14th Sunday after Pentecost
“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
In June of 1986, I was in the process of moving to a new home. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had spent the better part of the week pacing, sorting, and filling plastic bags with things I no longer needed. It is amazing how much stuff one can collect over time that is basically useless. I had planned to meet friends for dinner in New Haven and looking forward to some diversion from all the work before the move which was to happen early the next week.
I was getting ready to leave the house when I realized I had misplaced my wallet. In those days we rarely used credit cards for things like groceries or dining out so I had a good amount of cash on hand. I searched and searched all over the house with no luck. I was frantic. Not only no cash but no driver’s license—all of that important stuff of life was in that wallet. I couldn’t even drive, let alone get gas for the car or pay for a meal. The search seemed like an eternity.
I called my friends and told them of my dilemma and that I may be late or not able to come at all. All of a sudden, the plastic bags that surrounded me caught my attention. No, I’d never do a dumb thing like that. Throw it in the trash? So I began rustling through the garbage bags and, sure enough, in about the third or fourth bag, I found my wallet—in a bag destined to be picked up by the refuse collectors the very next morning.
Oh, did I ever rejoice!
The parables that we hear in today’s Gospel offer the theme of the lost getting found, and the joy that is shared in the finding. Many scholars believe they were told as a single unit from the beginning of the Christian era, passed along through the oral tradition that Luke used to compile his gospel account.
Of course, in order for the lost to be found, it had to belong to someone first. The lost sheep was not a wild sheep that the shepherd happened upon and added to his flock. That sheep had belonged to the shepherd from the beginning, and had strayed away. The coin that the woman lost had been part of her life savings. It belonged to her. When Jesus told these stories, he was describing things that had once been where they belonged, but had somehow gone missing.
The preaching on these parables like that of the Prodigal Son has focused on those who may have strayed from the church, given up on their religious beliefs, or sinned a lot. But Luke does not suggest that the shepherd or woman and certainly the errant sheep had done that. Too, the teaching of these texts has often been about saving “poor lost souls” who don’t know any better—seemingly raising those who go to church to a higher plane. That doesn’t sit well with me.
I wonder if the message here is about things that have gone missing from our life over the time. Maybe we have lost touch with people who were once dear to us. Perhaps we have allowed a broken relationship to remain broken, and have lost the sense of freedom that comes with forgiving and being forgiven.
Perhaps we have lost opportunities to do things we hoped to achieve. Maybe we have lost faith, wondering how God could allow evil to persist in the world—such as the horrible tragedy of 9/11 whose anniversary is today or the mass killing of innocents in Uvalde.
Perhaps we’ve lost purpose, or joy, or the assurance that we belong to a loving God who cares for us. Whatever we’ve lost, Jesus tells these stories to us, just as surely as he told them to his disciples and the crowds around him as he traveled to Jerusalem. He isn’t too worried about the people who already believe in God and worship God. Jesus is concerned about the ones who have been excluded, the ones who feel lost or have lost meaning in life or lost hope. And whatever we’ve lost, Jesus wants us to know that God wants to pull us out of the Lost and Found box.
In Thomas Hardy's classic "Tess" the young bride is trying to find fulfillment in her new marriage -- so she gambles her happiness, her very future, on her new husband's ability to be gracious and accepting. She risks everything by telling him honestly about a tragic mistake in her past relationship with another man.
As she spills out her feelings in transparent sharing, his body stiffens, his lips become tight. He has no ability to receive her honesty with grace. She gambled on his love and lost. What was it that Tess wanted? What all of us seek -- to be found worthy by the love of God and to enjoy this communion with God and those we love and who love us. Finding that is great cause for rejoicing.