THE JOY OF BEING FOUND
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church. September 12, 2004. Luke 15:1-10
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost….Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that was lost."
- Luke 15:6b, 9b
Today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel reminds me of going to a concert to hear a well-known singer or group. A few years ago I was given tickets to hear the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir sing at St. James United Church. Have any of us here heard them sing? Or have we ever gone to hear a popular singer or group? Or even watched such a concert on television? Well, what happens before the “main event”? There are usually some “preliminary performances,” aren’t there? When I heard the Jubilation Choir, there were two other smaller local groups who sang first. These preliminaries serve a number of purposes. They give time for everyone to get there to hear the main event. They warm up the crowd. And they give some public attention to a group or performer that is not so well-known, and in this way helps them get a start.
Well, these two parables in Luke chapter 15 are something like that. They are the preliminaries for the main event which begins at verse 11. You see there are three stories in this chapter about something being lost. There is the lost sheep and the lost coin, which we have read; and then there is the story of the lost son – or what we usually call the Prodigal Son. In writing this Gospel, Luke has designed a kind of crescendo effect here, with these two short stories leading up to the main event – the story of the Prodigal. And yet, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin have layers of meaning within themselves too. They deserve our attention, in the same way that those first two groups did when I went to hear the Jubilation Choir.
Now the main message of these three stories is found in the fact that they were Jesus’ response to the way that the religious leaders of his time were critical of his welcoming sinners and eating with them – in other words, they were critical of his social intimacy with the outcast and untouchables. And clearly his challenge was that those religious leaders should be doing the same thing he was doing. But what I want to focus on today is the other side of these stories, namely, the joy of being found when you are lost.
First of all, there is the joy of the finder – in this case the shepherd who had lost the sheep, and the woman who had lost the coin. What did they do? They called their neighbours and said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost….Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that was lost." (Luke 15:6b, 9b) The clear implication here is that God rejoices when the lost are found. What did Jesus say? He said that there is “joy in the presence of the angels of God” when one of these is found.
And what about the joy of the one who is found? Well, it is hard to imagine a coin being joyful, isn’t it? But a sheep might well be happy over being rescued, don’t you think? But let us keep in mind that in these stories the lost sheep and the lost coin stand for lost people. Let me ask a question. Have any of us here ever been lost and maybe a bit frantic? Perhaps as a child in a grocery store, or while in a strange place. If so, do you remember how it felt when you were found? . . . . And if this never happened to you, can you imagine what you would have felt? Relief? Probably. And joy! And joy! If you were never lost, perhaps you were the parent, or someone else who helped to find a lost child. Then we are much like the shepherd or the woman in these two stories, aren’t we?
I think that there is a message here that all people have in some way been lost, but have been found by God. And when we come to realize that – when we have that experience of knowing we are lost but then are found, there is joy. And then do we want to sing songs like “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” or the old Sunday School chorus “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” When we know we are found, there is joy in our souls.
In the context of faith, what does it mean to be lost? I think that we can say that it means to be in need of God’s grace. And what does it mean to be found? Think ahead to the Prodigal Son. When did he receive his father’s welcome? It was when he came home, wasn’t it? To be found by God is to come home. It is to be welcomed back. It is to know that we have been given the things that we need the most, and yet can never earn. It is the joy of being found.
Our God is joyful at our return, even as we are joyful in being found. God’s arms are opened wide to welcome us home. So may we welcome others into God’s household in the same way. Amen.