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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Lost and Found

Pentecost 16     Luke 15:1-13

Lost and found.  All of us here in the sanctuary today have our own personal lost and found stories.  You have yours and I have mine.  I would like to begin the sermon today with two lost and found stories from my own life.

ďI lost is!!!Ē I heard her shriek from the bedroom.  I quickly ran in there and discovered that the diamond had fallen off Janís ring; it was missing.  You know, the big rock, the one I had saved all my money to buy.  She was upset?  I was really upset.  She for sentimental reasons;  I for sentimental and economic reasons.  Carefully, we began looking through the bedding in case the diamond fell off the ring in the middle of the night.  First the bedspread, ever so carefully.  Then the blanket, ever so carefully.  Then the sheet, ever so carefully.  And finally, after careful searching, there it was.  The lost diamond!  And we were both so very happy.  You know the feeling.  Many of you have lost your precious rings or sentimental pieces of jewelry.  You know the feeling. You know this story. 

And then there are the lost ďcontactĒ stories.  Many of you know about losing contact lenses, down there on your knees in the bathroom, with the flashlight, trying to find the lost contract lens.  This is a lost contact lens story.  We were students at the seminary, which is a vocational school for pastors.  It was BC, before children, and a group of seminarians were over at our house for a lawn party.  We were out there playing crokay in the grass and Jan popped a contact lens.  Have you ever lost a contact lens in the grass?  In the grass, carefully pulling back each blade of grass trying to find that elusive little piece of plastic?  We were down on our hands and knees for a full half hour.  This contact lens was not going to be lost!!!  Since we were dirt poor and didnít have insurance, this contact definitely needed to be found.  Thirty minutes later we found it deep at the bottom of one blade of grass.  Whew!  What a relief!  What a savings!  What joy was found in the Markquart house.  Jan went over to the picnic table and went to put it into her eye; her eye blinked when it wasnít supposed to blink; and the contact flipped out into the grass again. O no.  O no.  And the same process started all over again. 

It is with this mood of lost and found, of losing something precious and then finding it, that we approach the stories of Jesus for today.  He tells two lost and found stories in the Gospel lesson for today, a story about a lost sheep and another story about a lost coin.  And you can easily remember the stories from the reading of the Gospel lesson a minute ago.  But you may not remember the setting, the context of these two parables, but it is precisely the setting, the context, that gives these two stories their special twist  and their essential meaning. 

So this is the setting.  These two parables are addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees.  The Scribes and Pharisees were the most religious of people:  they attended church every Friday night; they tithed and were the big financial supporters of the synagogue;  they didnít eat pork;  they didnít use four letter words when they hit their thumbs with hammers;  they were always present for Rally Sunday.  And, they thought that they were the ďfoundĒ and others outside the synagogue, outside their church, that these people were ďlost.Ē  The insiders of the church were the found; and the outsiders were the lost.  Now this was a problem because Jesus was attracted to the so-called outsiders; Jesus enjoyed the tax collectors, the camel drivers, the donkey drivers, the tanners, all of whom were outside the church. 

These Scribes and Pharisees came up to Jesus one day, and Jesus, knowing their attitude towards the outsiders, the lost, told them this story:  There once was a shepherd who had one hundred sheep, but one got lost, and so the shepherd left the 99 to find the one.  The Pharisees were smiling to themselves because they agreed with the story; God always goes out to find the lost; that is, those people outside their church e.g. the tax collectors and tanners and camel drivers.  And Jesus continued; the shepherd found the lost sheep, and there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who truly repents than over 99 good people, who donít think they are lost, who donít think that they have any need for repentance.  Hmmmm.  The Pharisees sensed that this parable was directed at them; but they werenít sure. So Jesus told them a second parable.  There was a old woman who lost a precious coin, not just any coin, but the most precious coin that she had. She swept and swept that house ever so carefully, looking for that lost precious coin.  And the Pharisees smiled with delight, yes, that parable made sense to them. God is deliberate and careful as God searches for the precious lost.  And Jesus continued.  She found the coin and was so happy, and so it is with God.  There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who truly repents and over a good person who doesnít know that he or she is lost and in need of repentance.  And the Pharisees sensed that Jesus was talking about them and they didnít like the idea that Jesus was implying that they were the ones who were lost.  It was so clear to the Pharisees that they were part of the found.

So what does this parable say to us today, some 2000 years later, to your life and mine?

First, our God is a God who comes after us when we are lost.  Our God is like a shepherd who searches diligently for a lost, precious, sheep; our God is like an old woman who searches carefully for her lost precious cost; our God is like a young man and woman who search intently for their lost precious diamond ring, symbolic of their love; our God is like a husband and wife slowly and persistently searching for a lost contact in the grass.  Thatís the way God is.  And every so often, we think that maybe God has given up on us; that we are do persistently sinful that God has finally given up on us; that our character defects seem to be so inescapable, that God finally gives up on trying to get through to us. But this story tells us clearly of Godís forever wanting to find us.

I love the poem, Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson.  In my memory, it goes like this:  ďI fled from God, down the nights and down the days; I fled from God, down the arches of the years; I fled from God, down the labyrinth of my own mind.  In the midst of tears, I hid.  Under running laughter, I hid from God.  Up visted slopes I sped, shot  precipitated over chasmed fears.  ... But those strong feet of God came after, ..... with unhurrying chase and unpeturbed pace;  with constant speed and divine instantcy.  .....And a voice, more persistent than the feet, spoke and said:  You are my precious one.  I will not let you go.Ē  Yes, that is the way God is.  So persistent, so diligent, so untiring in his pursuit of us when we are lost.

I need your imagination.  You are now living in a house adjacent to a large forest.  Your back yard is all fenced in, with the wild back woods behind your home.  There is a small gate that leads out into the back woods.  Evening is rapidly approaching, and you are taking care of and are solely responsible for your four-year old child or grandchild who is playing in your back yard. The telephone rings and you go to answer it inside the house and become engaged in an intense conversation for longer than you realize.  You come back into the darkened backyard and the gate to the forest is open and your four-year old child or grandchild is gone.  And what is your reaction?  Panic?  Fear?  A breathlessness that is stuck in your throat?  And what do you do?  Can you be contained from going out into that woods?  No, there is nothing that could hold you back as you run through the gate and into the woods, shouting your child or grandchildís name. You are very afraid and your heart is beating wildly.  ....  Now, why are you like this?  Why is this your reaction?  We all know why.   Because your love for this child is overwhelming; this child loves you and you love this child.  You talk to this child and this child talks to you.  You love this child and this child loves you back.  And this child is much more precious than any material thing such as a car, a house, a bank account, or any pieced of jewelry which donít talk to you and donít love you back.  This child is most precious to you, far more precious than any non-loving possession and you are afraid that this child could be severely hurt if this child is lost.

And so it is with God and us.  When we wander out through the gate and from the safety of Godís back yard, God has the same reaction as a loving, parent.  And God comes after us. But why is God this way?  Why does God react this way?  Because, we, as human beings, are also Godís most valuable possessions, our God who gives love and receives love.  Let me explain.  The night before last, I was on the seventh grade retreat and was sleeping out underneath a tree with a bunch of seventh graders. The night was clear and the stars were filling the sky, like diamonds in the darkened night.  They were oh so incredibly beautiful.  And at ll:00 PM, the moon came up over the water, a golden orb of a moonrise, coloring the sky and its moonbeam filling the waters of Puget Sound and I watched it off and on as I was attempting to fall asleep.  And before I knew it, the golden orb of a morning sunrise came up to the, over the water, and it was a spectacular sunrise, with the glow spanning the whole horizon of water before me.  And there I was in the middle of this natural beauty.  And in spite of the spectacular beauty of the diamonds in the sky and the golden orbs of a moonrise and a sunrise, I, in my sleeping bag on the grass and dirt, was more valuable and precious to God than these spectacular, glowing jewels of nature.  And why?  Because God and I talk, we give and share love, weíre friends.  .... Or, coming at it another way; why didnít God stop with Creation on the fifth day, when all the world was so wonderfully made?  Why did God make human beings on the sixth day and we were called the crown of creation, more valuable than all the rest? Because we were made for a relationship with God, a giving and sharing of love, a giving and sharing of conversation and companionship, and so when you or I become lost from God, this is deeply upsetting to God. We are much more precious to God than the inanimate diamonds in the sky and the non-verbal golden orbs in the horizon. You and I can talk with God; that is why were made.   ...  Put yourself back into that backyard with the fence and the four-year old who is your precious child or grandchild.  And why are they more precious than jewelry and bank accounts?  And when they are lost, what is your reaction?  The same as Godís when you and I are lost.

But there is more to this story of Jesus.  The Pharisees thought that they were found when in reality, they were part of the lost.  The question is:  can you come to church every week, be generous in your offerings, say all the right prayers, show up for Rally Sunday, and still be lost?  The answer is yes, both then and now.  And this story for today is about us, when we are lost from God. 

Let me have your imagination again.  It is two days before Christmas, and you are going shopping at either the Southcenter Mall or Seatac Mall.  You have your choice.  Now, when you drive into the parking lot of the mall two days before Christmas, it is crowded?  Yes.  Can you find a place to park?  Maybe, but not close to the front doors.  So you come into the mall, and is it crowded?  It is wall to wall people; it is a crush.  There is a flurry of activity with the Christmas tree, the choirs, the Santa Clauses, and all Christmas toys and Christmas music.  You and your four year old child or grandchild are holding hands as you walk together through his mass of humanity.  Both of you are looking at this Santa display; you release hands for a moment; you both momentarily go in different directions; and suddenly the child/grandchild is out of sight; a mob of people has come between you.  And the child/grandchild is momentarily lost. You panic and begin moving in what you feel is the right direction.  Meanwhile, the child/grandchild doesnít know that he or she is lost yet.  The child/grandchild is cheerfully walking along, enjoying the Christmas toys, the Christmas Santa, the Christmas decorations.  The child/grandchild has no clue that he or she is lost.  And so it is with us on a number of occasions in life:  we lose our grasp with the hand of God and we go wandering, totally absorbed in our present life, cheerfully going about our jobs, our homes, our busy schedules, our church, our thousand and one events that fill our calendar, and we are not even aware that we have lost contact with God.  It happens all the time, both to the religious Pharisees of yesteryear and religious church going folk like you and me today.  It is the story of your life and mine, so busy, and so lost and donít even know it. 

This story for today is not about the 75% of Washingtonians who donít belong to the church and we the church are to go out and find the lost sheep.  The lost sheep are the people out there, outside the walls of the church, and we need to evangelistically go and find them.  Nor is the story for today intended for someone else; you know, like your son or daughter or brother or sister or mother or father or work associate.  Boy, do I wish that so and so would be in church to hear this sermon; it would be really good for them to hear.  No, this story is about you and me when we get lost from God, when we lose significant contact with God, and donít even realize it, just as the Pharisees did in Jesusí day.  And the story is Godís invitation for us to repent, to turn around, to come back to God and grab his extended hand to us, and hold onto God, and talk with God and walk with God and pray with God, the way we were made to be, to give and take love, to give and share life.  And this gives God such great pleasure and joy, when we finally come to our senses, wake up, and return to a loving and living relationship with God. Maybe itís time for you and me to be found...again.  

Ooops.  Lost my car keys the other day.  My whole key ring. I couldnít find them and I needed them.  I was late for a wedding and I needed to have the keys immediately.  So I shouted loudly into the house:  ďJan, where did you put my car keys!!!  Iíve looked everywhere!Ē   I didnít know where she put them this time.  She shouted back, ďDid you look in the ignition?Ē  I went out to the carport, and there they were, hanging in the ignition of the car.  And I was so happy.  The lost had been found.  Amen. 

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