Lost and Found

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 15: 1-10 Sap17C

15 September, 2013


Lost and Found

(Scene 1: Perspective)

It’s a matter of perspective. As we heard a couple of weeks ago, what you see depends on where you sit. Jesus sat next to the bent over woman on the sabbath and healed her. He sat at the end of the table as the others in the room fought for the seat of power. And now he is sitting with sinners and tax collectors. He is doing worse than sitting with them, he is eating with them. He is sharing a meal with those people.

The religious leaders and their lackeys had heard about this habit of Jesus. That had heard that he even allowed one of the tax collectors – a position despised by the Hebrew people because these men were their own and were making them give their hard earned money to the occupying Rome. They were taking food out of mouths of good Hebrew babies and feeding it to the fat offspring of opulence. And on top of that, these tax collectors often demanded a service charge for the privilege of working with them. Then there were the others that he ate with. Forget the unclean folk – it was the sinners. Especially the women of ill repute; the veiled ones, smelling of sandalwood, charcoal over their olive eyelids. The ones who sold pleasure to the plundering pilgrim; or a night of bliss for the lonely man in town for business. How cold he even allow himself to be seen with these people? It was disgusting. He was disgusting.

The leaders and their lackeys questioned his sanity. She, though, sat at his side feeling each minute with him her sanity restored. The life of pain she knew – all she knew for her mother brought her into the oldest profession at the age of 10. Her pain masked as pleasure for the drachma that would be dropped on the table and the end of the night. Her life was nothing but pain – inflicted by the men in her room. She longed for the peace the pipe of opium would bring. The slumber; only to be knocked awake by nightmares – the toothless slob hovering over her laughing as if possessed by Lucifer. She knew pain, but at his side she felt peace. At the table with Jesus she felt whole.

The leaders and their lackeys questioned his faith. But at his side – the little man’s faith was restored. When Jesus called him out for his transgressions – called him from that tree, he felt his faith for the first time. He had been one to demand payment to Caesar, in order that his village be protected. He demanded from the people their livelihood and in the meantime built his wealth all because of their labor. But when he sat at the table with Jesus – he knew forgiveness. His faith was full. 

“This man dines with tax collectors and sinners.” A charge of which they would never be found guilty. 

Jesus hearing them responds with the parables we heard this morning. Telling them of a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep. Speaking about a woman who stops what she is doing to find the lost coin. Jesus sings about how these two would call their friends and rejoice when what was lost is found. He proclaims that this joy is what will be in heaven when one who was lost is found.

The leaders and their lackeys do not hear what he is saying. They hear stories about idiotic thugs who would leave the livelihood in order to search for one lost sheep. They knew about shepherds. They knew that they were untrustworthy, and obviously by this story – stupid. Why would any shepherd in his right mind leave 99 sheep unattended – 99 sheep who were not his, after all he was just a hired hand. Why would he go after one?

Why would they even pay attention to a story about a woman doing what she is supposed to do? She did not earn the money, so of course she should look for it. But at the expense of keeping the home? The leaders and their lackeys could not hear that these stories were for them.

The leaders and their lackeys were trapped by the idea that it is all about us and how good we are. They were defending what they knew was right, but here was Jesus messing things up again. 

(Scene 2: Messing things up)

Jesus is always messing things up. Just when we think we can do something on our own – Jesus has to come by and remind us that it is God who is doing something.

Many, many times I fall into the category of the leader and their lackeys. I follow the rules, and I know what is best – after all, I went to seminary, right? I spend all those hours reading theology, writing papers, parsing greek, I know the hitpaels in Hebrew – for crying out loud – I know what it is about. But then, something happens to remind me I am just a lost little sheep crying out for my shepherd. I am a coin hidden in the cushions of the couch. Seemingly lost and forgotten.

The dark days after our second miscarriage – all of my book learning and prayer did nothing to help me. As I saw a spiral of depression being to engulf our apartment it didn’t matter that I was in seminary. It didn’t matter what I was taught growing up; none of that mattered because all I could experience was the hopelessness that we would never have a child. All I could see was my beautiful wife in a state of absence. The joy of the previous 10 weeks did not matter because all I could touch was the specter of the shadow of death. For four years we had struggled; and now it was for naught. I was a lost sheep, bleating, not knowing if I would attract the enemy or my help. 

A woman I know would go to work with the rashes of the previous night’s party making itself known on her face. Raw spots of flesh caused by her stomach acids regurgitating  the vodka when her body said it was trough, and and her sleeping in it – only to repeat it the next night. The tattoo given to her by her junkie boyfriend infected and ballooning. She, relishing the fact that she would probably be dead by the age of 30, lived in rebellion of all that she had been taught. She ran from the fundamentalist Christianity of her childhood because it said there was no room for people like her. Abused by a Bible that only spoke of right rules and damnation; she fled as far from that as she thought she could. Until she ended up realizing that she cared for nothing – not even herself. That she had become a lost coin, bumped and knocked around until it was hidden.

There is the widow who did not know how she would survive after the death of her husband. Where would her rent come from? There is the widower whose only comfort after the death of his dear wife was two guys named Smith and Wesson. There is the woman in the extended care facility kept company only by the nightmares that those charged with her care only care about her death. There is the diagnosis of the return of the beast that we though had gone into remission. There is the upcoming test where any reusult will not be optimum. There is the mother, running here and there to provide for her children. There is the child bullied until all of her tears have run out. Lost ones – crying out for help. Not knowing if they are inviting the enemy or seeking salvation.

Our lives are a roller coaster of ups and downs; some of us are blessed with more joy than pain. But for many of us – the darkness of being lost is the reality of our situation. The rejection by those we thought loved us. They absence of the help we long for. The reality that it is just too much. Sometimes we are lost because of our own sin and willful ignorance of consequences. Sometimes we are lost because the of the sins of the systems that push us down. But no matter; we are a lost coin – longing for light. 

And then Jesus shows up and messing everything up. 

(Scene 3: Jesus messing things up!)

The leaders and their lackeys did not hear what Jesus was saying, but the woman with the charcoal on her eyes, smelling of sandalwood knew what he was saying. And she felt found. A profound sense of belonging and peace that she never found under the weight of a john. 

The leaders and their lackeys could not understand what Jesus meant, but the little man who had come down from the tree knew what he meant. And he felt found. A feeling of faith filled him and he rejoiced being carried on the arms of his savior.

Those sinners and tax collectors sitting with Jesus understood that it was not because they were seeking to be found that they were found. It was that the shepherd – the lowlife scoundrel came to them to find them and rescues them. It was because the woman – the one who should be kept in her place lit her lamp and crawled around on the floor looking for them – found them and rescued them. The sinners and tax collectors saw that Jesus was messing everything up. They saw that it was because of the shepherd coming to the margins and searching int he dark places that they were found. They understood that Jesus was that shepherd. The one from Glory…the king of glory come down into broken humanity to find them. To carry them back to the flock and celebrate all the while. They saw Jesus as the forgotten woman looking without hesitation for the lost coin. The one who has come to where they are. They did not need to try to go to him – it was not because they were good people or followed the rules, but it was because of his love that he came to find them. 

 Jesus is always messing things up.

(Scene 4: Lost and Found)

Jesus messed things up when he came and found me in my sorrow and despair. Coming to me in the presence of my friends who sat and said nothing. Coming to me in the profound sense of community that carried me out of that valley of darkness. The Lord is my Shepherd.

Jesus messed things up when found that woman in a church basement. The raw skin and infected ink were not a barrier to the good shepherd. He climbed into that church basement and introduced her to a Bible that spoke of grace and forgiveness. He sat next to her as she suffered the DTs and had suicidal thoughts. He called her by name and told her to rebuild his church. He is with her as she pastors the House for all sinners and saints in Denver.

Jesus messed things up when for three months that widow was provided her rent. When an unexpected bonus, a gift from mother, a serendipitous gift from Uncle Sam made sure the roof stayed over her head. Jesus messed things up with the widower heard a voice say you have a kid and a grand kid and I am not done with you yet. Jesus messed things up when a stranger’s hand reached out to the woman trapped in a nightmare. Jesus messed things up when treatments and tests start to cause the cancer to say oops. Jesus messed things up when the test came back with bad news, but a husband and child were there to say you are not lost, but you are found. Jesus messed things up when a partner shows up who loves your kids as much as you do; when there is a new school that offers solace from the bully’s pulpit. Jesus really messes things up.

Jesus really messes things up when he says to you – “Hey you! I’m here to help!” When he gives us a way out of our lost paths. Jesus has come to where we are to find us and bring us home. There is nothing we can do about that – it happened when he came to walk on this earth and die as we die. It happened when he sat with the sinners and tax collectors and said to them, “There is such rejoicing in heaven with the angels when one sinner repents.” Jesus really messes things up when he says to us – stop trying to do it on your own. You have a community around you that is my body. You have people who care about you because they are mine and I am theirs….because you are mine and I am yours. Because you were lost but now are found. 

Thanks be to God.


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