September 11, 2022
"Lost and Found”
Rev. Scott Landis
One of the major themes in Luke’s gospel is his focus on a what is referred to as “the great reversal.” Luke surprises us – again and again – by turning our expectations on end. He is IN-sistent on the idea that God does not act in ways that are CON-sistent with our normal understanding of justice and fairness. While our judgment is typically based on merit, God’s perspective and actions are based solely on human need – no questions asked. We will see that ethos demonstrated repeatedly in the parables we will read over the next few weeks – and it is certainly evident in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin that were read today. [Pause]
It begins with controversy – a reality to which Jesus was no stranger. The Pharisees and religion scholars were grumbling, once again, about the company Jesus kept – hanging around men and women of doubtful reputation. “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends,” they said. A comment that triggered, for seemingly some odd reason, two parables that emphasized lostness.
Jesus spoke of the shepherd, whereupon discovering that one of his sheep had gone astray – left the 99 others behind until he found the ONE that was lost. When he brought the lost sheep back on his shoulders, he called on his friends and neighbors – to celebrate!
AND Jesus spoke of the woman, whereupon discovering she had lost one of her ten coins – lit a lamp, scoured her home – top to bottom until she found it and when she did, called on her friends and neighbors – to celebrate!
Too often these stories are told from the perspective of the righteous observers who saw these stories as perfect examples of how grateful the lost should be when they are found and restored to community. Given this perspective the sheep and the coin are viewed metaphorically and the lesson is a call for repentance of the estranged – the lost – as God blessed them with grace. It’s a plausible interpretation, but I’d like us to change our perspective today to that of the lost. In biblical interpretation we call this a theology “from below” or from the perspective of the one being acted upon.
I realize we cannot superimpose feelings on sheep and even less so on a coin, but if we could – think for a moment of what it would be like to be the lost – all alone – completely dependent on someone else to come and find us. Maybe you know that experience – perhaps you are facing it right now. There are so many ways to feel lost in our world today. [Pause]
September 11 marks a difficult and complicated day in United States history and is fraught with a myriad of feelings. 21 years ago today, our nation was invaded in ways none of us had ever experienced before in our lifetime. You all have unique stories you could share of where you were or what you were doing on September 11, 2001, and we continue to live with the shock and horror of the massive destruction that took place that day in New York City, Shanksville, PA, and Washington D.C. The loss of human life was overwhelming, and the damage done to our psyches – incalculable.
Regardless of how you approach this day or how you feel about it now, there is not a one of us who didn’t experience a profound sense of loss and of being lost as we watched the events unfolding on our television screens or as we listened on our radios. We were lost – in our fear, AND in our bewilderment as we wondered aloud OR in the privacy of our prayers – God, what is happening? How could this be occurring here? What’s next? God help us! [Pause]
Professor Joy J. Moore of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN tells the story of traveling through Pennsylvania recently when SHE got lost. Having taken a wrong turn she found herself on the highway dedicated to those on Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA. You must realize Shanksville has a population of 197 people. So, professor Moore literally was lost in the middle of nowhere.
She saw an exit sign for the memorial honoring the victims of FLT 93 and decided to take it to visit and pay her respects. She thought she was going to mourn, but instead had a profound experience of God.
Evidently, among the various offerings at the memorial remembering those who died on FLT 93, is a “Tower of Voices.” The tower is a tall, concrete structure that holds 40 huge chimes (one for each victim) that give voice to the victims as wind blows daily across the fields making a most beautiful sound. Their lives – no longer lost – are re-membered, brought back to life in a way, as those who come are reminded of lives lived purposefully and meaningfully.
As she stood there and listened, Professor Moore realized she was no longer lost either. She was right were God wanted her to be as she experienced a profound sense of being brought home – celebrating those lives whose voices will forever sing. God – through the wind – re-membered them. [Pause]
I offer that story both as a way of recognizing the sanctity of human life and the loss that was experienced that day by thousands, AND to recognize the God who will do everything possible to remember human life by seeking out the lost – each and every day – and will NOT stop until she is found – and he is found – and all are found in order to celebrate their lives – sometimes even through the song of a wind chime.
That’s the God we worship whether we are gathered or scattered. When we gather, at times like this we have the privilege of lifting our prayer of praise AND our prayer of anguish to the God who will stop at nothing until we are found and brought home. This was the lesson Jesus taught to those who were lost – including tax collectors, sinners, men and women of doubtful reputation. But it was also a new way of life he modeled as he invited others to do the same. [Pause]
If you have never had the experience of being lost this may be more difficult to understand. But if you have (and, I bet that includes most of us at some point in our lives) you know how good it feels when someone lends a hand, reaches out to us, and offers to walk with us as we find our way home.
These parables invite us to think carefully about who are the lost ones today. Their “lostness” may be of a physical nature as they deal with food insecurity, inadequate or no housing at all. Or it may involve an emotional loss as they struggle with grief or face a set of overwhelming decisions.
The parable invites us – FINALLY – to move from the position of victim (or the lost) to the role of seeker as we search tirelessly for those who desperately need our help. [Pause]
The Pharisees and religious scholars looked down their noses at Jesus as he told these stories. They held nothing but contempt and judgment toward the tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus associated. Today we think of them as hypocrites. They just didn’t get it.
And yet - too often I hear similar critiques levied against the Christian church today – and in many cases for good reason. Judgment and looking down ones nose at others give us an immense feeling of superiority. The attitude that we are right and they are wrong.
It is up to us to demonstrate a different way of life. To prove that we are not the kind of Christian that is content to come to worship and then live every other day as if what we do here had no bearing on our lives whatsoever.
Jesus modeled a different way of life and invited us to do so as well. One that will NOT quit until the lost are found and – re-membered – brought home so everyone can celebrate!