When things get lost . . . where do you look? Well, if you are a typical human being, you look in all the familiar places. That is just our habit. As a kid I never liked it when my father requested me to look for something that he could not find. I hated the experience because I could never find the lost object, or I could not find it fast enough. Of course, I probably did not help the situation and added fuel to the fire by asking the usual questions:
Where did you have it last? Father’s response: “If I knew I wouldn’t be asking you to look for it?” To which I would usually respond, “It is probably in the last place you left it.” Nothing like a quick, witty response to one’s father to raise the ire.
So, I would do what any kid—any human being—would do, I started looking in all the familiar places. The longer the clock ran, the grumpier my father would get. Sometimes I would get lucky and find the missing object, other times I would not. On those times when I could not find the missing object, I would hear the phrase: “You couldn’t find your rear end with two hands.” Let’s just say that that is not one of my favorite phrases in the English language.
Typically the lost object would be found in a place that no one suspected it to be . . . a place where it was not expected to be . . . a place that was not the usual and normal place . . . the last place where anyone would ever venture to even look. But, isn’t that where we usually find lost stuff, in the last place we look?
Jesus tells two parables this morning about looking for lost stuff—a sheep and a silver coin. In both stories he tells how the individuals who lost the stuff go to the extreme in searching for that which is lost . . . they know no boundaries . . . they go to the extreme and leave no stone unturned until they find the missing. Then, upon finding that which was lost, they celebrate and invite anyone and everyone they know to come and rejoice with them for the lost has been found.
It is not difficult to get wrapped up in the joy expressed by the shepherd or woman for having restored that which was lost. It does feel good. Even Jesus states that heaven, too, rejoices when the lost is found and things are restored as God wants them. Jesus is not talking about the status quo here, he is not talking about restoring things to the way that we know them and expect them to be . . . no, he is talking about restoring them to the way that God wants them to be. He is talking about bringing in that which is a part but is rarely included. He is talking about finding the sinner and welcoming the sinner back into the fold.
Jesus said: “I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent . . . In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus hits the nail on the head here. In this story he tells of the extraordinary lengths that the two individuals go to find that which is lost . . . tells of how they even go to the point of looking in places they never imagined the lost could be . . . of going beyond the familiar, expected, and known to find the lost. And, he hints at those last places where we are to look are those places where the sinners are. There we will find the lost in the last place where we look.
Whether we like it or not, research—many, many, many years or research—show that congregations are pretty much homogenous groups of people. By homogenous they mean similar . . . similar in upbringing, education, economics, likes/dislikes, race, age, and background. That the group is pretty much cookie cutter in design and function . . . that they are all alike. If you were to consider our congregation . . . or the congregations in our community, what do you think? Don’t see a whole bunch of diversity there do you?
So, maybe the researchers are on to something. Which brings us to this idea of searching for the lost . . . we look for the lost in those places that we are comfortable with . . . those places we are familiar with . . . and, those places that fill the places in our puzzle to complete the picture. Isn’t that the way we go about evangelism? We start with the familiar . . . we look in the usual places? And, maybe that is why it is so difficult to grow the congregation . . . we are not looking where the sinners are.
Actually, that is probably not a fair statement or a correct statement. What we are not doing is looking beyond the confines of the familiar in our lives . . . we are not looking beyond that which is right in front of us . . . we are not looking out to the edges of our vision—what some call the borders—to see those who are not being included. We are not getting to those who are the outsiders, the outcasts, the forgotten, the border people . . . the lost . . . the people on the edge. Who knows whether or not they are sinners, all I know for certain is that they are not in the picture. Until they are included in the picture, they are lost.
One of the big roadblocks in the journey of faith is getting beyond what we perceive the kingdom of God as being . . . usually created in our own image, for understanding what God’s vision of the kingdom is. God’s vision of the kingdom is not some homogenous, cookie-cutter picture in which everyone is exactly the same. No, God’s vision of the kingdom includes everyone . . . and, God means everyone. That includes those who do not look like us, act like us . . . but are much more diverse. Much more diverse because God didn’t use only two or three crayons when drawing the picture of the family . . . God used all the colors available . . . and, God expects to see them all together. Until we can accept that vision over the vision we carry, the lost will continue to be lost.
Jesus calls us to seek out that which is lost . . . to go, find, and invite that which is missing from the family picture. It is an effort that will not be accomplished if we cannot see beyond where we stand at this moment . . . that we begin to look outward to the peripheral of our sight to see those who are in the shadows of our lives . . . to see those that we encounter daily, but rarely invite into the fullness of our lives. Those people are all around us . . . waiting. Waiting to be asked to join the party. That includes the sinners. After all, heaven and the angels rejoice whenever one of the lost has been brought back into the family of God. Amen.