The Rev. Larry Koger
First Lutheran Church-San Diego
September 11, 2016
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Lost and Found”
It’s a good thing God keeps track of what belongs to him. Today we have two parables about the joy that is experienced when the lost are found. One sheep wanders off and gets separated from the flock. The shepherd finds the sheep and he and his household rejoice. A woman loses a valuable coin. She searches and searches until the coin is found and she and her friends rejoice. Just as we are told the angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents and is made a part of God’s family.
What do these parables have to teach us? Who are the lost who need to be found? Brooks never considered himself to be lost. A musician by night and an office worker by day, Brooks lived pretty much for himself and himself alone. He had a succession of girlfriends, but was never interested in a commitment. He never could commit to a job because he needed as much spare time as possible to play his music. He got kicked out of a lot of the bands he played with when his creative vision clashed with that of his bandmates. He was lonely a lot, but figured he was fine with just his music. As for God, he had heard the name but he was not raised in the church, and thought church people were uptight and rigid–not his sort.
It strikes me that those were the kind of people Jesus hung out with in our Bible lesson. The tax collectors and sinners probably did not think of themselves as lost. But the Pharisees were certain they were, as certain of that as they were that they were safely in God’s hands. The Pharisees were faithful in worship, faithful in service, faithful in devotions. They came to know Jesus, heard him teach the scriptures and Jesus knocked their socks off. They were fascinated by him, but were also critical of him. For someone who claimed to be an authority on scripture, Jesus sure spent a lot of time with folks that broke the commandments. Tax collectors who broke the seventh commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” by taking more money than was owed in taxes. Prostitutes that broke the sixth commandment, “thou shall not commit adultery,” and did so at an hourly rate. Sinners who failed to keep the Sabbath holy, who coveted, who lied about their neighbors. Jesus accepted these lost people, even started a ministry of eating and drinking with them. Now, no good Pharisee would go near these people, and thought Jesus shouldn’t either. They didn’t understand why Jesus was hanging around lost people.
In reality, what the Pharisees didn’t understand was that they, too, were lost people. The parables we read this morning tell us that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous people that have no need of repentance. What I want to know is where are those righteous people? Could all the righteous people raise your hands? But before you raise your hand, I want to remind you that Jesus’ standard of righteousness is perfection. You don’t need repentance, you don’t need forgiveness, you don’t need God’s grace or direction in your life. All right, if you don’t need any of those things go ahead and raise your hands. What, not one? All of us are in some way lost. So thank God that Christ came to seek and to save the lost.
God came seeking us – came all the way from heaven and made his way onto earth. He was born in a manger in order to live among us. He spent his earthly life doing good in order to draw us to him. And he died on the cross in order that nothing might separate us from him again. For on that cross, all the powers that could make us lost forever–sin, death, and the powers of evil–were put to death. And by rising from the dead, Jesus not only conquered the grave but promised us new life, which the Holy Spirit gives us today, and we get to keep forever.
Even when we feel lost due to the mistakes we make in our lives, the things we say or do, we can be assured that we are in God’s hands. For faith is more than a feeling, faith comes by grace and grace is God’s promise that he will never leave us. And grace holds on to us promising that though we may feel lost we are always found by Christ. And when Christ finds us, we are filled with the benefits of his own righteous life. Even though we are sinners, we are forgiven, are filled with Christ’s righteousness and are therefore righteous in God’s eyes.
Now I am going to ask you to raise your hands, and this time I want the righteous to raise their hands. Didn’t I ask for this before? Oh, not really. There, I was asking for those who trusted in their own righteousness to raise their hands. Here, I am asking you to raise your hands if you trust in God’s righteousness. Do you trust that God has done in you what God has promised to do? That despite your sin you are made right with God daily, moment by moment. And before you raise your hands, let me point out that this righteousness has nothing to do with you–it is God’s gift to you. In other words, I am simply asking you to raise your hands if you trust God and believe that God fulfills his promises. So will all the righteous raise their hands? Yes, we have been made righteous by God, and though we may sometimes feel lost, we can trust God’s promises that we are found. For God will hold onto us and keep on seeking to bring good into our lives.
Brooks never thought of himself as lost. But one day he was hanging out with some musician friends who asked him to join them on Saturday evening. They were going to check out some of the new bands at clubs in town. But first, they were headed for church. Church, Brooks asked. Why church? Great music, man, was what his friends replied. One of the churches had an incredible jazz group and were rumored to play some of the best music in town. What does it matter if it’s in a club or at a church, as long as the music’s good, they asked. Brooks went to church for the first time, and was enthralled by the music. He met the musicians, asked permission to sit in on their practices, learned some things musically, but learned more about God. Through the ministry of these musicians, he learned of the God who loved him so much that he gave his life for him. He learned of a God who asks for commitments because this God makes and keeps commitments. He learned of a God who gave everything for us so that we can give for others without worry about ourselves. Gradually, over time, he found his life was changed. Eventually, he was baptized in that church, and has found his life changed. He received forgiveness, help, hope, every day of his life.
And on this day, as we lift up Sunday School and education in prayer, we emphasize the ministries that emphasize–that God hangs onto us and never lets us go. Ministries that support weekly worship as the Holy Spirit feeds us in ways that we are not always aware of. Ministries of God’s Word, where the stories of God’s people and Christ himself nourish our faith and remind us of God’s faithfulness. Ministries of fellowship with other believers which brings comfort and hope even at the worst time of our lives. And outreach ministry that reminds us to think not of ourselves, but the needs of others, through which the Holy Spirit gives us faith and courage to walk our own path. Let us acknowledge that we are people that are found by God and that sometimes find ourselves lost. Let us embrace opportunities for worship for learning for fellowship and for service. And let us give thanks to God who seeks us when we are lost who makes us righteous and who promises that nothing can part us from him.