Finding the Lost
Have you ever lost something that meant a lot to you? Something that you really needed. Did you ever lose your purse? Your wallet? Car keys? Have you ever lost something that had great sentimental value to you.
The worst thing I lost was my wedding ring. We were at Neshotah Beach in Two Rivers and I was playing catch with Jay and Robin in the “cool waters” of Lake Michigan. I threw the ball and my ring came off my shrunken finger.
We did everything we could possibly do to find the ring. Diving under water, methodically walking in the sand hoping to step on it, but it was to no avail...the ring was lost. Having to leave the water knowing I would never see the ring again was a devastating feeling.
The ring meant a lot to me. God in His great grace had helped me overcome a drinking problem and He was turning our marriage into what it should be, and the golden band that symbolized our eternal covenant of love was now gone. I was devastated.
I felt like I had been hit in the gut. We couldn’t afford a new one, and how was I going to tell Joanie what happened? It was a long and quiet ride home from the beach....even though it was only a mile from our house where she was waiting. You know what I mean?
It wasn’t the first time I lost my wedding ring. When I was in the Navy our ship took a good will cruise around South America, and we were playing softball against a team from Argentina. I was playing first base and warming up the infield by throwing grounders to them, when it happened. My ring went sailing off my finger.
Well, my teammates and I searched for it, but we couldn’t find it, and the game had to go on...so we gave up. But then a beautiful thing happened. The people in the stands who had come to see the Americans play softball, found out about the dilemma and they formed a line. Shoulder to shoulder they marched from the first base line all the way out to the outfield.
Suddenly one of the youngsters found it. What a great feeling! How joyous I was. How happy were my teammates, and everyone in the stands! What appeared to be hopelessly lost was now found!
People are like that ring. You have great sentimental value to Him. People are like that lost coin, people are like that lost sheep to God. Only they’re much more valuable. You are much more valuable! Much more valuable than your most prized possession!
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son! You were bought at a price! And once baptized, You become a prized possession of God! Jesus said in
Mt 12:12 "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Mt 10:31 "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
You are of great value to Jesus! There are two incidents of Jesus weeping in Scripture, one when Lazarus died and the other as He looked at the city of Jerusalem and realized it was lost. Like a ring, sinking to the bottom of a lake, never to be found again. He doesn’t want to lose you! And He is relentless in His pursuit to reveal His love to you! He’ll do whatever it takes.
You know, you read this gospel lesson and you think, who’s looking for who? God is all knowing, why does He need to look for anyone? He knows where you are!
I get blown away every time I try to consider the omniscience (the all knowing) of God. The closest thing I can relate it to is a commercial I see for the Wisconsin Lottery during the Brewer games.
There’s a picture of planet earth and suddenly it gets closer and closer, then you see Milwaukee, Miller Park, then the field, then on the field a man who is holding a Lottery card. Technology today allows us to even see our own homes through satellite pictures from earth.google.com
But you know what? God’s technology is even better! He can zoom in and count the very hairs on our head.....He can even see the true spiritual condition of each and every heart.......He knows who’s lost and who isn’t! It’s mind boggling.
And so He comes to Abraham. At the time many hearts were lost. Idolatry and compromise had come into the church and God’s heart was aching for the lost and so He zeroes in on the willing and faith - filled heart of Abraham and He has a plan to save souls. And so He calls Abraham in order to unveil His plan to make a great nation of found...not lost people.
And He says, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”
In other words open yourself up to Me. Put yourself under My mighty hand! And what’s the first thing Abraham did after hearing these words? He fell on his face! A picture of total submission. Humility before God the Father!
Beth Moore has said that “the most monumental leap we take toward freedom is the leap to our knees in surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
And here, speaking with Abraham, God promises that all those who turn to Him in humility will be found blameless.....will be what? FOUND! Blameless, without fault.......without sin.
This portion of Luke in our Gospel lesson today deals with God’s passion for the lost. It was brought about by the Pharisees complaining about Jesus mingling with tax collectors and sinners. It’s important that we realize who these tax collectors and sinners were.
They were circumcised Jews. In other words at a very early age (8 days old) they had been brought into the flock if you will through the God commanded rite of circumcision. They had become God’s possessions. Just like we are brought into the flock through the Jesus commanded rite of baptism.
In their circumcision, as in our baptism we are FOUND blameless by God because of His promise! Now, we don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way they had wandered from the faith.
The tax collectors began to skim a little money off the top for themselves, maybe you’ve done some skimming yourself. Pirating music off the internet or movies, lying to mom and dad about the money you need, short-changing someone at work...maybe even shoplifting.
The sinners? Well they slowly but surely began to habitually do what all sinners do......seek to live apart from God and His Word...and slowly but surely they get drawn into the ways of the world. And they become just as lost as my ring, or the silver coin, or the sheep.
But look how Jesus looks for the lost! He mingles with them! And please note that He mingles with THEM not their sin. He remained uncompromised! The Pharisees on the other hand stayed in their high towers, calling down...”Look at those greedy tax collectors and filthy sinners! Oooh don’t come near me!”
But Jesus mingled. He let them get a glimpse of who He is and what He is all about. He didn’t force the issue. He simply gave glimpses of His love and care for them.
And He said in Jn 12:32, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
By His very presence in their lives...His willingness to meet with them and eat with them, He let them know that they had not been forgotten. The Pharisees had written them off, but we all need to remember that no one is beyond the reach of the love of God!
Think about a time you did something wrong and you thought it could never be forgiven. Maybe you knocked an heirloom off a shelf while tossing a football around the living room. Maybe you smacked into another car due to inattentive driving.
These things are not the end of the world, yet remember how scared you were at the time. How alone you felt? Now think about those who have strayed from God and have done damage to those things He regards as precious.
They’re like that lost sheep, alone, fearful, looking for safety and comfort and never finding it. Then suddenly they see Him....the Good Shepherd. They see Him because you have modeled Him in their lives. You have mingled with them and loved them and ate with them....without compromise.
And when they see Him in us....Jesus has been lifted up in their midst...and just as He said, they are drawn to Him, and He says in Jn 6:37, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
Even in the case of the lost silver coin, what was brought into the environment of the coin in order that it would be found?......the light. The light of Christ! And a broom. The broom of forgiveness that sweeps the dirt away so the baptismal shine of the coin may be seen again and found!
We are the light of the world! We are to bring the light of Christ to a lost world.
And we are to tell of the forgiveness offered, the possibility of being restored to our baptismal grace through coming back to Jesus.
As we bring that light, the lost coin has a much better chance of being found. It’s baptismal glint verifying that it once belonged to Jesus. It had been lost but now it was found! And as the sheep was picked up by the shepherd, the coin is picked up by the woman and carried home where there is great rejoicing!
A legend recounts the return of Jesus to heaven after His time on earth. He returned bearing the marks of His earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. (The evidence of His great love for us.)
The angel Gabriel approached Him and said, “Master, You must have suffered terribly for people down there.”
“I did,” said Jesus.
“and,” continued Gabriel, “do they now know all about how You loved them and what You did for them?” “Oh no,” said Jesus. “Not yet. Right now, only a handful of people in Israel know.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have You done to let all people know about Your love for them?
“Well, I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few others to tell people about Me. Those who are told will in turn tell others and the gospel will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately all of humankind will hear about Me and what I have done on their behalf.”
Gabriel frowned and looked skeptical. He knew people weren’t dependable. “Yes, but what if Peter, James, and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget about Your love? And what if by the 21st century people get too busy to mingle with others and tell them about You? What’s Your back-up plan?
And Jesus said, “I have made no other plans....I’m counting on them.”
Jesus is counting on you and I. We are the plan. “Go into the world baptizing and teaching about Me and My love.”
Be in that place where the lonely, fearful, sheep have found themselves seemingly cut off from God and all hope! Be that light looking for the glint of the lost coin, and show Jesus to them, in word and deed, that they may be found!
What is evangelism? It is everyone in the church doing their part to help find the lost. It is linking up with your brothers and sisters in Christ and marching arm in arm through the world looking for the lost.....giving them glimpses of Jesus while you walk before God and your life intersects with theirs.
This is how Jesus is lifted up! Lift up Jesus! Give the lost the opportunity to come to Jesus and be found!
There was joy on a softball field in Argentina by all who worked together to find my ring. But that joy pales to the celebration in heaven over ever sinner who repents.
Lu 15:10 "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
My friend, you were made spotless, blameless in your baptism, because of what God did for you. Maybe you have wandered away from the graces given to you in your baptism and like the sheep who wandered away because he was distracted and not paying attention, you now find yourself in a fearful, lonely, anxious place.
You find yourself wondering if God will still take you back. Oh listen to the love of Jesus as stated by Peter in our epistle lesson, “Cast ALL your care (anxieties) upon Him, for He cares (He is anxious) for you.
God is anxiously awaiting your return, just as the father anxiously awaited the return of his Prodigal son. He is anxiously awaiting for you to ask Him to put you on His shoulders and carry you home!
Or maybe you’re like that silver coin, hopelessly buried in the dirt of your sins and wrong choices. You feel like a penny underneath the greasy slimy stove. Who would bother to look for such a thing.............I’ll tell you who. God. That’s who!
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been and what you’ve done. You are precious to Him! And He would slide His mighty arm under a million greasy grimy stoves just to touch you and reclaim you and make you His again!
In 1994 Phillips Craig and Dean released a song called “He’ll Do Whatever It Takes.”
It goes like this:
You don't know just how far Away from home I've been" She said, as she looked into my eyes
"Could it be I've strayed beyond Mercy's outstretched hand
And now His grace no longer stoops To hear my cry
You see, I just wanna know Tell me how far will He go
Will He still reach for me Inspite of where I've been"
And I told her
He'll do whatever, whatever it takes
His grace reaches lower than your worst mistakes
And His love will run farther
Than you can run away, my friend
He'll do whatever, whatever it takes
He'll do whatever it takes
We’re going to spend some quiet time reflecting on God’s great love for us and all of our unworthiness to receive it, but the Good news is He did whatever it took to restore the lost. He offered up His Body and Blood to pay for all of your sins and the sins of the world.
In this holy meal He invites us to come out from under the stove, and receive the cleansing that restores us to our baptismal grace. Come, receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, be cleansed, be renewed, be found in Jesus.