“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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices….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? 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.’ —Luke 15:4—5, 8—9
Some theologians consider Luke 15, with its parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost, prodigal son to be the heart of Luke’s gospel—for it expresses the wildly extravagant, crazy-in-love God who would go to any lengths to find us when we are lost. Jesus told these three parables to help us understand that no matter how lost we are, our God is a God who sweeps and sweeps and sweeps, who searches and searches and searches until we are caught up in the love and mercy and grace that God spreads all over the place through Jesus the Christ.
And it does not matter what kind of lost we are. The truth is most of us are relatively righteous—we seek to live a good life, we try to follow the golden rule, we abide by the laws of our nation, we are not out here beating our kids or thieving to make a buck! But we all suffer from losses that can create the kind of turning away from God that needs repentance—loss of a loved one, a job, a marriage, a friend, our good looks, our youth, our mobility, our financial security, our hair, our teeth! And we all struggle at times with having lost our way, our faith, our hope, our direction, our focus, our temper, our minds!
No matter what kind of lost we are, the God who loves us enough to be with us, Emmanuel, is the God who loves us enough to throw a party, inviting the whole community and spending her last dime to celebrate when we re-turn.
If you do not have a Roman Catholic background, you may not know that the 13th Century holy man, St. Anthony of Padua is known as the patron saint of lost items. As the legend goes, Anthony had a book of psalms that, in his eyes, was priceless. There was no printing press yet. Any book had value. But, this was his book of psalms, his prayer book. And in the margins he’d written all kinds of notes to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order. A novice who had already grown tired of living a religious life decided to leave the community. Besides going AWOL, he also took Anthony’s Psalter! When he went to his room to his prayer corner to pray and found it missing, Anthony prayed it would be found and returned to him. After he prayed this prayer, the thieving novice fleeing through the forest, was met by a demon (ok, this part of the story is murky—how negative could be an avenue of God’s good) who told the thief to return the Psalter to Anthony and to return to the Franciscan Order, which accepted him back.
Soon after Anthony’s death, people began praying through him to find or recover lost and stolen articles. ”A prayer to Christ,” written in honor of St. Anthony shortly after his death goes like this:
The sea obeys and fetters break; And shattered hopes limbs thou dost restore;
While treasures lost are found again; When young or old thine aid implore.
But the popular version of prayer is this: “Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost that must be found.” That is a prayer I can wrap my head around. Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost that must be found. Johnny, Johnny, turn around, something’s lost that must be found. Wendy, Wendy turn around, something’s lost that must be found.
The world (and the church) are filled with the lost. And God is searching for all of us. Right here in our community there are those who have lost hope, faith, self-esteem, perspective…. so many lost coins, so many lost sheep, so many lost sons and daughters. Surely this is an aspect of our calling as a faith community—as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world—to seek and sweep and search and forgive and celebrate when the lost are found.
One purpose of the church is to be the shepherd and leave behind the ones who are already in the fold, and go out and search for the lost, looking in crevices and ravines, calling and watching and finding and carrying back those sheep who have lost their way. As well, the church needs be a place of grace and safety, a place where we leave the light on and keep the faith traditions burning for those who are away from home searching for themselves; a place where the good news is preached and lived-out in our humility and our love for our neighbors and our justice-seeking actions; a place where above all else love abides and the discovery of one lost sheep, one lost coin, one lost child is met with the biggest party we can muster!
As we continue our conversations about the future of the Congregational Church of West Medford, as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance about who we are and what we are called to be and do for Christ, I pray that we remember our calling to find the lost and welcome them home. I pray that we see in our future the call to provide a community of love and faith that meets the lost where they are, offers creative worship that connects them with the Truine God, teaching that guides them on the path of the Way of Christ, and then drives them out to do Holy Spirit inspired mission and ministry that transforms them and the world. Church, Church, turn around, something’s lost that must be found. May it be so.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade (firstname.lastname@example.org)