No matter how lost you are, and in what ways, God will find you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 24 C
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
“Sinners.” That’s all they saw.
This isn’t like saying “we’re all sinners.” These leaders saw some people as different from everyone else. These who came to hear Jesus aren’t named, identified by gender or occupation (except the tax collectors), or anything else. Whatever they’ve done, they’re publicly shamed enough in the eyes of their community that the title “sinners” is the only thing their leaders see, the only thing that matters.
But Jesus welcomes them. Eats with them. That’s his problem. If he’s supposed to be a godly teacher, showing God’s reign, if he’s supposed to be this great rabbi the crowds adore, how can he publicly welcome people whose worth is seen only as “sinners,” share a meal with them?
Well, Jesus sees them differently. He looks at these folks and sees “precious.” “Beloved.” “Children of God,” not “sinners.” Yes, he sees whatever sin it is they’ve done, that they’ve found themselves apart from God and apart from community. They’re people who are lost in one way or another.
But since Jesus sees “precious” and “beloved” when he looks at them, his only goal is to find those lost precious ones, welcome them, and, as the face of the Triune God for the world, love them back home to God, even if he has to give his life to do it.
But the leaders can’t see as Jesus sees. So he tells them stories.
Stories of precious, beloved, lost things. One sheep out of a hundred. One coin out of ten. Two beloved sons, in the familiar story from this chapter we didn’t hear today, both lost, both desperately loved.
Two stories reveal God’s love as ridiculous and foolish. No shepherd worth anything would abandon ninety-nine sheep to wolves and wilderness to seek a lost one. Cut your losses and be glad you still have ninety-nine. No father would be so generous with love to two sons, forgiving both of great things, giving all he had to both, without strings or accountability.
Jesus says open your eyes and see that God loves you with the same foolish, ridiculous, senseless love.
The middle story needs more attention. It’s very different. This woman’s desire to find the coin isn’t ridiculous or foolish; she can ill afford to lose any of what little she has. And, unlike the sheep and the sons, you can’t take a moral lesson from the coin. It didn’t get itself lost, it’s inanimate. It can’t find its way home, it’s inanimate. All it can do is be found.
Jesus says open your eyes and see that you are so vital, so important to God, God can’t afford to lose you. And you need do nothing to be found. God is looking for you under every dresser and bed, behind every couch, inside every cupboard, and won’t stop until you are found.
This is hard for the leaders to hear, maybe because they fear not being good enough themselves.
Some of God’s beloved, God’s precious ones, want to do good, feel in their bones they must be perfect, to please God. They follow the rules as best they can, and are deeply judging of others who don’t seem to care as much or try as hard. But that judgment only masks this fear: the time in the dark of night when the voices in your head say, “You messed up today, you’re not good enough. You never will be.”
If you ever feel like this, if this is where you get lost and afraid, know this: you are God’s beloved, no matter how perfect or imperfect you are. And God promises you: you will be found.
Now, some of God’s precious ones believe they’re not worthy of being loved.
These dear children of God are convinced they simply don’t have value compared to other people. Some have a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness, or a sense that no one truly loves them, that they have no significance. Others fear being seen as incompetent and then dismissed. The fear in the dark of night for these isn’t that you haven’t done perfectly, but that ultimately it doesn’t matter, since you don’t matter.
If you ever feel like this, if this is where you get lost and afraid, know this: you are God’s precious one, you matter to God, you have value and worth. And God promises you: you will be found.
Some of God’s beloved children fear they are alone, unnoticed.
This is a little like those others, but different. These dear ones feel outside everyone else, as if they don’t belong anywhere. They wonder if anyone is there who will help them when they’re lost, support them when they need it. They’re always on the outside, looking in. The fear in the dark of night for these is that if they somehow disappeared, or didn’t show up, no one would notice, no one would come looking.
If you ever feel like this, if this is where you get lost and afraid, know this: you are God’s beloved, and God sees you where you are, notices your every breath, every hair on your head; you belong to God. And God promises you: you will be found.
And some of God’s precious ones feel trapped and unfulfilled, or controlled by others, or by life itself.
These dear ones don’t feel they have choices over their life, too many things are out of control, or they’re stuck and can’t get out. Some experience others trying to control and direct them, and they have no say. The fear in the dark of night for these is that desperate sense of feeling in a trap, unable to move or decide or be free.
If you ever feel like this, if this is where you get lost and afraid, know this: you are God’s precious one, and you are free. God is your strength, and will take you by the hand and help you find the path to life. And God promises you: you will be found.
And there’s another flock of God’s beloved, who often aren’t seen.
There are those dear children of God, some in this room today, many in our world, who do not experience the world the way the majority do because in one way or another they are different. In our culture, different isn’t welcomed. Some of these are ones who have had even the Church, followers of Christ, condemn them as outside of God’s love because of who they are and who they love. And some are ones who because of the color of their skin or the gender they present to the world, whether female or another way, are treated differently and unjustly, unlike those who are white and those who present male. All these dear children have systems of oppression built up over centuries to keep them lost. Centuries of Church theology, or a broken criminal justice system, or unjust wages and benefits, or hidden barriers to where people are permitted to live, systems like these, and others, crush God’s beloved children.
Their fear isn’t just in the dark of night, it’s a daily struggle to live, to be noticed, to be treated as significant and valued and loved and worthy.
If you are one of these children, if this is where you are lost and afraid, know this: you are God’s precious one, and beloved, and God sees you and loves you. And God promises you: you will be found.
“Can you see each other as I see you?” Jesus asks.
If you can hear that you are precious and beloved, that God will tirelessly seek you and find you, pour out everything in that love, can you believe that, and find peace?
And then, and this is Jesus’ deepest hope, will you become part of God’s search team? God will find and bring home into God’s love and grace all God’s precious and beloved children. But God needs arms that can hug, hands that can hold, voices that can both comfort and advocate, hearts that can love. God needs a search team that can see children of God, not sinners, or categories. God needs people so confident they are found and loved they can’t imagine anyone not knowing that, can’t tolerate having a single beloved of God be lost. Ninety-nine percent isn’t good enough for God. God needs search teams who believe the same thing, who are willing to risk everything, just like God.
Because the Triune God came among us as a human being for one thing only: to welcome sinners and eat with them. Until no one is lost, no one is afraid in the dark, all are found and brought home into the abiding love of God that has been waiting for them for so long.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
Note: Thanks to the writers and composers of the musical Dear Evan Hansen, for the structural idea and the thought of repeating the refrain, “you will be found.”