Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Lost and Found Box

Luke 15:1-10
September 18, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Before our reading from Luke 15, let’s take a moment with Luke 14. Jesus has been going from place to place, talking and eating. He’s been going to dinner with Pharisees and with the riffraff, and he keeps saying these troubling things – telling the rich to give up all they have and follow him, scolding those who mistreat the poor, talking about a great banquet that God is giving, and how all kinds of people will be invited to the table.

And he’s not going around calling these scruffy, disreputable people to come and follow him, or asking them to eat with him. They are crowding around him, and inviting him to dinner. They want to hear what he has to say. In other words, they’re looking for him, not the other way around.

Let’s listen to some stories about being lost and found in Luke 15:1-10:
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying,
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness
and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors,
saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them,
does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors,
saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

You know, the Pharisees in this story really have a point. They’ve invited Jesus to come to dinner with them, to talk with them. They’re really tried to engage with him in meaningful dialogue. But he won’t really listen to reason. He keeps saying these provocative things to them. He keeps company with these, well…deplorable people.

And he keeps telling these stories, these parables. Like these two stories, about a lost sheep and a lost coin. First with this shepherd story – speaking of riff-raff – everybody knows that shepherds are, well…socially unacceptable. They are dishonest and dirty and the lowest of low-lifes. So who cares about what they do, really?

Plus, it is a stupid premise – which of you would not leave the ninety nine? Nobody with any sense leaves ninety-nine sheep to go after one. If Jesus had asked for a show of hands, no Pharisee or scribe hands would have gone up.The story makes no sense whatsoever.

If you’re irresponsible enough to lose one of your flock, and then you’re irresponsible enough to leave the bulk of your flock, just to go after one idiotic sheep, would you really want to tell everyone about that? Let alone ask everyone over for a celebratory dinner! That’s what it meant to them – “Rejoice with me” implied a party. So that’s just nonsense, that story.

Not that the second one was any better – another negligent main character, this time a woman. She’s lost a coin – ten percent of her net worth, apparently. So she wastes valuable lamp oil to hunt for it. It probably would have turned up eventually. Then, same ending – when she finds it, she throws a party to celebrate. Ridiculous.

Those sinners and tax collectors probably weren’t all that happy with the stories either.
After all, who wants to be compared with a sheep or a coin?
That was what Jesus meant, wasn’t it, that they were lost?
But, the sinners were probably thinking, “Jesus didn’t come looking for me! I came looking for him! He didn’t find me! I found him!”

It’s all very puzzling. Who is the one who is lost, and who is the one who is found?
Then there’s the bigger question still – who are the righteous, and who are the sinners?
What exactly does Jesus mean to say? If you’ve ever lost something or someone– like some money, or a check, or your glasses or your keys or your homework or your calendar or your phone or your favorite jacket or a ring you know that the lost item does not know or care that it is lost. Maybe it ends up in the lost and found box.

Those things are always interesting, those boxes. You look at the items and think there must be a story to them – those sunglasses with the rhinestones on them, the one purple glove, the keys to who-knows-what, the pacifier, the cardigan, the single clip-on earring, the turquoise tie tack. There must be a story to go with each lost item, but it is not crying, looking for its owner, hoping to find you, hoping you find it. The thing you have lost is simply lost, sitting wherever it got misplaced. When you find whatever you’ve lost, if you find it, you are glad to have found it, but usually too embarrassed to call all the neighbors over for a celebration.

They would think it was weird, anyway.
“Hey! I found my car keys! Come have a glass of wine and a hamburger!”

With people, it is a different matter.
People don’t go in the lost and found box.
The search is more frenzied, the finding is more joyous.

Any parent whose child is lost is frantic in the search and usually the lost child is equally frantic. When a child gets lost, there are many anxious moments, maybe even hours, sometimes even days of worry until the child is found. When parent and child are reunited, there is much rejoicing, and others might join in the merriment. Like the angels in heaven, they share in your happiness.

A few years ago, there was a story in the news of a little boy, five years old, who got lost and separated from his mother. For twenty five years. Saroo was a little boy in India whose mother was struggling to raise four children alone. Saroo and his brother sometimes boarded trains to beg for food and money. But on the day he got lost, Saroo fell asleep on the train. When it stopped and he went into the train station, he didn’t know where he was. He tried to find his brother, tried to find his way back home, but it was no use. He couldn’t read, and he didn’t have any money, and he didn’t know where to go for help, and there was no way to contact his mother if he did know.

He kept getting on and off of trains, looking for something familiar. He boarded a train to Calcutta, and wound up begging on the streets there. Eventually someone took the little guy to the police station, as a lost child. They couldn’t make any sense of the names he told them of his village. So they declared that he was truly lost, and took Saroo to an orphanage.

He was indeed lost until he was found and adopted by a couple from New Zealand. He learned English, grew up in New Zealand, finished college, started a career. Twenty years later, at a party, something triggered a memory. He began to spend hours and hours late at night at his computer, searching on Google Earth, for photos of what might be his village. He had been such a little boy – he thought the name of his village was “Gunnestalay” but then an online chat group user told him, “Ganesh Talai.” Saroo found a picture of a fountain that looked familiar, then a water tank, a bridge, a street. He had found the village he’d last seen at the age of four. As soon as he could, Saroo traveled to the village called Ganesh Talai. Once there, he walked straight to the house where he’d lived as a child. But it was vacant.

He showed a picture of himself as a boy to the neighbors, said the name of his mother, sister, brothers, said them over and over. Finally a man who spoke a little English said,  “Come with me. I’ll take you to your mother.” Saroo’s mother had searched as much as she could for her little boys. Every day that she could, Saroo’s mother rode the trains, looking for her children. Saroo’s older brother had been killed by a train, but she still hoped that one day she’d find her other lost little boy.

That day, in the village, Saroo’s mother recognized him at once. She ran to him and embraced him, weeping. “Sheru! Sheru!” she said.

And Saroo realized that was his true name.[1]

You can almost hear the angels rejoicing, can’t you?
The son reunited with his mother was no longer lost.
The mother reunited with her son was no longer lost.
Sheru now knows where he comes from, knows his true name.
Rejoice with me, for that which was lost has been found!

See, the Pharisees weren’t feeling like they were missing anything. The scribes didn’t think they needed anything. There was nothing they had lost. So they weren’t searching. The sinners and the tax collectors had nothing to lose, so they went searching for Jesus, and found everything.

When the hands of love find you in the lost and found box, 
and pick you up and take you home, that’s joy.
When the good shepherd finds you lost in the night, 
and carries you home on his shoulders, that’s joy.
When the woman who treasures you picks you up off the floor, 
and weeps with happiness at the sight of you, that’s joy.
When you finally find your true home, and your family, 
and your real name, that’s joy.

Now the question for us is, where do we find ourselves in this story?
Which do we want to do – set out to search for that lost lamb?
light a lamp and sweep until we find that precious coin?
or sit in the darkness and hang onto what we have?

Are we sinners who need to repent, or do we really think we already have it all together?
What are we going to do, when Jesus brings us those riff-raff, those disreputable folks, and asks us to join in the celebration?
Are we going to call everyone we know and say, “Rejoice with me!”?
Or are we going to cross our arms and grouse about it?

When people who are lost and alone, find Jesus, or when Jesus finds them,
the invitation is always the same: “Rejoice with me!”

Jesus and all the angels in heaven celebrate.
This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them!
This Jesus, he’s happy to find us riff-raff.
Thanks be to God!

[1] Saudamini Jain, “The incredible story of Saroo Brierley.” Hindustan Times | Updated: Aug 31, 2013 Accessed 091616

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