The heart of God is to seek every one who is lost, find us, and bring us back in welcome, renewing our hearts.
Vicar Kelly Sandin
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 24 C
Text: Luke 15:1-10
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What if we’re the ones needing to eat with Jesus?
At a welcoming table with arms wide open. A table that says, “Sit, eat, I see you.” A table of peace and acceptance and love. Where there’s laughter. Where there are smiles.
Not all tables are like this. Some can’t or won’t welcome us. We might be misunderstood. We may feel judged, ignored, labeled. On bad days, we might believe the voices not our own. An endless echoing drone. Becoming a little weaker, unworthiness may set in. We hide behind shame and pain. We isolate. We disengage. We wander.
When sheep no longer hear their shepherd’s voice, they wander. When this happens they have no defense mechanisms in which to fight. In isolation they’re vulnerable and utterly lost to the forces they face. If near other sheep and dangers lurk, the flock huddles together. Finding some safety in numbers. There’s a natural tendency to gather. But ultimately, they need their shepherd. The one who lovingly tends the whole flock. Who will Go and find. Carry and rejoice. Who risks the 99 for the single indispensable one.
Similarly, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and relentlessly searches until the single coin is found. She raises her coin to rejoice, but suddenly realizes that rejoicing by herself is hardly a party. We have an innate desire to be with others. We’re not meant to be alone. Both the shepherd and the woman were drawn to friends and neighbors when what was lost was found. There’s something in the finding, the joy it brings, that makes us want to share that joy with others. We can’t keep it to ourselves. We don’t want to.
We know this kind of urgency, to find that which is lost. We lose things all the time – keys, phones, glasses, wallets. Things of value, such as these, seemingly get lost. Our heads are often thinking of something else. Paying attention to where we put our things isn’t always on our radar. And yet when we lose such items we frantically search. Our anxiety is high! We need to find that one single item of worth. In fact, there’s a natural tendency for others to join in. We rarely must ask for help in such a situation. It’s somewhat mystifying, but people, even strangers, will drop whatever they’re doing and eagerly take part in the pursuit. We know what it’s like to be in such a state and are happy to help relieve another’s anxiety.
While we’ve all experienced losing everyday items like keys or phones, the anxiety can be heightened if what is lost is us. Without a smart phone, it gets desperate. We can be lost in a crowd, separated from our family or friends. We might be hiking or walking about and lose our way. Perhaps we’re driving and have no idea as to our location. Being told to go east is useless if you’re directionally challenged! Meandering around not knowing your surroundings can be alarming, even more so in the dark. Being utterly alone and lost is frightening. We need someone to guide us in the right direction. A gas station attendant. A park ranger. Anyone to point the way. To put us on the right path. There is much relief when we find our group, get to our destination, or realize we’re on familiar ground.
Worse is when a child wanders off. An adolescent misses curfew. A loved one doesn’t return from work. Amber Alerts put families and neighborhoods in a state of panic. We’ll do whatever it takes to bring that person home. Police are contacted. Posters are put up. Local news stations broadcast the story. Social media urges us to share the link. Finding the child or teenager or adult is of the upmost concern. We collectively feel the agony and worry. We hope, we pray, and will rejoice if they’re found safe and sound. And mourn if they’re not.
The heart of God in these parables is the urgency to go after every single one of us in all our states of being lost. Whatever that might be. God knows and never gives up, even if others do. Even when we do. To be in community is where we’re meant to be. Not alone and on our own.
We have a seat reserved at the table where love and joy abound. Where arms are wide open. Regardless of how much time it takes us to get there.
We are a child of God who’s not forgotten. We are valued and loved and necessary. We are worth finding no matter how distant we’ve become. No matter how many years we’ve struggled alone. No matter how hardened our heart. No matter the walls we’ve built up. God is calling us to the table. To have new life. This was the intent from the very beginning. To love God and one another. Where we lift each other up. Where we cheer one another on. Where we pray with and for one another. And together give praise to God for all that God has done.
Know we have a merciful God. There’s nothing we can possibly do to separate us from the love of Christ. For being in relationship is God’s deepest desire. And God will do whatever it takes to find us. Where no one, not even one, is lost.
We’re welcomed by the host who is Christ. Where grace in the meal brings life. Life back in community. Loving God and neighbor. Creating hearts anew.