Lost, Looked For and Welcomed Home

Le Retour de L’Enfant Prodigue by Marc Chagall 197

Luke 15   Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “Who among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with reckless living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the husks that the pigs were eating, but no one was giving anything to him. 17 But then he came to himself, and said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” (NASB)

We lose all kinds of things in life: valuable things—important moments and opportunities—cherished people—even ourselves. Sometimes whole peoples are lost in the forward tumult of the world.

We live in a time when a new consciousness is breaking through that we can no longer turn from if we are in anyway connected to the world. We must wake up to a new global awareness of our fellow human beings.

The current events in our country and the world are waking us up to many questions all at once—questions that do not yet have their answers. We can feel quite lost in the swells of the political battles and the current election scene, in the rising awareness that for some reason our brothers and sisters of color are treated vastly differently in this country, and we can no longer ignore the grave disparity that shapes peoples’ lives when they live below the poverty line.

Humanity is in the throes; those who have are scrambling to keep it at any cost, those who have not are struggling day to day to keep there heads above water and their hearts and bodies alive.

Never has there been such a potential in humankind to wake up, and be part of the world’s forward evolution. But so many are lost or intentionally left out of the conversation. Black people, jewish people, muslim people, gay people, trans people, disabled people, poor people. The list goes on of those systemically left behind or even outright abused in the name of some lopsided idea of progress, just unchecked fear.

There are movements that have long been stirring to remedy this situation, to help those who have been lost and left out to get back onto the great human life raft—that we can truly be in tis together. One of those movements began to visibly work into human history in the sixties, through the work of the Civil Rights Movement. But Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw even further when he saw the great connectedness between racism, and the military industrial complex, and the oppression of people through poverty. Some of his colleagues in the movement wanted him to stop at getting the laws changed for people of color—not to risk losing the ear of the president by choosing battles which might not be yet winnable. But he said: no, we have to keep going. We have to liberate people also from the chains of poverty, and help them wake up to power and become an agent of change on all levels of life. It was then that he truly became dangerous because he wanted to create a new world of radical inclusiveness, wherein EVERY life truly matters.

We have a great gift in the renewed sacraments given to the world as the endowment of the Movement for Religious Renewal. I think we don’t yet understand ourselves to be a movement—and struggle against the temptation of being happy with what we have and how far we have come. We have not yet fully grasped our mission: to remain in movement, and in movement for the world.

What are we in this movement to be renewing but the basic dignity and worth of every human being? We are gathered here at the altar not just to feel strengthened for our  own personal struggles—that too—but further to work at helping others who are lost to get found, to come to themselves, whatever that might mean for them. 

In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a description of the work of those who will follow him. He imagines for us a radical and active inclusivity. The shepherd who loses one sheep out of 100—well, any one of us could say: hey, 99 is still pretty good! But no! He leaves those 99 in the pasture grazing, and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.

The woman who loses her one coin—we have lost that one coin many times over—she turns the WHOLE house upside down to find it.

And the father whose son is lost—well, he still has one who runs the farm, but there is no joy like his when that lost son returns from the world, even his humbled state. He welcomes him like we would all like to feel welcomed at God’s table and in our human community.

We might have gotten comfortable thinking that we in The Christian Community do not need to get on board the social movements of our times—that our Christianity is one that helps people get liberated the slow way—that peoples’ karma will lead them here when it is time to a,liturgy that is so deeply healing. But perhaps instead we are not to wait—but to be the shepherd who goes out looking for the lost sheep—not to convert them to our pasture but to ask them what they need to eat.

Perhaps we are to work harder to turn our house upside down to find that lost coin.

Perhaps we are to BE the father—or the brother or the sister who welcomes anyone who is lost home with open arms. Perhaps God needs this of us, those who stand and work on the earth—to be his arms, his open heart, his grace in action.