“Lost and Found”

Lost and Found
A Message on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 27, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (NRSV)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he [Jesus] told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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As we continue to follow the Lectionary this Lenten season we come to the 15th chapter of Luke and the parable of the prodigal son.

Now the word “prodigal” is not one we use in our everyday language. The word comes from an old Latin word meaning “wasteful, to squander.” And the prodigal son is named that because that is what he does with the inheritance that his father has given him. The translation we read from today calls it “dissolute living.”

For Mini Methodists Bible Study this past week we acted out the parable, and I told the young folks that the prodigal son blew all his money on soft drinks, candy, and video games. (I really didn’t want to go into detail about what “dissolute living” meant. Call me a chicken.)

So we know the son disgraces his father by asking for his inheritance early, and by leaving and blowing through all the money in “dissolute living.” It is not until he hits absolute rock bottom that he figures out just how damaging his selfishness has been.

He takes a job feeding pigs, but the pigs are eating better food than what he has. Now this is significant because for the Jewish people pigs were unclean animals. The Jewish laws in Leviticus clearly state that the swine are unclean. The people are not only not to eat them, but not to touch them or have anything to do with them.

And yet the prodigal son finds himself in the situation where he is not only feeding and taking care of hogs, but is even one step lower than they are in terms of food that is available.

In our Bible study last week one of the questions we answered was which character do we personally identify the most with? Are we the prodigal son? The loyal older brother? The Father?

I think that’s helpful because it forces us to view the parable from different perspectives. But what I want to do today is zoom out and look at the parable from a bird’s eye view and how it fits into Jesus’ teachings on “lost and found” in the 15th chapter of Luke.

Now you probably noticed that today’s scripture reading jumped around a bit. This sometimes happens in the lectionary. I think they did it today because they want to give us the setting and audience of where Jesus is and who he is speaking to. But it skips over two other parables that I think are important and need to be considered to be parts of a broader view of the parable of the prodigal son.

The first parable is about leaving the 99 sheep to go look for the one lost sheep. That one sheep is lost, and when it is found there is great rejoicing.

The second is the parable of the lost coin. A woman has 10 silver coins and somehow loses one of them. So she lights a lamp and starts sweeping the house until she finds the lost coin. And when she finds it she calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over finding the coin.

The parable of the sheep ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

The parable of the lost coin ends with this sentence: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Now let’s contrast those endings with the one we read today in the parable of the prodigal son: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:32

So you see, while the parable of the prodigal son can stand on its own, when we back up and view it with the other parables in chapter 15 it gives us a broader picture of the importance of the “lost and found” that Jesus teaches about.

Lost and found. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is a cardboard box at a school or a church that contains things that people have lost. People are encouraged to go by and look at those items to see if any of them belong to them, and if so they then take that item. It goes from being lost to being found.

Most of the time those articles that are lost aren’t looked on as having much value. Sometimes people won’t even claim articles that are theirs because they don’t want the embarrassment of retrieving something from the lost and found.

Jesus takes the lost and found metaphor and applies it to people. And he teaches us very important lessons in doing so.

Our human logic works a lot differently than how God works. We are very works-oriented. If you want to have money, you need to work for it. If you want a promotion, work for it. If you want others to view you with esteem, you work for it.

Unfortunately that mindset also seeps into our religious views as well. If we want to go to heaven, we need to work for it. If we want God to love us, we work for it by keeping the 10 commandments and following a list of rules. We even turn being a Christian into a competition, trying to out-do others in practicing our Christianity with a subconscious (and unfortunately in some cases, conscious) desire to elevate our status above others. “I’m a better Christian than they are.”

And yet Jesus teaches us, over and over and over, that such thinking is not correct. That kind of thinking is earthly thinking, not Godly thinking. Jesus specifically has a passion for the lost. And he tells us this over and over and over.

We talked in Bible study this past week about what we would do if a homeless person walked into our sanctuary on a Sunday morning during worship. Say it was a man who hadn’t bathed in a long, long time. His clothing is filthy and ragged, his hair is dirty and frazzled, and he has a stubble beard and mustache from not having shaved in weeks. His breath has the sour smell of alcohol and cigarettes.

And say you come in the sanctuary and lo and behold he has committed the most horrible, unforgivable sin imaginable: He is sitting in your “spot.”

Would he be greeted warmly? Would he be welcomed with loving arms? Would you sit down right beside him and strike up a conversation with him, introducing yourself to him and telling him how glad you are that he is with us for worship today?

We might say, “Yes, I would do that!” But be honest. Would we? Really?

Years ago a musician named Todd Agnew wrote a song titled, “My Jesus.” In it he asks the question of which Jesus do you follow, the Jesus of the Bible, or the Jesus of the world?

The words of one of the choruses is this:

‘Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

He goes on to say:

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet

Would that Jesus be accepted in this church?

There are many people in our community who are spiritually lost. As a church we are not to cloister ourselves off from the lost and consider us to be God’s chosen ones, but just the opposite: we are to go to them and share with them the love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are to take the gospel, which means “good news,” to them. We are to be outwardly focused, not inwardly focused.

Church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was very adamant about this. One of his famous sayings is, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most.”

In Luke 19 when people start grumbling about Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus replies, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus came not for the found, but the lost. We should also reach out to the lost, like Jesus, and help them be found.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember lost and found. Make a conscious effort to reach out to one person who is “lost” this week and invite them to church. I can tell you it will push you out of your comfort zone. It will be uncomfortable. It will be awkward. It might even be unpleasant. But do it anyway. Do it for Jesus. Do it for God’s kingdom.

After all, we’ve nothing to do but save souls.

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

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