Today, Jesus presents us with a matching set of parables about things that are lost and found, the sheep and the coin, in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes who do not like it that Jesus parties with sinners.
The stories are about God - who God is and how God is. God is utterly reckless in pursuit of the lost - like a shepherd who will not stop searching until the lost sheep is found, like a woman who tears the house apart looking for a lost coin.
This reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.
Would you actually leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness to find the one? Would you really sweep the whole house, at night, and throw a party just for one coin, probably spending the whole amount of the coin’s value on the food and drinks and party hats?
Probably not. God’s love looks crazy. And the stories are meant to show that indeed, God is flat-out crazy about us - all of us.
But not only that. At the end of each story is the part about how the shepherd and the woman call together their friends to rejoice because the lost has been found. Even the angels in heaven rejoice with the friends at the restoration of each and every one who has been found. Maybe you think of heaven as a place of quiet tranquility, but no, it turns out to be a big old cosmic party.
Jesus makes it plain that we are to join the party, to join in the rejoicing, because God seeks out the lost and finds them, even if they didn’t do anything to be found other than to become lost in the first place. Rejoicing is the proper response to God’s graciousness, not only to us but to all.
But look who’s not rejoicing. The Pharisees, who, bless their hearts, are truly faithful people who want to be obedient to God, it’s just that they are often too busy trying to parse the rules. So Jesus calls them out for not rejoicing that God’s searching has resulted in restoration of the lost to the community.
All this talk about being lost reminds me of a quote that can be found on many a Facebook profile page in the “about me - favorite quotes” section. It’s from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkein, the first line of which is “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
Not all those who wander are lost. True. And if we turn that around a bit, we get this: not all those who are lost look like they are wandering. Also true.
In truth, many of us get lost. We just don’t look like we are. The Pharisees here are lost, even though they consider themselves righteous. They are too busy parsing the rules of their faith practices to make room for something new, to make room for spiritual growth. They think the lost are the ones who look like drunks or adulterers or corrupt cheaters, and usually we do, too.
But the upright and earnest can be lost, as well. We become lost when we are too busy to pay attention to God’s claims on us, even the claim to party like it’s 1999 because that crazy God of ours has brought yet another sketchy lost soul into our midst.
We are lost when we are too busy to make space for God in our lives, to make room for God to do a new thing. When admittedly good things like jobs and families and hobbies and even church expand to become our sole focus, we have gotten off the path. We are wandering, even though we look like solid citizens. When we are consumed by our work, singularly bent on climbing the ladder; when our lives are ruled by our children’s activities schedules; when we narrow our focus to the arcane; when every time someone asks how we are we answer, almost proudly: “I’m just so busy!” we are lost.
There was a time in my life when I definitely was lost, the ugly kind of lost like the prodigal son rather than the ditzy bucolic kind of lost like the sheep or the “oops, I fell through the cracks” lost like the coin. And then I was found, through no action of my own. It was humbling and life-saving and I still rejoice that our God is so crazy about us, seeking us endlessly, no matter how ugly-lost we might be.
I am not in that place any more, thank God. But I still wander off the path. The times I am in the most danger are often times when everything looks great. When life is moving right along, all systems go, and I’m trying to do everything and manage everything and get an A in everything, including at being a priest, and next thing I know, I’m lost again. I’m too busy to see God’s gracious hand at work in the world and to rejoice; I’m too driven by my calendar and too focused on sticking to my principles to make room for God to drop in on me and change my life.
In fact, I don’t really want God to change my life. I worked hard to get it all fixed up like it is! So I don’t make any room in myself for God to reach me. I fill it up with being busy.
But God never stops trying to reach me. God never stops trying to find you. God never stops rejoicing when we turn our faces Godward again, even though God knows we’re going to wander away again soon. It turns out we need to be found more than once.
If you know you’re in a bad place, take heart, God is searching for you even now.
And if you’ve fallen into the trap of being too busy, of focusing on getting an A in everything, of climbing the ladder and being in the right groups and pushing yourself and your family to have perfect resumes, and all for a good cause! God is searching for you even now, too.
Because God is crazy about us and will do anything to find us. Thanks be to God!