So the gospel this morning begins with the “righteous” folks’ annoyance with Jesus’ obvious acceptance of people who are not even trying to get it right. Jesus eats with…hangs out with…spends his time with…”sinners”. You know…the people who do the same stupid stuff again and again. The people who hurt others and themselves on a daily basis. The people that who just can’t make a good decision to save their lives and drag everyone around them down along with them. That’s how the gospel this morning starts…and at the end…Jesus says “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Now, one would logically think that between the beginning and end of this bible story…these sinners would have heroically and nobly changed their lives…that they would have actually repented and worked hard to turn their lives around…so they were now “deserving” sinners being cheered on by the angels at the finish line.
But here’s the problem. The stories don’t exactly follow that line of reasoning. Because I, for one, have never seen a coin repent. They sit there. They jingle sometimes. But repent? Never. And I’m pretty sure sheep don’t repent either. They don’t make life changing decisions or turn around and do something new and different. Sheep are very good at just doing the same dumb thing over and over again. Really, it seems that all the sheep and the coin do in these stories…is get found. They get found by very ordinary people… people who are not “heroes” by any stretch of the imagination. They are dirty shepherds and women with only 10 coins to their name. But they find the coin. And they find the sheep. And when they find what they’ve lost?…they are over the moon! It may not matter to anyone but them…but they don’t care. They are so filled with joy, they set about letting everybody else know…and I can only imagine the responses from everyone else included some raised eyebrows and incredulous looks and basically, the general feeling that ‘who cares’? You found a coin…woopty-do!
But there you go…this is what God is like, according to Jesus.
Repentance, in God’s view….isn’t nearly so much about what any of us do to turn our lives around. Repentance is about a ridiculous God who cares about people no one else does and stops everything to look for them…and won’t stop until they’re found. It’s about a God who never, ever gives up. Because every single person…matters.
We live in a world where so many are lost. A world where lives are lost and people are lost and hope is lost more often than it is not. Fifteen years ago, thousands of people lost their lives when the twin towers collapsed. And families placed pictures all around the city…searching for their loved ones that would never be found. Since then, thousands more have lost their lives around their world…in Afghanistan and Iraq…in Syria and Sudan…in Liberia and Somalia…in Ukraine and Pakistan. Children who have lost parents, parents who have lost children. There’s a whole lot of violence and hatred and terrorism and bombs and gunshots and war and fear. There’s a whole lot of lost people… and God thinks they matter. Every single one of them.
Some of you may have heard that a boy named Jacob Wetterling’s remains were found this past week after 27 years. I grew up in Minnesota. I was in college when he disappeared. I remember Jacob. For years, his face was all over Minnesota. For years, his parents searched and hoped. His community searched and hoped. And this week, we learned that hope was lost. His life was lost. And now, Jacob personifies a parent’s worst nightmare. Jacob joins the unending list of the lost children — The school girls abducted by Boko Haram. The children whose parents desperately load them in trucks or on trains or on rubber rafts to flee the violence in their homelands. The kids who are strapped to suicide bombs. The young people bought and sold in human trafficking….that, yes, does happen, even in Washington state. There are so many lost ones. And today…I need Jesus to be a foolish shepherd and a crazy old woman…who doesn’t give up until he finds the ones who are lost.
Yes…in this world of ours, people get lost all the time. Our loved ones get lost. We get lost. In addiction. In grief. In depression. In fear. In hate. In anger. In loneliness. In worry. In making one lousy decision after another. And sometimes…sometimes in ways that are worse than we thought we could have imagined.
But here is the good news…not that you found your way out of the mess…not that you…or they… managed to turn things around or fix what was broken. But this is the good news. That God is crazy…and never gives up…and finds the lost. And brings us back home with joy that cannot be contained. That every single person matters to God and God isn’t deterred by anything…not even death…in his relentless pursuit of us. Here is the good news. You know it. God has you. He holds you. And he’s not letting you go.
And when we’re tired…when we can’t hold it together anymore…when we are lost…we don’t have to find our way back. Jesus find us. And brings us home.