Lose a sheep, lose a coin, doesn’t really matter, they both need to be found.
I have heard that Disney World has more than 46,000 parking spaces. Can you imagine how many people can’t find their car after the end of the fireworks each night? Even though they try to help the absent minded by labeling sections after Disney characters: Pluto, Goofy, Dopey, etc., still, so many people lose their cars that Disney employs a small army of people called, “The Parking Cast.” They use a whole host of tools to help, including perseverance, technology and clues elicited from guests. The Parking Cast’s only job is to reassure those frazzled folks and to reunite them with their lost automobiles.
When most of us find something we’ve lost, we don’t call all of our friends and invite them to a block party. Yet Jesus tells two stories in this week’s Gospel about things lost and found, and the owners in both instances did just that. They threw a party, and they greatly rejoiced with their friends and neighbors over the find.
In the first story, a shepherd loses one sheep, and he leaves the other 99 to look for the one lost sheep. That too is really kind of foolish by our standards don’t you think? I mean you and I would probably take the lost sheep as a tax write off, and stick with the 99 sure financial gains. But, no, this shepherd goes off to hunt down the little lost lamb, and throws the party of a lifetime in its honor.
Similarly, in the second story, a woman lost a single coin, and she sweeps the entire house looking for it, and when she finds it, she spends twice that much on party trays and local wines to party with her friends over the find. I don’t know about you, but as I get older I have a saying when I see a coin in the street: “I don’t bend my spine, unless it’s bigger than a dime.”
When Jesus tells the story of the shepherd’s lost sheep and the woman’s lost coin, and the resulting parties, he asks his listeners, “Wouldn’t you do the same?” Their answer like our answer would be, “probably not.”
You see, Jesus is once again, using hyperbole and humor to make a point. These stories really aren’t as much about us as they are about God.
God, Jesus is saying, actually has a need to be connected with us, and when it happens, God is so happy, so thoroughly thrilled, that God throws a party in heaven complete with angels dancing and the saints engaging in everything from food and pillow fights to toasting with champagne.
This is a parable about spirituality, that is, the need we have, and the need God has for us BOTH to be connected.
And I believe that part of what Jesus is saying here is that God would like our congregations to become like the Parking Cast, to see our mission as one of reassuring a frazzled people and to help them to find their God.
So often people read the part of this Gospel where Jesus talks about “rejoicing over one repentant sinner,” and they say to themselves, “O.K., I see what this is about, it’s about the fact that I’m a terrible sinful person, and unless I do some things right and real quick, the only party that will be thrown for me will be a really hot one hosted by Lucifer.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why Jesus didn’t stop with the story of the lost sheep, and he added the story of the lost coin. You might argue, albeit on a thin thread, that a sheep might regret having strayed, but I ask you, how can a silver coin repent? THE FACT IS, IT CAN’T! A silver coin can’t do anything on its own. It is only found because of the diligence of the one who is looking for it.
What we must repent of here is the sin of thinking that we can rescue and find ourselves, or that we must DO something to cause God to search for us. As the Parking Cast, we must be willing to believe ourselves, and just as importantly, we must be willing to convince others that God never stops trying to connect with us, and that when the connection is made we are worthy of a party in heaven because nothing pleases God more than being in relationship with us.
If we are lost or if we are estranged from God, I guarantee you that it isn’t God who has called off the search. Our Christian Spirituality must convince us and others that nothing in our past, nothing we have done or have not done can cause us to loose our parking stub.
Jesus wants us to know that God is first and foremost in the business of finding the lost, not of making a messianic buck off those who have not strayed, for there are no such people. The ninety-nine righteous persons who don’t need to be found is a rhetorical device in this parable because, in fact, there are not and never have been any such people anywhere.(*)
So I ask you to become part of the Parking Cast for God, and to help convince a lost and troubled world that life is more than a people trap, that it doesn’t matter if we have parked in Dopey or if we’ve acted dopey, God wants to find us and to be eternally connected with us. God will never treat us as a write off. We are the most valuable of all coins, and God is willing to bend and to stoop as far as it takes to become part of our lives.
Let’s convince the whole world that there’s a party just ready and waiting to be thrown in their honor, and that each and every one is a guest of honor in the sight of God!
(*) See “The Parables of Grace,” by Robert F. Capon, Pg. 37
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