolis. Normally, I would have looked at a map and had some idea of the various route options beforehand. However, I had decided to rely on the GPS – which is a big step for me. When the detour presented itself, I felt completely lost, not knowing where I was or how to get where I was going. I had to trust that the GPS would take me where I needed to be.
It did; on two-lane highways that had corn fields towering on both sides and through a city that remained unidentified. I was not even sure which state I was in. I had to trust the voice directing me, or pull off the road and find a map to study on the phone. I decided, with some anxiety, to trust.
Now, obviously, a GPS is not a reliable metaphor for God, but the concept is similar. Detours are a part of life. Can we trust that in the midst of our lost-ness, Jesus is seeking, directing and finding us? If so, our lives can be a constant celebration of being found, that is, of grace, which then can lead to serving in ways that bring that grace to light.
That’s what today is all about; the ELCA Day of Service is a yearly reminder to live gratefully and gracefully by doing God’s work with our hands. Yesterday some of us volunteered at DLM, giving away food, clothing, a prepared meal or participated in First Serve, paying for laundry, working in community gardens or helping North High School fulfill its purpose as a place of learning and community.
Following worship today, there are opportunities to help with projects here at the church, and I’m sure many of you will stay to serve. So it is that in a variety of ways, members of ELCA congregations far and wide are involved in tasks that remind them, and also help others discover, that Jesus never stops searching for or finding them.
He is the ultimate GPS … or Trip Tik? AMEN
“Luke 15:1-10 Commentary” by Chelsey Harmon, September 11, 2022, www.cepreaching.org
“Getting Found” by JoAnne Taylor, Sermon on Luke 15:1-10, www.pastorsings.org
“Lost and Found” by Karoline Lewis, September 4, 2016, www.workingpreacher.org