September 11 2022 Only the Lost and the Least Luke 15:1-10

A woman approached her pastor with a question: "Where is the lost and found department in our church? I've lost my glasses and I just can't see well."   The pastor replied, "We don't actually have a lost and found department. You might check the secretary's desk. Maybe you'll find your glasses there." After the woman left, the pastor rethought his answer. "Actually, the whole church is a lost and found department. The business of the church is to find the lost."

Jesus' parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10) was the attitude of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They grumbled when they saw tax collectors and sinners being welcomed by Jesus.

Jesus didn't approve of the behavior of tax collectors and sinners, but he demonstrated God's welcome to all people who repent. The religious leaders regarded tax collectors as the least worthy members of society. After all, in Jesus' time, tax collectors were Jews who were traitors. They collected money from fellow Jews to give to the Romans. In the process they lined their own pockets by taking extra for themselves. Tax collectors were the scum of society, the least important people around.  Religious leaders considered themselves better than the common folk spiritually, morally, and economically. Sinners were regarded as hopeless, lost souls.   Like the woman with lost glasses, these religious leaders didn't see very well. They were shortsighted. Jesus told them parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin to correct their lack of vision.

The word, "lost," is generally used in two ways. The word may describe someone who sins and is separated from God and people by that sin. The word may also be used to describe someone who is confused by his or her surroundings (geographic, mental, or spiritual) and can't find his or her way home. The Bible uses the term "lost" both ways.   Jesus welcomed tax collectors and other bad people who had broken the commandments of God and the laws of the land. He didn't welcome them because he approved of their behavior. He welcomed them because he saw what the religious leaders of his day didn't see; their need.

Looking down on evildoers is understandable but dangerous. We don't want to promote or approve of evil people doing evil deeds, but it's dangerous because before God, a self-righteous, judgmental attitude is as bad as the deeds of evil people. The human malady being addressed here is self-righteousness, expressing itself through grumbling (or murmuring in some translations). Looking down on people can say more about ourselves than about them.

The second use of the term, "lost," has to do with drifting off in the wrong direction because of being inexperienced or naive, like a child who doesn't know better. Jesus called a child whom he put among them and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It is dangerous for a child to wander off because a child can't protect itself from dangers. Someone or something can take advantage of a wandering child.  In like manner, it's dangerous for a sheep to wander off because it is vulnerable to being attacked by wolves, or being turned over on its back. A sheep turned over on its back is totally helpless, unable to right itself without help. A little sheep can lose its footing and fall off a mountain to a shelf below and there die from exposure to the elements of nature.   That's why the good shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes out after one lost sheep. A sheep can be lost as it drifts away from the shepherd and the flock. So can human beings.

In Exodus 32:7-14, we hear about the lost Hebrews in the wilderness. They wandered off from God and from their moral traditions. They were lost in the wilderness.

Moses was sent by God to go down to Egypt and say to Pharaoh, "Let my people go." Moses was called by God to lead the people to the promised land. As slaves, the Hebrews were hopeless and lost. Freed from slavery, they were lost in a different way.  Because of their disobedience and rebellion, the Hebrews were lost in the wilderness as they traveled toward the promised land. They complained and murmured against Moses and God. God, through Moses, sought to save the lost Hebrews. They were lost both in the spiritual sense and the sense of wandering in the wilderness. 

Like the ancient Hebrews, we are lost spiritually on our journey in the wilderness.

Like them we are lured away from God by attractive distractions and false gods.

Like them we easily get diverted by wrong turns on our journey toward the promised land.

Like them, we need to hear and heed the Word of God to get back on the path that leads to eternal life. We need to be found and saved.

It is encouraging to hear that God seeks the lost. It is also encouraging to hear that God seeks the least. One sheep seems considerably less important than the 99 that do not wander off, but God thinks otherwise.

God is a seeker. He searches until he finds the lost and the least. That's the point of the parable of the lost sheep. That's also the point of the parable of the lost coin.

In the parable of the lost coin, Jesus was saying that each individual, created in God's image, is worthy of God's attention. God focuses on each of his children because he loves every one of us as if there is only one of us.      A man was playing on his church's baseball team when, suddenly, he looked and saw that his ring finger was bare. He had lost his wedding ring. The game stopped. An extensive search was made, but the ring couldn't be found. When he got home that night and told his wife, she was terribly upset. "How could you have lost that ring?" she said bitterly. "How could you? That ring was one of our most precious possessions."

"You're right," he replied. "I really feel bad about losing it. We searched for two hours, but just couldn't find it. I posted a notice at the ball field. Maybe someone from one of the other teams will find it."   V     Two days later, the manager of another baseball team found the ring in the dust. He returned it to the owner. The husband and wife went out for dinner that night and celebrated the restoration of the lost ring.

As the husband and wife rejoiced in finding his wedding ring, so the woman in the parable rejoiced in finding her lost coin. In the same way, the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. God grieves over every lost soul and celebrates when a lost soul returns to him.

As God cares for the least, we, too, should care for the needy, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the prisoners, and those with other overwhelming needs. Jesus said, "Anything you did for the least of my people, you did for me." As Max Lucado puts it, "The sign of the saved is their love for the least." Love for the least and the lost flies directly in the face of the way many people think.

Christianity offers a revolutionary reversal of values. Saint Paul the Apostle, the premier missionary and theologian of all time understood the depth of his own sin. Paul said, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15-16). In other words, Paul saw himself as one of the lost and the least because of his sin.

In that respect, we are like him. If we don't see our sin as more offensive than the sins of others, we haven't understood our sin at all. The primary comparison is not between you as a sinner and me as a sinner, but between me as a sinner and God as the righteous one. We are called to compare ourselves to God. That eliminates self-righteousness and arrogance.

The distressed, displaced, and despised of this world may be better in touch with their need for God than the successful. The down-and-out may be more open to the call to repentance than the up-and-out.

In addition, whatever we do — or don't do — for the lost and the least, we are doing — or not doing — for God. Christianity is all about finding and welcoming the lost and the least.