The Joy in Finding

Luke 15
My mother-in-law, Mary, is a great finder of lost things. One time when my son Joel was 18 months old, she came to visit for three weeks, and before the time was out, she located the play walkie talkie from the ride on truck- in the bushes the stuffed animal joey that went with the mama kangaroo – behind a bureau and my favorite: 6 drink coasters, in the pedals of the pump organ.
All these things had been lost for months; my husband and I had completely given up on finding them. But Mary has this slightly obsessive quality to her personality, where she must find what is lost; she thought like a toddler, and tirelessly looked everywhere a toddler might hide something. And boy, was Joel glad when he was reunited with his things!
Today in our Gospel lesson we find Jesus talking about God as the finder of the lost. God is like a shepherd, Jesus says, who leaves 99 sheep and goes looking for the lost one. God is like a woman who puts aside all her work and family obligations to search for a lost coin.
They are such quaint descriptions, but when you think about it, they don’t make much sense. What shepherd in his right mind would leave 99 sheep? There are predators out there, plus sheep are known to wander. And what woman can really put aside the essentials of work, family and home to clean the whole house?
Jesus is describing a restless pursuit here, one that goes way beyond normal expectations. Where most people would cut their losses, God keeps on searching. 

In some ways, these parables are not only kind of crazy, they are a bit offensive. In more than one church, for example, I have heard complaints that the pastor is spending too much time with people outside the congregation. What about the needs of the people already here? These words come from a genuine place—everyone needs to be loved and cared for. But sometimes we think we have a special place, a right to certain treatment because we put in the time, we are always here, we invest in the community.

And here is Jesus saying that all us sheep who never wander get left behind while God chases a lost cause. It doesn’t seem right.
It didn’t seem right to Jesus’ listeners, either. Notice who he tells this story to—the scribes and Pharisees. They had noticed Jesus welcomed tax collectors and sinners among his followers. Tax collectors were traitors, people who lined their own pockets while collecting money for Rome; and public sinners whose behaviors flouted respectable values—not the best company!
Scribes and Pharisees were the self-appointed good guys. They were people who spent their time following the rules, trying to be good—and it rubbed them the wrong way that these folks who never put in a good deed in their life were cozying up to Jesus—and he was letting them, encouraging them! It didn’t seem fair.
These parables will only be good news if you don’t think of yourself as one of the 99.
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.”
It isn’t that the 99 are not important or worthy of care; 99 sheep have their legitimate needs, and the shepherd leads and feeds them, too. It’s that these 99 Jesus is talking about have no need of repentance. They have no need to examine their walk, for they pretend like they have never strayed from the fold. They conveniently forget the dusty recesses of their lives they have gotten lost in—or they never acknowledge those shadowy places exist.
The good news comes when we admit to ourselves that we are the one who strayed. Because the truth is that all of us have gotten lost in grief, in depression; in addiction or despair; in dissatisfaction or judgment or jealousy; in selfishness or self-doubt.
When we get so far from what is good in us and lose touch with our best selves, God is nonetheless tirelessly searching for us, ready to bring us back to who God knows we can be. Only when we put aside the cleaned-up version of ourselves and look honestly, are we ready to receive this good news. 
Then, instead of being disgruntled, we can rejoice with the company of heaven when God ushers someone else up to the front of the line. We can persist in loving even when all seems lost. We can take our place with all the other wandering sheep in the embrace of our shepherd.

Ultimately it’s all about the joy of finding.

Which reminds me of a modern day parable…
I was walking in the reservoir near my home with my family when I found a car key fob on the path. I knew it was an important object—how would we get it back to the owner?
We picked it up and asked everyone we saw along the path, did you lose a fob? We finished our walk and had still not found the owner. We were going to leave it in an obvious place at the entrance, when we thought of a better idea: We pressed the fob in the parking lot, found the car, and put it on the driver’s seat.
Just as we were about to leave, a man came out of the park at a jog. From across the parking lot, I saw him pat his pockets, a shadow of a frown crossing his face. This is the guy, I thought. And sure enough, the guy walked hesitantly over to his car. Looking in the windows, he saw his keys sitting on the driver’s seat. He opened the door, picked up the keys, and then looked around—to see my whole family watching.


“We found your keys!”  I called out.

      A look of confusion crossed his face.

“What?… oh, ah thanks!” he said.


We laughed all the way home that day. Looking back on it, I think my family was happier than the owner. He hadn’t realized he’d lost his keys until about a minute before he found them in his car. We, however, had spent 45 minutes trying to devise a way to find the owner.

It was like Jesus’ parables:

  • The sheep was probably relieved to be found, but it was the shepherd who rejoiced.
  • It is the woman, not the coin who rejoiced.
It was my family, not the guy in the parking lot, who walked away with a spring in our step.

These parables point to what God is like—endlessly seeking, searching, and finding.

  • Like Joel’s grandma presenting to him all those lost toys,
  • Like a shepherd returning with the wayward sheep on his shoulders,
  • Like a woman brushing off the dust bunnies from her coin,
  • Like my cheering family at the reunion of fob and runner,


God rejoices with all the company of heaven whenever the lost is found! 
God rejoices over you, whether you are wandering off the beaten path or safe in the fold.
God seeks you, whether you are covered the dust in a dark corner, or fit for all to see, shiny and new.
God finds you wherever you are, and God rejoices. 

Let us rejoice in God’s amazing love, too.

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