Our gospel today focuses on the perils and joys of being lost and then found. We hear about the effort spent on searching for an object which has become separate from the whole, out of its place in the order of the universe. We also learn how to rejoice in the pleasure that comes from being restored to wholeness.
My grand-daughter Julia, like many kids, has several spaces that are precisely filled with beads, shells, stones, ribbons, small animals, hair clips, feathers, secret mementos. She knows the location and contents of each cubby and stash. A slight disarray and hours have to be spent restoring the order and precision of her massive collection. Many of us persist in these wonders, we collect first edition books, fabric to make wonderful quilts, money to fund vacations or college, plants to produce seeds for our gardens, model trains, and on and on. These are treasured and admired and stored physically in a location on display as well as mentally catalogued and registered. Having our things of value in order is part of our DNA, whatever we manage to acquire, we generally protect it carefully. Even the homeless person on the street has their cardboard and bedding and plastic bags in strategic order for their shelter. Losing or misplacing an item of value disturbs our universe and demands its restoration to wholeness.
A quick observation about differences in cultures. In railway stations in Britain, the area to retrieve items left behind is called Lost Property. In America we call it Lost and Found. A statement about hope and possibilities??
Luke sets the scene by telling us that the usual crowd had gathered to listen to Jesus. It was made up of sinners and tax collectors, while the watching critical Pharisees complained about the associates Jesus seemed to attract and how oddly, in their minds, he treated them.
You can imagine Jesus looking around and seeing the commonplace tools and clothing, faces weathered from hard lives outdoors tending sheep or farming. Perhaps women had left their homes and chores to hear his word and might not even have put down their brooms And so this common crowd would naturally evoke for Jesus metaphors that they would instantly grasp.
“Which one of you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,..does not go after the one…until he finds it?” Let’s leave aside the economic wisdom of abandoning 99 sheep in the wilderness to fend for themselves while the shepherd hunts the bushes for the lost sheep. Perhaps in the scheme of animal husbandry that is not the best move. However if you are the sheep that has strayed and your herder takes such a huge risk for you, it is a strong message of your value to the herder, to the flock, and of your own sheep-ness.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one, does not …sweep the house until she finds it?”
You don’t see people sweeping much these days. In Paris they still have the street sweepers with the rush brooms cleaning the street gutters, left soiled mostly by lazy pet owners. Yet a broom remains an effective tool for maintaining cleanliness and is useful to search for something hidden in the corners.
In both of these instances, several things are in play. Firstly the one item which has become separated from the whole is restored to the community to which it belongs. The sheep rejoins the flock and the coin goes back in the purse with the other money. There occurs the desired restoration to wholeness for the lost item and for the owner. Secondly there is rejoicing at the success of finding these “lost’ items. The chaos of worrying about the loss of order and missing something dear, is turned into the chaos of celebration and joy at its recovery.
Thirdly, the missing sheep and coin change from a condition of lost-ness to one of found-ness and this is the point that Jesus wants to drive home with the concluding admonition to the Pharisees, that there is joy in heaven as even one sinner repents, when that one sinner turns from being lost to being found by God.
Many of us have experienced being lost and then the relief, the exhalation of breath and relaxing of the shoulders, when you find your way, see the Metro sign, find the car in the maze of Greenwich village , see your child way down the beach shelling when you have imagined them scooped up in the waves. My experiences of being lost and then found are pretty typical, a dark night at camp having turned the wrong way only to have a bobbing flashlight appear and a kind voice rescue me. Normal events that frame our being and can make us cautious and wary of a reoccurrence.
My faith journey was jumpstarted by being found. After being found by love when Dwight and I met, I encountered another community of love. Last week we were at a reunion fundraiser at St Mary’s, Mohegan Lake where Dwight and his family worshipped on moving into the area in 1958. When we married and moved nearby, naturally it became our church too, all the kids were baptized and confirmed there and over time I developed an interest in service as a lay reader, chalice bearer and active member of the community.
I was not so active at first. I had no church life as a child or young adult, no exposure, not active rejection, just no experience. My new family and their clear faith and joy in being at church with folks they cared for, was an eye-opener for me and something alluring as well. I stepped into this community and was embraced by them without reserve. They literally took me under their wing and showed me how to be a loving accepting Christian by their behavior and encouragement. It felt as if they could not do enough for me and there was no apparent price tag. How could this be?
In retrospect I honestly think that this generosity of spirit and real out pouring of acceptance , modeling exactly what Jesus asks us to do, bowled me over and started me on my journey to become as good a servant for God as they were. I did not realize that at the time, of course, but having just seen many of those folks at the reunion, it enhanced my appreciation of what it feels like to be found. For my shepherd, the community at St Mary’s, abandoned the other 99 sheep and come looking for me. They showed me that I had value to the community, to myself and most especially to God.
Today’s stories precede the Parable of the Prodigal Son and that dense narrative about the Loving Father waiting for us to take just one step back into his arms and experience full forgiveness.
I had not known when I first stepped into St Mary’s that I was lost. But I sure knew when I was found. I rejoiced at the change in my heart and vowed to find others in His name. What a great activity. Finding the sheep and coins that don’t even know that they are missing. Let’s go get our brooms.