Have you ever lost something really important to you? What did you do?
When my mother died, we discovered that her trust documents were lost. Well, not the whole thing. We had everything except the signature page. Not in the file. Not in the file of sister the executor. Not in the lawyer’s files. No original signature page! And the document is pretty much meaningless without a signature. How could this happen?! We searched the house top to bottom. More than once. Finally, the day before I left, I decided to try once more. I started where it was supposed to be, in the office files. I removed every file, and went through every page of every file, whether it was the right file or not, even the ones staples or clipped together. Every single page. And I found it, neatly clipped to the back of the old trust from before my father died. It didn’t belong there. None of us could figure out why it was there, but let me tell you, there was a celebration in the house! Over a piece of paper!
This is the story of my life which feels like these two parables. Take a minute and think about a story of losing something which was important in your life. Did you find it? What did you do? How did you feel?
Take a minute to remember your story and what it was like…. Remembering our experiences of losing things, finding things, we come to the parables.
First lets look at the context for Jesus telling these stories. Tax collectors and sinners are coming to Jesus, getting close to him, having meals with him. Eating isn’t catching a quick bite at the local coffee house and moving on. Eating is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. This wasn’t just the “we are all sinners” kind of sinners. Luke has in mind someone whose pattern of sinning is so habitual, even second nature, that the whole community knows of it. All of which means that Jesus is welcoming the local untouchables and ne’er-do-wells, the moral disgraces and public outcasts. And the decent folk are – “concerned.”
The good people of the community are complaining about Jesus’ behavior, so he tells these three stories. (We are only looking at the first two today. The third is so familiar that it may skew the interpretation of these two. Take a look at the Prodigal Son story at home and see how it fits with what these two parables are about.)
Who are the heroes of these two stories? The Finders! The shepherd has lost a sheep – one of a hundred. That is a big flock of sheep. He has an abundance of sheep, yet missing just one is intolerable for him.
The woman is in a bit of a different situation. She has ten silver coins and she loses one. She has just lost ten percent of her money. That is devastating! In 2008, the Dow Jones average fell 7% and many were ruined! I know we felt it here at the church, and the church’s Foundation had to report losses on the year. It hurt! This woman lost ten percent of her assets! This was a huge loss. Ten coins could have represented a lifetime of wages for her.
The shepherd has an abundance of sheep. The woman loses ten percent of all she has. Their situations are different, but their responses are the same. They both go on an extravagant search. For the shepherd to leave his 99 sheep at peril of wolves or other predators, to find just one sheep, is foolish! One sheep was not a loss of livelihood or wealth. Rather, it represented his connection to every single one of his sheep. The woman uses her valuable household oil to light a lamp and search everywhere, late into the night, sweeping and sifting dirt to make sure she doesn’t miss that one little coin.
God seeks, even those who don’t seem to matter. This was the sticking point for the Pharisees and their scribes. They thought they knew who mattered and who did not. It was outlined in the Law, which they knew well. They were sure about what had been handed down to them. But, Jesus was taking time with people who don’t matter to them, or to the Law.
I think it is interesting to note who the Finders are in these parables. They are the God-figures. A shepherd who stands at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder in first-century Palestine, and a woman with only ten silver coins to her name. Maybe we are supposed to take note of the status of these two Finders. They are reminders that God often works through ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of helping to find someone.
It is an interesting coincidence that this parable falls on Labor Day weekend, so I don’t want to leave this out. We often forget what Labor Day is about. It has become the last hurrah of summer, full of parties, camping, boating, all kinds of outdoor and water activities. But that is not how is was designed. It was meant to honor the backbone of America. Those who worked ridiculously long hours in the factories, averaging 70 hours per week! They kept our country going and without them, everything would come to a stop. And so it did. A one-day strike was declared by the unions and everything came to a stop. These “ordinary” workers were not so ordinary. They make everything go. And so we continue to take one day a year off of our work, to pause and say thank you to the ordinary laborers among us, and to give them a well-earned day off. It was like a re-declaration of sabbath for workers.
When I think of it as Sabbath, it is no wonder God would align godself with these simple, ordinary, backbone-of-society people. For God’s love and law were designed to give them time to be connected with God and their community. Sabbath was for them. And now, in these parables, God is identified with these ordinary folk, giving their all for a lost one. What a way for Jesus to honor the people coming to his table! A good story for Labor Day.
But all the Finders’ foolishness doesn’t end with their search. In fact, the extravagant search is nothing compared to the extravagant celebration! Both of the Finders, when they found what they lost, invited friends and neighbors to come celebrate with them. In the next parable, it makes it clear what it means to celebrate with friends and neighbors. It means having food and drink, to provide a feast, where everyone gets “happy” with a little party libation!
The shepherd – did he kill the sheep he found and roast it as a celebration with his neighbors? Maybe it took two sheep to serve them all a simple meal. The woman? She may have dug deeply into her household stores to have a party to celebrate finding a coin worth maybe a day’s wages! In both cases, the celebration surpasses the find. Why would they do this?
This is the surprise, the shock of the story. The Finders celebrated over the top! Jesus says: there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance, and: there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Who is the Finder? Any of those dependable answers to a children’s sermon would be an appropriate answer here: God. Jesus. The Angels. They all celebrate with abundance over each person who comes to his or her senses, who leaves their wandering or dark dusty corner and finds friendship with Jesus. Of course, Jesus had to celebrate with these new friends!
I wonder about the stories you remembered of losing something. Did you find the lost thing? This is the part of discovering that page in my mother’s files which stands out to me. There was whooping and hollering in the house when that page was found, phone calls were made, a glass of wine poured. It was an uncharacteristic celebration for that household. Over a piece of paper!
Do we value celebrating? I sometimes wonder. We gather and sing traditional hymns accompanied by the powerful organ. It is beautiful. But some of these hymns started as bar tunes, sung by boisterous, tipsy Germans around tables in the local pub. They were full of celebration! I wonder if we should have more parties. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone! Last year’s fundraiser felt like that! A wonderful party!
You know what are my favorite days? I had one this week. It is a day of finding people I never met before. It is a day of connecting our stories and finding that we have so much in common. It is a day of becoming family. And the truth is that these days are around us everywhere and at every moment. Who will you find? Your cat? Your son or daughter, sister, cousin, aunt? Do you feel joy when you walk out of a chance meeting in the grocery store knowing that it brought a smile to your face and to the other? You are found! You found someone! Is your step lighter after the Sunday passing the peace and someone said just the right thing? You are found! You found someone! Do the angels sing when you notice someone who needs help and you offer it? You are found! You found someone!
Today, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Celebrate. Jesus made a banquet for us. And it is here. Yes, we have our way of doing it, which is structured and traditional. But when you take the bread today, think of it as God’s best cake. God has given God’s best for you to savor. When you tip that little cup of juice, tip it like you would at a party, with a twinkle in your eye and a raised hand. This is the celebration God is throwing for you, Found One!