Seeking the Lost

During the last year of seminary, we all take canonical exams during Christmas break. These are basically a board exam, where we’re tested on everything we learned in seminary.

It involves several days, lots of writing, and way too much stress leading up to it.

So, when I finished canonical, we went to Disney World with our best friends, the Hartleys. Y’all might remember Jimmy who preached at my installation.

It was Disney, so of course it was a great time. But it was exhausting. You can imagine how exhausting a few days at Disney would be for 8 and 6 year old boys.

On one of the last days on our trip, we went to Animal Kingdom. A certain red head had his heart set on some dinosaur ride. We didn’t have time right then, so we were moving on to the next thing on our schedule.

As we walked down to the next place, we counted the kids. There’s William and Robert, and there’s Walker.

Where’s Ford?

Where’s. Ford.

Well, today, Jesus has something to say about being lost.

Today we find Jesus associating with those who were considered lost in that culture.

The despised tax collectors and hated sinners were coming near to him, gathering around him, and listening to him.

And, the Scribes and Pharisees, the most religious of people, didn’t like this.

After all, the Scribes and Pharisees would never do something as questionable as hang out with losers.

They don’t use four letter words. They attend church every week, or at the very least once a month. They tithe and are big supporters of the congregation. They are always there for Rally Sunday and sign up for everything at the ministry fair…

They are a very committed bunch of so-called “good” people. They’re the furthest thing from “lost”

And here Jesus was, attracted to the actual lost souls…the outsiders and sinners.

What’s worse, Jesus seemed to be enjoying the company of these lost folk.

He not only welcomed them, he seemed to value them.

The Scribes and Pharisees couldn’t handle it: “This guy welcomes outcasts and even eats with them.” 

So, Jesus, knowing their attitude toward the outsiders and 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 shepherd found the lost sheep and returned, carried it home on his shoulders and was so full of joy he called for celebration.

Jesus said there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who truly is found than over 99 good people, who don’t think they are lost.

Wait a minute…

The Pharisees probably sensed that this parable was directed at them…

Then Jesus told them a second parable.

There was an old woman who lost a precious coin. Not just any coin, but the most precious coin that she had. She swept and swept her house ever so carefully, looking for that lost precious coin. She found the coin and was so happy, she called all her friends and threw a big party.

Jesus continued by saying, “And so it is with God.  There is great joy in heaven over one sinner who truly repents.” 

These folks celebrated. The shepherd had a party. The woman had a party.

They probably spent more than the cost of one lamb, or more than the value of one coin, to celebrate the lost being found.

Spoiler alert…you’ve met him, so you obviously know we found Ford that day.

He decided he really wanted to do that dinosaur ride, even without us.

He walked all the way to the front of the park, and eventually got to where he could see your buses. He finally figured out he was lost, found an employee, and called.

When I saw him, my heart continued to race as I embraced him and didn’t want to let him know.

In reality it was maybe 10 minutes, but it felt like ages.

So what did we do?

We celebrated. We went and had an amazing meal with Goofy and the gang.

Cost was no concern. Well, it was Disney World so maybe cost was a little bit of a concern…

But my son was found.

We were all together again.

That’s what I hear in the parables Jesus shares today.

The shepherd and the woman celebrate when everyone is together again.

I think true repentance happens when we realize that we are only 99, and we are incomplete without the one.

When we finally realize that our community isn’t whole until all are welcome and included, and none are considered “lost.”

Today our readings proclaim the good news of a God who loves unconditionally, a God who has a heart for all who are lost.

Even us.

In our reading from 1 Timothy, Paul recognizes that God’s unconditional love is there for even the violent, blasphemous persecutors. Like him.

“This saying is true and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost.”

And, in our gospel reading, we discover a God who will never abandon the lost.

The reality is that neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin does a thing.

They’re just lost.

So these stories aren’t about anything the lost can do. They’re not about anything we can do.

These stories are about the lengths the shepherd and the woman go to seek out the lost.

The story is about the lengths God goes to seek out the lost.

The fact of the matter is we are all lost and all broken.

But, God’s unconditional love will never leave us there.

In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see the overwhelming, overflowing, and unconditional grace and love of God.

This is true all the way to the end. Think about the thief on the cross, whom Jesus welcomes into paradise. That story isn’t so much about last-minute repentance as it is about Jesus’ lifelong ministry to sinners.

To the very end, Jesus Christ comes for the lost.

Jesus Christ comes for us.

In the person of Jesus, we meet a God of abundant grace. And, words like “sinners” and “outcasts” are gone because all are welcomed at God’s table.

I say that every week. Everyone is welcome at God’s table.


Even me, and even you.

Because Jesus found us all.

Therefore let us keep the feast.