Lent 4: We Need Never Fear Being Lost
A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Fourth Sunday Lent, March 10, 2013. This is the fourth sermon of six on the subject of fear.
Most commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son, our first reading this morning is more appropriately called the parable of the loving father, for the focus of the parable is on the generosity and hospitality of the parent rather than the wasteful and reckless extravagance of the child. But today I want you to hear it not as the parable of the loving father, nor as the parable of the prodigal son, but rather as the parable of a lost son. And to place it in context I want to read the two parables that precede it. [read Luke 15: 1-10]
Seen in this context, Luke chapter 15 encompasses three stories of lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Now loss is a universal experience. Whether we are talking about the death of a loved one or the inevitable experience of change, loss is a part of every life. Loss is grieved in order that the loss may be incorporated into our ongoing living. But loss is not what Jesus is speaking about; in fact it would be premature to grieve the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost child. That would be abandonment. Instead what Jesus offers us is an image of a shepherd who actively searches, a woman who thoroughly cleans, and a father who patiently keeps watch for his son.
On Tuesday I spent fifteen minutes in the Lost and Found at my son’s elementary school. You see, he has this pair of orange gloves with monkeys on them, and somehow during school on Monday he lost one. So the next morning I visited the Lost and Found. Now the Lost and Found consists of two five gallon plastic containers filled with small items: hats, gloves and scarves. It is also a twenty foot wall with a shelf above and hooks below filled with larger items like shoes, boots, winter coats, lunch boxes and backpacks, some with homework still inside. One of the teachers said to me that she can’t believe a child could lose a winter jacket and not come looking for it. “In fact,” she said, “all of this is here because nobody ever comes looking for it.”
Not so with these parables. When speaking of lost things, Jesus first offers a story about a shepherd who actively searches until he finds.
Now I apologize for offering two stories in a row about my son, but I have been carrying this word “Lost” around with me for a couple of weeks. The other day August lost a small piece off one of his toys while playing in his bedroom. He came to me, full of tears, and said “I lost it.” After figuring out just what was “lost” I asked him where he had been playing and he said “Right here on my bed.” So, Dad that I am, I told him that there was one surefire way to find something that was lost. At which point he just rolled his eyes at me because he knew I was going to say “Clean your room.”
Well, he did not clean his room. But I cleaned and made his bed, and of course quickly found the missing piece. How many things remain “Lost” because we never look for them?
When speaking of lost things, Jesus offers a story about a woman who found cause to celebrate because she was thorough, she left nothing unturned when looking for the coin she had lost.
Of course I recognize that there are times when what we need to do is relax a bit. I spent ten minutes searching for my keys last week, only to find them in my back pocket. Ten frantic minutes because I need to be somewhere else and so needed my car key. In cases like this this we are likely limited by our own anxiety and expectations. I never put my keys in my back pocket, but there they were. Instead, I had checked the bathroom four times. I thought I was looking everywhere, but instead I was going over the same old ground again and again. It is hard to expect the unexpected. So in this parable, the women is relentlessly thorough, turning over and cleaning up every last thing until she discovers what she has lost.
Now let’s turn to what I’ve called, the story of the father and the lost child. Have you ever been lost? I asked a four year old this question yesterday and he said, “Yes, I was lost once in my house once.” Amused, I asked him to explain. It turns out his mom was looking for him, but he was hiding. “I wasn’t really in the house,” he said, smiling. “I was outside.”
Now, this significant experience for a child didn’t even register with his mom – she didn’t remember it. But parents, have you ever lost track of a child, even for a moment? Now we’re talking heart-pounding terror. Lynn Dunn described to me the feeling of losing her daughter once in a hardware store. With her mom’s back turned for just a moment, this three year old crawled inside a carpet tube and eventually fell asleep. It took forty-five minutes to find her, but during those forty-five minutes the store was closed, the police were called, and . . . heart pounding terror. When Lynn’s daughter was finally found she simply said, “I wasn’t lost. I knew where I was the whole time.” In this case, an insignificant happening for the child, and a harrowing experience for the parent.
I share all these stories, which you could multiply all afternoon, because they illustrate a key insight of these parables: being lost does not mean existing in a place outside the potential care and oversight of the one who is looking for us. Nothing was ever lost in our house, only misplaced, waiting to be found. For forty-five minutes, Lynn’s daughter was her entire world, her focus was laser sharp. The sheep lost in the wilderness was still in a place the shepherd could eventually find; the shadowy corner into which the coin had rolled was still within the household of the searching woman. Even the lost son found a ready welcome waiting for him when he finally “came to himself.” Indeed before he made it to the house, the watchful father went running down the road to greet him with open arms.
What these stories remind us is that none of us exist outside God’s embrace. None of us are ever lost. None need ever fear being lost. God is always seeking us. Thanks be to God.