Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 11, 2022

Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you.  There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

As I was saying to the children, when I was just a little boy, maybe five or six years old, I got lost at the Los Angeles County Fair.  It was a huge fair.  There were lots of people, lots of games, lots of booths selling food, lots of rides.  But I got separated from my dad and my best friend’s dad in that strange place.  And I was scared.  I think we all would be scared, especially to be lost in a place we did not know.  

Fortunately, my parents had taught me what to do if I ever got lost.  And so, I looked for a police officer or someone who worked for the fair and told them I was lost.  I think it was a police officer that I found.  And they took me to the head people who ran the fair, and they made an announcement on the loudspeaker.  My dad and my friend’s dad came and found me.  Immediately, I went from being very, very afraid to being relieved and happy.  And, fortunately, my dad was so glad to see me that he didn’t even get mad.  He must have been very scared himself.

Today, Jesus tells us two different stories about lost things.  Later in the same chapter, he will tell us the parable of the Prodigal Son.  But today, we hear first about the lost sheep.  And, I don’t know if it’s a good thing to do if you’re a shepherd, but the shepherd in the story leaves the ninety-nine sheep behind.  And then, he goes, and he looks and looks for that one little lamb, until he finds it.  Then, he puts it on his shoulders, and he comes home, rejoicing.

The other story Jesus tells us this morning is about a woman that loses a coin that’s worth a lot of money in her house.  And she’s frantic, because she needs that money to live on.  And so, she turns over the couch cushions (they didn’t have couches back then, right?).  But she tears apart the whole house, and she sweeps everywhere.  She looks and looks until she finally finds it.  And she is so happy to find her lost coin.  And she invites her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her, because what she had lost has been found.

Well, when Jesus is talking about what the stories mean, he says that sometimes we are lost.  We all make choices we’re not proud of.  Sometimes they’re choices that separate us from people we love.  And God is like that shepherd—or like that woman looking for her coin.  We are so precious to God, that God will keep on looking until he finds us.  And he will bring us safely home.

This morning, I’d like to say something about the church-community, about Trinity.  It is important to be part of a community.  It is important to have friends who would miss us if we weren’t here.  It is important to have brothers and sisters who care about you and will help you carry your burdens.  But there are times when any of us might fall through the cracks, when some of us might feel lost in this church-community.

And what I’d like to say to you this morning is that, because this is a Christian community, there are people here who would help you if you need it.  All you have to do is ask.  I would help you.  We all would help you to get found.  That’s because we believe in a God who looks for those little ones (and not-so-little ones) who lose our way.  

In the Psalm this morning, we hear David crying out to God:  “Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness.”  Our God is a faithful, loving God who keeps his promises.  And among those promises is a promise to seek us out and find us, just because he loves us.  God loves us so very, very much, that he sends his own Son to find us, when we have lost our way.

The two parables Jesus tells us this morning are found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. That whole chapter is about God’s relentless effort to find us, “to seek and save the lost.”  This finds perfect expression when Jesus sits down to eat with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners (and others considered unclean).  Jesus tells us these parables, because the scribes and Pharisees are grumbling at his generous hospitality and forgiveness.  They’re trying to erect barriers between who’s in and who’s out.  

How many times, I wonder, do we Christians hear these parables, and think of ourselves only as one of the ninety-nine sheep who never left the fold, with the rest of the world cast in the role of the unwashed masses outside, mere objects for our good deeds or kind thoughts?  As the theologian Karl Barth once said, “Knowing that the world outside is not just darkness without light, Christians have the freedom—and in obedience [we] are to a large extent under the obligation—to take seriously [our] solidarity with those outside and to take [our] place alongside them without making any claims.”  

It is helpful sometimes to play with the parables of Jesus—and to imagine ourselves as one character or another.  But the tendency never to identify ourselves with “the lost,” stands at the root of much bad religion.  For, while it is true that we are among those who’ve been found, we never really cease to stray.  Over and over again, we lose our way.  And we need God—and we need each other—to find our way home.

As we begin a new program year, the challenge for us here at Trinity is to keep building a community where all God’s children are welcome.  By grace, we are doing exactly that, and we will keep on working at it until God’s Kingdom comes.  To do it well, we will need to accept our own humanity and be patient with one another.  We are sinners here.  Too often in this life, people venture into the Church, attracted by the figure of Jesus, only to find hypocrisy and moralism instead.  We are sinners here.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Following Jesus as Lord is quite demanding.  Jesus came among us to claim our whole lives for God.  We are to put God first in our lives.  We are to love him above all things, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But today, we are reminded that there is joy in heaven and on earth, when we turn to God and live.  Today, we are reminded that Jesus came to us, to find us and set us free.  Today, we see that our place at the table is ours not by right or by privilege, but by mercy.  

For the gifts of God are free.  And we are all here by God’s call and invitation.

Thanks be to God for his love.