Text: Luke 15: 1-10
Perhaps you, like me, are a fan of spy movies. Films that are full of espionage, danger and thrills. I’ve always been a fan of a certain British spy, though the older movies are difficult to watch due to some of the attitudes that prevailed at that time. I am also a fan of the Mission Impossible series, the movie the Saint, I confess that I never watched the television series.
Perhaps my favourite spy file is Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. It features a senior CIA agent played by Redford mentoring a young protégée. The movie spans at least a decade and features a betrayal where Redford has Pitt’s love interest picked up by a foreign government. The movie, while packed with spy jargon and action, centers on Pitt’s willingness to forgive Redford. His willingness to forgive extends so far that he trusts Redford will actually enact a plan to save his love interest. It is all very well done and feels very satisfying by the end. That a message of forgiveness runs down the middle of the movie is rather compelling.
Secret Agents and spies it is all rather exciting. They go out into dangerous territory looking for a clue or to seek a lost item that might restore peace or at least the balance of power. Which is why a young Alex Baldwin playing Jack Ryan goes looking for a missing Soviet era sub in the middle of the North Atlantic. The only sub in the Russian fleet whose commander possess a flawless Scottish accent and whose actor was once a dashing British spy. You see how it comes full circle?
In our scripture lesson from Luke this morning Jesus is not advocating that we all go and become secret agents. However, he does tell a parable about searching for that which is lost. When a sheep is missing the owner goes out and finds it. When he does find the missing sheep he celebrates and then invites his friends to celebrate.
Jesus equates that lost sheep to a sinner who repents. The comparison Jesus is making is not lost on us. We are sinners and when we confess and repent God rejoices. I could probably finish the sermon here and you would all get the point. Be honest with yourself, confess before God and all will be well. Yes, I could finish here but I won’t because there is something intrinsically valuable about searching for that which is lost.
We all understand the comparison that Jesus was making between a lost sheep and a sinner. We get it, this isn’t a parable that goes over our heads. It doesn’t leave us wondering what we missed like the disciples so often seem to do. This one we get, which means we need to really examine the parable Jesus is telling us and we need to understand the value of that which is lost.
What I find so interesting about this parable is that it is situated between two groups of people. We learn that Jesus has started hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and that the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about it. Now we should not that in the Greek the word for ‘grumble’ implies ongoing action. They didn’t just grumble once, they kept grumbling about it.
So we have two groups, sinners and Pharisees. The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous and were upset about what Jesus was teaching, mainly because he was making them look bad. The sinners were intrigued because in Jesus they were able to receive something that had been denied them: forgiveness.
What intrigues me is that both the sinners and Pharisees are lost. They are both missing out on the fullness of God’s kingdom and plan. However, it is only the sinners who seem to realize this. A powerful message to those who are on the inside looking out, that often we need to look at ourselves and assess our situation. That no matter who we are, we all are in need of forgiveness.
Jesus, who is clearly talking with the tax collector and sinners group, in telling his parable does not point fingers and say they have it wrong and you have it right. Jesus is not interested in putting people in categories. Instead he accepts people as they are and works to draw them to himself. To share about God and to remind them that forgiveness is available. In fact, God desires to forgive and restore the relationship with us.
In this way finding something that is lost is about more than going out and looking. Yes, that is a part of searching for that which is lost. We must go and find it, which is why we are commanded to go out into the world. Why the disciples were told they would be fishers of men, because Jesus seeks to challenge and change our lives. To draw us towards righteousness.
In searching for something which is lost we invariably discover something about ourselves. Often what we discover is that which we are looking for is right before us all along. Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist illustrates this point rather poignantly.
Very often when we go looking for something we discover something about ourselves. Sometimes it is ‘us’ who is lost. Sometimes we realize that and sometimes we don’t.
In his book Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Center of the Sermon (Abingdon, 2008, pp. 159-60) Paul Scott Wilson, professor of preaching at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto tells this story:
Allan (not his real name) came to me at my previous church in Hamilton, wanting to be baptized. He was a child (or victim) of the “me decade” and felt compelled to leave home and family to find himself and, of course, lost himself, becoming a stranger to himself and the world, wandering the streets of Vancouver trapped in a world of drugs. One night he managed to get off the street for a night in one of the shelters. He crashed into the bunk, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the groans, and trying not to be overcome by the odors of the strangers in the bunks around him. He didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know who he was, but he wanted it to be over with and he considered how he might take his own life.
He was shaken out of this thoughts when someone came in and called out a name from another world.
“Is Allan Roberts here?”
That had been his name once but he hadn’t heard it for some time. He hardly knew Allan Roberts anymore. It couldn’t be him being called.
The caller persisted, “Is there anybody named Allan Roberts here?”
No one else answered and so Allan took a risk. “I’m Allan Roberts (or used to be).”
“Your mother’s on the phone.”
My mother, no, you’ve made a mistake. I don’t know where I am, how could my mother know where I am?
“If you’re Allan Roberts, your mother’s on the phone.”
Unsure what to expect, he went to the desk in the hall and took the receiver. “Allan,” it was his mother, “It’s time for you to come home.”
“Mom, I don’t know where I am, I have no money, you don’t know what I’m like anymore. I can’t go home.”
“It’s time for you to come home. There’s a Salvation Army officer who’s coming to you with a plane ticket. He’s going to take you to the airport to get you home.”
She hadn’t known where he was, she just called every shelter and hostel for months until she found him.
He went home and, supported and loved by his mother, who had never ceased to know him even though he had forgotten himself, and influenced and inspired by the faith that had sustained his mother’s hope and love, he began attending church services and one day came to my office seeking to be baptized.
He did not find his own way to my office . . . A path, not of his own making, [was] made by the love that found him, that knew him better than he knew himself, and invited him to “follow me.” (reference).
A powerful story about searching for that which is lost. About recognizing how each of us in our own way is also lost and in need not only of God’s love, but of love from one another. In the parable Jesus tells us that when the sheep was found the owner rejoiced and then invited the community to come and rejoice with him.
We should also rejoice and celebrate the work of the kingdom that goes into bringing the lost home. When we share the Good News that is found in God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you might be like a secret agent this week and lead someone who is lost towards God. Most importantly, take time this week to ask for God’s forgiveness and to recognize the ways that you may be lost. Amen.