“Sheep, Coins and Sinners”
September 15, 2013 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
You are at the gate,
handing over your boarding passes when you hear the cry that strikes terror
into your heart. “Wait! Where’s Mr. Big Nose?” Your 3 year-old has just
discovered that his most favorite and beloved companion is not there in his red
Spider Man backpack. His tattered, stained, gray-flannel-covered stuffed
elephant, without which he cannot ever, ever go to sleep, is nowhere to be
found. You can see the tears coming before they even start to fill his little
You are a super
parent. So you tell your spouse and the rest of the family to get on the plane.
“I’ll find Mr. Big Nose,” you promise. Then you turn around and rush back out
into the waiting area. Up and down the seats you hurry, you look underneath,
you look behind, you look down the vent by the window where the little boy was
watching the planes. No Mr. Big Nose. You are getting frantic and the boarding
line is growing shorter.
Then you run down the
terminal back to security. You stop at the end of every conveyer belt to ask
the TSA agents if they’ve seen an elephant. No, no, no. By then you’re a little
wild-eyed and you don’t even stop to worry about the TSA guy who is eyeing you
strangely and talking into his shoulder microphone.
You are about to give
up and run back to the gate when you remember that agonizing trip to the
restroom. Your son was sure he had to go… until he saw that strange potty with
the plastic cover that rotated around the seat. Then he was sure he didn’t have
to go, that he could hold it. You of course knew different, but there was a
five or ten minute little discussion and altercation there in the stall before
wee-wee was made and all was well again. And… now you recall, clear as day, Mr.
Big Nose was hung by his naming appendage on the coat hook while all this was
So it’s off at a dash
to that restroom. Out of the corner of your eye you see the last passenger boarding,
the waiting area empty. You crash the door. Fortunately that stall you were in
is vacant. You push the door back and look behind it, but your heart sinks, no
gray elephant hangs there. You check every stall to make sure, but it’s gone.
Your mind begins to picture the crying boy, the long plane ride, the sleepless
night when you’re back home.
Despondent, you make
your way out of the restroom and turn to run back to the gate. All of a sudden,
the other restroom door opens and an airport cleaner pushes her cart out. And
lo and behold, there he is, his trunk wrapped around a mop handle, Mr. Big
Nose. You grab him, give the startled cleaner a hug, and bolt toward the plane.
From ten yards away
you see the gate agent unlatch the door to close it. “Wait!” you cry. She turns
and frowns as you arrive at the last second. She lets you on and as you walk
down the jetway you can hear him crying even though they’re seated in row 24.
So you step quickly onto the plane, nod to the flight attendant, and wave Mr.
Big Nose aloft as make your way down the aisle.
Your family spots you
and the crying stops. A smile and joy replaces the tears. And then the whole
plane cheers and applauds as you arrive at your seat and hand over that
cherished creature to his small owner. Crisis averted. The lost has been found.
That, says Jesus, is
just how they cheer and applaud in heaven whenever He finds and brings back to
Himself another lost sinner. He didn’t talk about stuffed animals, but He made
that same point with two little stories about a real lost sheep and a small but
precious coin. He told those stories to people who didn’t seem to understand.
Picture some grouchy
business passenger on that airplane with your family. He’s in first class and
he doesn’t care about the crying kid back in the cheap seats. He was hoping the
plane might take off a little early so that he could get to his next
appointment in the next city. When everyone else was clapping for the arrival
of Mr. Big Nose, he’s just shaking his head and complaining because the flight
attendant told him he had to wait until after takeoff for another drink. That’s
how the Pharisees and scribes in verse 2 responded to what Jesus was doing.
They grumbled because
Jesus sat down to talk and eat with “tax collectors and sinners.” We know who
the tax collectors were, mercenary Jews who collaborated with the occupation
force from Rome to cheat money out of their own people. “Sinners” is a bigger
category. It probably includes some obvious candidates like prostitutes, but
also those Jews who simply didn’t or couldn’t live a more religious life. They
didn’t have the inclination or perhaps the time or money to eat a kosher diet
or make the proper sacrifices on the holy days. They didn’t wear the right
clothes or wash their hands the correct way. So they all got lumped together
under that ugly term, “sinners.”
Jesus’ stories here
invite you and me to consider where we are sitting in all this. Are we back in
economy cheering when the lost toy comes down the aisle, or are we sitting in
first class grumbling because the plane isn’t leaving when we want? Are we
seated among the good, decent, comfortable religious people, glaring out at all
the poor, dirty, sinful folks around us, or are we clapping our hands in
celebration every time our Lord finds and redeems another lost person?
Jesus told two stories
to the Pharisees and to us. The lost items are a sheep and a coin. The
searchers are a man and a woman. The emotions are pain and passion and joy.
The pain comes
first. It would have been obvious to the people who first heard these stories.
The sheep herder and the housewife searched for precious possessions. A
lost sheep was a significant capital loss. You who grew up on a farm or ranch
know the kind of grief when you lose an animal. You may have hundreds, but
losing one is painful.
The coin was one tenth
of a cherished collection. Perhaps they were strung on a necklace or a
headband. Those coins may have been the woman’s life savings. But she was poor,
and even one coin would be irreplaceable. Her loss could mean poverty at
some point in her old age.
Jesus wants us to make
the jump from lost things to lost people. If losing a possession can
hurt so much, then what about a lost person. God hurts for the lost people of
the world. We may not think about it much, but God has feelings. God suffers
when He sees people losing their lives, losing their souls in all the ways it
happens in our world. But that pain doesn’t just make God sad. It makes Him passionate,
passionate to find the lost.
The shepherd’s passion
is there in how he focuses on the single lost sheep. Verse 4 tells us the other
ninety-nine can be left behind. All that matters is bringing back the lost one.
Jesus said he would go after that sheep “until he finds it.” He will not stop,
he will not rest, he will not worry about the rest of the flock. Everything
else takes second place to this search. His passion is all consuming.
The woman’s passion is
in her thorough search in verse 8. She abandoned other work. Her house probably
had only one opening for daylight through the door, so she lit a lamp in the
middle of the day. Then she swept the entire floor, inch by inch, waiting to
see the gleam of her coin shining in the light. Just like the man, Jesus says,
she will search “until she finds it.” He added for her the adverb, “carefully.”
She is passionate to find what’s lost.
We have a God who is
passionately looking for lost people. He won’t stop while any are still out
there. He doesn’t give up. He goes where he needs to go and does what He needs
to do to bring sinners home. He lights a light into the world and then sweeps
through it until that light has touched every corner. God’s pain for those He
loves drives Him on and on to find them. This is God’s passion.
How far would God go to
find the lost? Until His pain and His passion came together. Jesus came looking
for sinners even when He had to look at them from a Cross. He searched for them
in the dark corners of a tomb. He brings them home even if He has to bring them
back from the dead. Jesus came to seek and to save sinners. He came for us.
Some teachers of
religion talk about how faith is a search for truth, a search for meaning, a
search for God. But our faith, our faith in Jesus Christ is the conviction that
God comes searching for us. We don’t find God. The lost sinner doesn’t find her
way home. God finds us. God reaches out and picks up His beloved children and
carries them home.
You have been found. Hear
these parables and hear that if you hear nothing else. Jesus Christ came to
seek you out and bring you home. If you believe that, then all is well. You are
already home. You are found. If you don’t yet believe, then it is still the
case that Jesus has come to you, that His search has located you, and that all
He wants is your willingness to be found. Being found is what it means to be a
Many years ago now,
while I was in college, there was an evangelism campaign with the slogan “I
found it!” Rallies and bumper stickers and tracts and lots of encouragement to
go out and invite others to “find it” too. I am sure that many people were
brought to Christ in that program. I certainly won’t dismiss the sincere
efforts of all the Christians who shared their faith because of it. But Jesus
didn’t invite people to find Him. He found them.
One of my professors was
a Lutheran. His bumper sticker proclaimed, “We never lost it!” But that wasn’t
quite right either. It’s not what we’ve found or what we have or anything we
do. What we needed was a bumper sticker which read, “I was found.” That’s it.
Jesus came looking for us. That is the testimony we can honestly share. “Jesus
found me and He is looking for you too.”
Think about being
found and we start to move into the third and greatest emotion of these
parables. We discover our own joy and we discover the joy of God. Searchers
rejoice when the lost is found. God rejoices when He finds one of us.
Forget the simple
relief you feel when the car keys or your glasses finally turn up. God’s joy calls
for celebration, for calling friends over, for hugs and tears and pats on the back
and congratulations of every sort. It is the time to say over and over again,
“I am so glad. Oh, I am so glad! I thought she would never be found. And now,
here she is!”
There’s a scene like
that in heaven every time one of us is found. God and His angels are
line-dancing and singing “Hallelujah!” for every new Christian. Jesus is
saying, “I am so glad. Oh, I am so glad!” And on earth there is one more sheep
for whom He came looking who is so glad to be found.
God searches for the
lost. His pain, His passion and His joy are all there. Jesus told these stories
to invite you and me to feel those emotions too. Sinners were being found as
Jesus ate with them, but the Pharisees felt only anger and confusion. Instead,
Jesus taught them—and us—to feel the joy God feels.
If you haven’t found
Jesus yet, rest assured, He’s found you. He came and took part in all your
pain, even all the pain caused by your sins. And He found you and He’s just
waiting for you to look up and accept that, to let yourself be found.
And if you’re worried
about someone, someone who seems either a little or a whole lot lost—I know
what that worry is like—rest assured. He’s already found him, found her. Jesus
came and died and rose again for that person you care so much about. He’s found
that lost sheep. May you one day have the joy of seeing Him carry that person
But these parables
aren’t really so much about the lost. These two and the next, the Prodigal Son,
are about those already found, about most of us. Jesus wanted those who already
seem to love God to have a part in His love for those still to be found. He
wanted them, wanted us to feel the pain, the passion and the joy of finding His
That search is why we
do so much of what we do. It’s why we talk about missions and support
missionaries. It’s why we teach Sunday School for children. It’s why we’re
providing an office for Love In the Name of Christ. It’s why a home group is
studying a book about how to help others in the name of Jesus. It’s why we open
this space for lost souls to sleep on cold nights. Sometimes people complain,
“You just do that because it makes you feel good.” Well, yeah. To join in God’s
search for the lost is to have a chance to share in His joy when they are
So join in the pain
and the passion and the joy. Because those come out of a deeper emotion. They
come out of love, out of God’s love for those who are lost.
Let me tell you about
the first day of our marriage. Three months before, on her birthday, I gave my
wife pearl earrings. At the time, they were the only earrings she had ever worn,
clip-ons because Beth still can’t stand the idea of getting pierced. She wore
them for our wedding. In our hotel room that evening, she realized they were
The next morning we
searched every inch of my 1971 Vega station wagon. We found one earring down in
the carpet. That was it. We had stopped to cut off the pop cans her brothers
tied to the bumper and we assumed the other pearl fell on the street. It was
gone. Beth cried and cried to think she lost this gift I gave her. I didn’t
feel as bad. It was just an earring. We’ll buy some more. We’ll get another one
made. Forget it. This our first day of marriage. Let’s quit looking and have
some fun! More tears.
I love her. What could
I do? I kept looking. We got in the car and drove back to the street where we
stopped to remove the cans. We weren’t quite sure where we stopped, so we
walked a whole block, peering down at the asphalt. I’m sure the people who
lived there thought we were nuts. I thought so too. We didn’t find it.
Our search was
fruitless, but I had to look. I didn’t care much about the earring. But I cared
about Beth. I love my wife so I looked. If we love God, then we will join Him
as He looks for the lost. Even if we find it hard to care, even if the search
is fruitless, we will join in because we love the One who loved us and came
looking for us. And we may be surprised.
The second day after
the wedding we drove back to my in-laws’ home. Beth’s mother met us at the door…
with the earring! After the wedding, Laura, her maid-of-honor found it, found
it… well you ask Beth where she found it. I’ll just say that it fell off
when Beth gave Laura a hug. The lost was found! You should have seen the tears
of joy that fell then.
Tears of joy will fall
when God surprises you by finding someone you helped search for. You will share
the celebration of the angels. You will share the joy of God. Jesus still goes
out looking for the lost. Sometimes He will use your eyes to do the
looking and your hands to bring them home. Let’s keep looking. Let’s
share in the love and share in the joy.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj