Scripture Luke 15:1-32 – Third Sunday in Lent – March 19, 2017
You sailors know all about this already. You sailors know that our Creator God gave us a sure-fire method to find our way as far back as the initiation of the universe. Every year the Mystic Seaport offers a course on it for those sailing on the sea – “Celestial Navigation” – how to know where you are and where you’re going using the Sun and the stars.
We automobile drivers enjoy a host of navigation systems as well now, based in satellite technology, some more accurate and convenient than others. We have navigation systems now that not only give us directions, but the road and traffic conditions along the route, too. In fact, not too long ago, one of the morning TV news shows tested in real-time on air three of the systems against each other by enlisting three different drivers to leave at the same time from the same place to drive into New York City to the same destination on a weekday morning, each using a different navigation system. There was the one that came already installed in the car. There was the one that came already installed on the smartphone and there was the one that came as a separate downloadable app. It doesn’t really matter which system won; all the drivers arrived safely at their destination; just at markedly different times and through a variety of routes and traffic conditions.
Yes, there are many ways to navigate where we’re going; and that’s a good thing because there is a whole host of ways to get lost, too, whether we’re sailing, driving or walking on our own two feet. Typical is becoming distracted while driving and missing the turn or zoning out and missing the exit, like ten miles ago missing the exit. Or wandering off from the campsite, in search of wood or water or latrine, deep in your own thoughts, somewhat disconnected from reality. Both of these much like a lone lost sheep…brain not engaged 100% and before you know it, you’re not where you’re supposed to be.
Or there’s also the kind of lost as in becoming separated from the group. You stop to gaze at the painting just a few minutes too long and when you turn around, the rest of the tour group have disappeared. Through no one’s fault, really, you are no longer connected to the others with whom you belong. Like a lost coin, for instance. By the way, you may be interested in what I learned about the woman’s lost coin this week, the one that unexplainably became separated from the rest of the coins. The woman may have engaged in the careful search simply because of pure economic necessity, but there is another possible explanation, a much more romantic one. Biblical scholar William Barclay writes:
“The mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. For years maybe a girl would scrape and save to amass her ten coins, for the headdress was almost the equivalent of her wedding ring. When she had it, it was so inalienably hers that it could not even be taken from her for debt. It may well be that it was one of these coins that the woman had lost, and so she searched for it as any woman would search if she [had] lost her marriage ring.”
So there’s the unintentional getting lost through distraction or by separation, like a lone sheep or a single coin, but then there’s another kind of losing our way which comes from things like our greed, or lust – wander or otherwise – or simply our desire to short-cut: to short-cut the work, the waiting, the “paying our dues” so to speak, which usually comes before rewards like promotions or salary increases or… inheritances. As we heard in the parable of the prodigal son, we can get really lost if we take those kind of turns. Dead-ends, dangerous neighborhoods, no cell service at all.
But, see, this entire Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke is not about us. It’s not about our getting lost, no matter how it happens. It’s not about our finding our way back. Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke is about God, not us. It’s about God finding us more than our getting lost, because, frankly, we’re always getting lost. It’s about the navigation system God has which can pinpoint our exact location at any hour and has the infinite capability to read our condition.
Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke is about the unceasing efforts and the unmitigated joy of the shepherd and the woman; and when we get to the father in the last parable, it is about a God who waits for us when we take off, who prays for us when we squander our gifts, who looks for us down for the road every night when we still refuse to admit and submit to the One who knows better. God is the one who runs toward us with compassion and forgiveness and joy and celebration as we finally crawl back home again.
Lost people are way more complicated than lost sheep or lost coins. Through these parables Jesus was trying to explain to the Pharisees and the scribes what God was like so they could understand Jesus’ gravitation towards lost sinners. Barclay writes: “No Pharisee had ever dreamed of a God like that”…one who actually searched for people…[they] might have agreed that if a man came crawling home to God in self-abasement and prayed for pity he might find it; but [they] would never have conceived of a God who went out to search for sinners.”
My friends, God has given us a sky full of stars with which to find our way on the sea and a variety of apps, maps and tools to navigate the land, but when we have lost our moral, ethical, spiritual way, it is God who does the searching and the finding, the forgiving and embracing. During this Lenten season, and every season, may we come to ourselves and throw up a flare and walk, drive, sail, crawl or leap toward our God and the love and the light and the mercy waiting for each and every one of us. We may be lost but we will be found. Amen.