It’s not unusual to talk about one’s life as a journey. It’s almost ingrained in us as humans. Think about Odysseus’ epic journey in the Odyssey, where it takes him ten years to make his way back home to Itchaca after fighting in the Trojan War.
Like Odysseus we encounter obstacles and challenges as we make our way. Though hopefully we don’t have to deal with any man-eating cyclopses. But still, there are detours and storms as we live our lives.
We might think about our life of faith this way as well. We are all on a journey, a journey home to the heart of God.
Early Church theologian Augustine once prayed, “My heart is restless until it rests in thee.” To some extent we all have restless hearts, seeking that peace that the world cannot give. We are seekers after God.
And then we come to these stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin. There are actually three parables in this chapter, and the third is the Prodigal Son. So there’s a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. But in the Prodigal Son story, the man repents, he returns home and apologizes. This makes sense.
But what about the sheep and the coin? What are they supposed to tell us about the kingdom of God?
In these stories God is the shepherd, abandoning 99 for the sake of the one. And God is the woman, lighting a lamp and searching everywhere for the lost coin.
These stories are a healthy reminder that we may see ourselves as seekers after God, but God is always seeking after us.
The danger of describing our faith as a journey is that it can start to sound like a marathon, with a beginning point, a finish line and that’s that. We train, we run, we’ve accomplished something. It’s all about us and our work. Perhaps, as they used to say in my Catholic high school, we ought to leave a little room for the Holy Spirit.
In the back of your Prayer book is a question and answer section called the catechism.
And so, to the question, “What is prayer?” it says, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”
Now of course, we are not sheep, we are not coins. We are not without will and intellect and the responsibility that goes with those gifts. However, I think there are times when we can feel lost, trapped, powerless. There are times when God finds us.
I was scrolling through my facebook feed yesterday. And you don’t always find good news there. But yesterday I saw that a distant acquaintance announced she was celebrating two months of sobriety after 12 years of drug and alcohol abuse. Sometimes the lost are found.
And we know that this is not God’s work alone. Preacher Will Willimon says these stories about the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost child all have the same outline: Lost, Found, Party!
At times we’re supposed to be junior shepherds, showing God’s love to the hurting and lost. Or maybe we’re the woman’s friends, coming to the party to celebrate the good news.
At different times we may be different parts of this story. But the story, and everyone in it, is part of God’s kingdom.
Go back to the beginning of the story. The powers that be are grumbling that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. That’s what precipitates Jesus telling this story. The self-righteous folks are upset that Jesus would enjoy fellowship with these unworthy ones.
And Jesus rarely criticizes their righteousness. Because righteousness meant making an earnest effort to keep the law. And it was God’s law after all. But righteousness is no match for grace. It’s not even close. Grace is when God finds us, like a coin under the couch cushion, hiding from our troubles, like a sheep in a ditch, having lost our way. Grace is when God sends out those junior shepherds to bring us home, to celebrate our return.
This day I give thanks for grace. For a god who seeks after us and won’t let us go. Who looks for us, no matter how far we’ve gone astray. Who sent his son Jesus to come find us and redeem us, all for his love’s sake. Thanks be to God.