When I graduated from college and was about to head off to seminary, I asked my mom if she had a copy of my baptismal certificate. She searched through files and folders and scrapbooks and memory boxes, but she couldn’t find the certificate. Three years later, upon my graduation from seminary, my mom eagerly informed me that she had found my baptismal certificate. When the certificate finally came into my possession, I decided it would be best if I put it away in a “safe place.” You know, the kind of “safe place” that you think you will never forget and then a week late, you forget. For the next twelve years, my baptismal certificate would remain lost. Until in 2016 when I was moving to this small village called Tequesta, I opened a box full of random manila folders and there, in one of the folders, was the certificate. And I’m happy to say it is now framed and hangs on the wall of my office.
At some point, we have all experienced the frustration of losing something and then experienced the subsequent feeling of relief when that something is found. Whether it’s your car keys or your wallet, an important bill that has to be paid or your baptismal certificate, we know the basic paradigm of losing and finding. And so, when hear Jesus is speaking about something being lost and then found, most of us immediately think to ourselves, “Yeah, I get that. That makes sense!” We are relieved that Jesus is finally talking in terms that we can understand and wrap our brains around.
The problem is that when we approached these stories from our own human frame of reference, when we read these parables simply as stories about God’s lost and found department, we actually diminish their power. And we end up missing the radical message of Jesus. And so, this morning, rather than just selecting one element of the gospel reading, I want us to take a deep dive into these parables. I want to invite us to think about these stories not from our human point of view, but from the perspective of the kingdom of God.
Now, before we dive into the parables themselves, we have to first to take note of the fact that these are not just random stories that Jesus just happens to share. These parables are a direct response to religious leaders, who are grumbling and complaining that Jesus is keeping company with tax collectors and sinners. We know, of course, that a large crowd has been following Jesus and apparently this large crowd includes both members of the religious establishment on the one hand and those who were considered outcast and unclean on the other.
And the dominant attitude of the religious leaders toward those on the margins was quite simply, “Get lost!” But Jesus counters and says, “No, these are precisely the ones that I came to find!” So, the religious establishment grows angry and resentful. They begin to grumble and murmur. They begin to complain. And it is in response to their anger and resentment that Jesus tells them to two parables. They are parables that are both about reckless love and ridiculous joy.
First, these are parables that tell us something about the recklessness of God’s love. Jesus begins a question, “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?” The most rational and reasonable answer is “no one!” No shepherd in his or her right mind would leave ninety sheep to go after one who has gone astray. And note that the sheep are not left in a sheep pen or some other safe enclosure, they are left in the wilderness, they are left vulnerable to attack and at risk of being scattered. By almost any standard, the actions of the shepherd in the parable are reckless and unreasonable.
The woman who loses her coin stays up late into the night and sweeps her entire house. She searches diligently and persistently until she finds her lost coin. Now her actions may not be reckless, but they are radical. I lose coins in the cushions of our couch all the time and I usually don’t find them until the end up in the vacuum cleaner. I certainly don’t stay up all night. I certainly don’t exhaust all my energy searching for one coin.
And so, in both of these parables, the search and rescue efforts of the main characters are extreme, reckless, unreasonable, radical. But that’s not the end of story.
When the lost sheep and coin are found, the response in both cases is one of ridiculous joy. In both cases, the shepherd and the women throw a party to celebrate the fact that that which was lost has now been found. The response is one of celebration and joy and exuberance. I say it’s ridiculous because shepherds were outcasts living on the margins of society and likely would not have had the resources to host even a modest diner party. And for the women, the cost of a celebration would likely have exceeded the value of the coin that she had just found.
These are not simply stories about God’s lost and found department. These are stories about God’s reckless love and ridiculous joy. These are parables that remind that Jesus came to search out and find the least and lost. The broken and the vulnerable. The lonely and destitute. God’s love is reckless, unreasonable, and radical. And the joy that results from grace is ridiculous and extravagant.
But there is one more piece of these parables that we can’t overlook. Somehow, they are connected to the process of repentance. Because the love and joy experienced on earth is reflective of the joy in heaven when one sinner repents. Repentance hear does seems to imply a turning away from sin. I mean, a coin and even a sheep, can hardly be described as sinful, in the typical sense of the word. In these parables, repentance is about acknowledging that we are all, in some way or another, lost. Sometimes we are lost because of our own choices, like the sheep that chooses to wander away from the flock. Other times, we are lost because of no fault of our own, like the coin that simply slips between the cushions of the couch unnoticed. Still other times, we are lost in our own pride and resentment, like the religious leaders who failed to see the vision of the Kingdom of God.
Repentance in these parables is acknowledging that we are lost and then accepting the reality that God has found us in Jesus Christ.
These are not just stories about God’s lost and found department. These are parables that take us deep into the heart of God, who’s reckless love will stop at nothing to find us, who’s grace will seek us out even when we don’t know we are lost, who’s mercy will chase us down and bring us home over and over again. And that, my brothers and sisters, is reason for celebration, for ridiculous, extravagant, overflowing joy!