Year C, Proper 19, Pentecost 17 – Sept. 11, 2016 – Luke 15:1-10

There’s not a day that goes by that each of us doesn’t spend at least some time trying to find something we have misplaced or just outright lost. “Where’s my wallet?” “Honey, have you seen my keys?” Your glasses, a bill you need to pay, your cell phone, a telephone number you wrote down on a scrap of paper, a piece of jewelry you know you put back in its place the last time you wore it.

Like possessions, people too can also get lost. Who among us hasn’t found ourselves blindly wandering around the streets of some city we’re visiting? And it’s even worse when it’s in a foreign country and you have trouble getting directions. Did you ever take one of your kids to the grocery store or amusement park and at some point turned around and realized, to your horror, that the kid was nowhere in sight? I am on a diocesan committee that meet at a different church every time. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent driving,disoriented, around Philadelphia. I could avoid that if I used Siri for voice directions on the phone, but that seems like cheating, because the best way to learn your way around is to get lost.  And I do!

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees and scribes are at it again, grumbling that Jesus is hanging out with outcasts and sinners.  In response to them, Jesus tells two parables, one about a shepherd who goes in search of the one lost sheep who has wandered from the safety of the fold and one about a woman who has 10 silver coins and turns her house upside down to find the one coin she has lost.   

How did the sheep get lost? She was out grazing with the flock, concentrating on the grass, looking down, focused only on the food before her.  She doesn't mean to get separated - sheep are born with a 'herd' instinct and they will never do this on purpose. But all of a sudden, she looks up and all the others are gone. And the only way she can get back to where she belongs is if the shepherd comes after her.

Then there’s the coin that gets lost. It isn’t worth very much, but to the woman who lost it, it’s valuable. It means something to her. So she lights a lamp, sweeps, and searches every nook and cranny before the coin winks back at her in the light, and is found.

The shepherd lifts up his lost sheep, lays it across his shoulder and rejoices. Then he goes home and calls his friends and neighbors to a party to celebrate the end of the sheep’s “lost-ness.” Likewise the woman calls her friends and neighbors to come and rejoice with her – and she probably spends that coin, and others, on the food and drink needed for the party.

Obviously the shepherd and the woman are both metaphors for God, and the stories are about what happens when we, God’s people, get lost, and God sets out to find us.

Because we have all been lost from time to time. Not knowing where our life was going.  At the end of our rope with children who have disappointed us. Having marital problems.  Suffering from loneliness, despair, depression, physical illness, abuse. Too often our experiences in this life, in this world, are not filled with grace, but with sadness and alienation and pain and grief.

Which of you, Jesus asks, would go to such lengths to search and find and then welcome back and celebrate? Truth be told, probably very few of us would invest the time and energy. But God would. God does, seeking us out, stumbling through a rocky pasture, lighting a lamp and sweeping, sweeping, sweeping until we are found again, all caught up in God’s mercy, grace, and love.  And then inviting everyone to rejoice at what has been found!  In the end, this parable is about a God so crazy in love with God’s children that this God will do anything to find them. To find us.

God, it seems, is running a lost and found department- and that is very good news. We have a God who doesn't wait passively for us to return. God searches us out - looking and calling and seeking, like a parent looking for a child who has run away from home. And we have all run away from home at one time or another. When that happens, we lose our grounding. We lose our identity. We lose community. But God doesn't let us suffer the consequences of our wandering without offering us every opportunity to come to our senses.  

The way that we come to our senses, return to ourselves, regain our identity, is by allowing God to pick us up like that lost sheep in the parable and gently return us to the fold. When this happens, the shepherd is overcome with joy.  "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost."  We worship a God who is beside himself with joy that his little one has come home.

That’s how God feels anytime anyone is drawn back into relationship with God, or chooses life, or lives into his or her potential, or helps out another, and in all these ways is found. Joy. Pure joy.

The Pharisees and scribes don’t get that. They don’t realize that God is primarily about love, rather than rules, and therefore about joy, rather than anger or fear or impatience.

It’s natural to focus on the lost-ness in these stories, but let’s not do that to the point where we miss the joyful character of these stories and of God.  These stories aren’t about a lost sheep or coin, not really. They’re about a shepherd who risks everything to go look, and about a woman who sweeps all night long to find. These stories are about a God who will always go looking for God’s lost children.

These two people – the shepherd and the woman – were everyday, ordinary people. They reminder us that God often works through ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of helping to find someone who is lost.

Fifteen years ago today, many people helped find others who were lost – lost in smoke, debris, rubble.  One of them was a 24 year-old equities trader working on the 104th floor of the South Tower when Flight 175 smashed into it.  His name was Welles Crowther. Having worked as a volunteer firefighter as a teenager, when disaster struck, he sprang into action, leading people down to the lobby, then reentering the building and leading others out three more times.

From David Horowitz Freedom Center Newsreal blog

“They sat bloody and petrified – the lights out, smoke engulfing the room and pain searing through their bodies. There was no escape from where they were in the South Tower. Then out of nowhere a young man burst in and took control. In a strong, authoritative voice he directed them to the stairway, which was veiled by darkness, wreckage and haze, telling the injured to get out and the healthy to help them.  “I see this incredible hero, running back and forth and saving the day,” recalled Judy Wein. Ling Young said, “He’s definitely my guardian angel…because without him, we would be sitting there waiting until the building came down.”

Crowther saved at least 18 lives that day. He was last seen with firefighters, making their way up the stairs to find more people. His body was recovered March 19 of the following year.

On September 11th, God used Welles Crowther and so many others to find people who were lost.We probably will never find ourselves in similar circumstances, God willing, yet God can also use us to find others. At work, at home, at school, through our congregations, in our places of volunteering, God regularly uses us to find others, and to create rejoicing.

God's desire is always to rescue the lost.  What a marvelous picture of heaven - all those angels throwing a party when the one who was lost is found again. Do you feel lost? If so, go ahead and admit your lost-ness to God. Confide your hopes and fears, your dreams and dashed hopes. Because when you turn to God for any reason at all, God throws one heck of a party, and invites all the angels to rejoice.