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Thy Kingdom Come: Finding Lost Things

Finding Lost Things

Luke 15:1-10


Read Luke 15:1-10


Management consultant Ken Tucker shares a story about the great lengths a person will go to find something of great value:

Bill Adams, CEO of a large hospital in Virginia, received a frantic call from a woman. “My mother came into your hospital with her wedding ring, and now we can’t find it,” she said. “I want to make an appointment to discuss this with you.” At the meeting she explained that her mother had died a few days earlier as a result of cancer. With moist eyes, she described how her father and mother had been married for 50 years and what a wonderful loving couple and caring parents they had been together. Then she told Bill how the day before, her dad, with tears in his eyes, had said to her, “It would mean so much for me to be able to slip that ring back on her finger before we bury her.” “So,” the woman continued, “I was hoping that there was some way you could help me fulfill his dream of putting that ring back on my mother’s finger. Is there anyone you can think of who may be able to help us find that ring?”


Bill was deeply moved by the woman’s story and her sad, but calm, manner, and he promised to do all he could to locate the ring. “In my heart, I yearned for a way to help them,” Bill told me. “I left my office and stopped by the ward where the lady had spent her final days. The staff told me how she had lost so much weight during the time she was there that they suspected her ring might have fallen off her finger. They had looked on the floor underneath the bed, around the room, and in the bathroom. They had searched everywhere they could think of, but it was all to no avail. I went back to my office disappointed. But I was restless and not ready to give up. I just had this strong sense that there was something more I needed to do. Then I got an idea. I went into the basement of the hospital and located the laundry chute. I climbed into the bin and tumbled amidst the wet, soggy, dirty laundry. Now remember, this is dirty HOSPITAL laundry. To my surprise, I found the ring. I almost cried right there and then. I will never forget the look on that woman’s face or on her father’s face when I handed them the ring the next day.”[i]


What’s the most you’ve done in search of something you lost? Maybe it didn’t involve climbing around in the laundry bin with the soiled linens of a hospital, but we’ve all gone to some length to find something we lost. As both a youth pastor and a parent I’ve gone dumpster diving to find an orthodontic retainer accidentally left on a lunch tray. Anyone else been there? As a parent, I was in the dumpster at Eastern Elementary, after school, on goulash day. Know how many kids actually ate the goulash that was on their plates that day? Not very many, based on the amount of goulash in the school dumpster. Both retainers were found, by the way.


As we move through the book of Luke, we find Jesus again and again countering social convention, touching and eating with the wrong kinds of people. Look at Vv. 1-2. This isn’t a passing theme. Luke highlights it throughout his gospel. In back to back parables in Luke 14, Jesus had told the people to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind …” (14:13, 21). In Luke 7, Jesus says of himself, “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man (he’s talking about himself) has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Lk. 7:33-34). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. Jesus wasn’t just flying holy sorties into enemy territory and then returning to the safety of good people. He lingered. He got to know people. He became their friend. Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a pastor friend of his who says that he’s much more comfortable in a bar than in a church. He’s no cynic though. He’s a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and very involved in ministry. But he says that he finds his bar friends truthful in most respects, transparent about their flaws, generally accepting of others, confidential, generous, affable, and a lot of fun to be around. He says that they also tend to be vulnerable, even forthright about their troubles, which many try to wash away with too much alcohol, and most have trouble with long-term relationships. So this pastor has found in his neighborhood bar a mission field ripe for the harvest.


Now, let me stop here to ask an important question. What’s the big deal about the poor? Why were the religious leaders to keen to keep them apart? Why did Jesus insist on drawing them in? And why do the gospel writers highlight it? I mean, everyone Jesus meets is either dying, or has leprosy, or is a prostitute or a tax collector or another person lumped by the really religious people as sinners. Remember Mary Magdalene? The woman who got to see the empty tomb firsthand? Know what she was before she met Jesus? She was a prostitute. The Pharisees and other “good” people were concerned with maintaining their ritual purity, and illness, injury, and poverty were viewed as signs of God’s curse. So the poor, the blind, the lame, the very sick were kept out of the community. They were kept on the fringes so that they wouldn’t contaminate those who wanted to worship in the temple. And tax collectors? They were turncoats, traitors, levying Roman taxes on their own people, paying Rome up front and then collecting more than they’d paid from their people. A lot more. Tax collectors were among the wealthiest people. They took more than they needed. So the synagogues wouldn’t even accept their money, even though they were Jews. Their testimony wasn’t admissible in court.


Now, everything Jesus did was ripe with meaning, was intended to reveal something about the kingdom of God, about the heart of God, to correct deep, deep misunderstandings about who God is, what God is like, and what God is up to. Think back to the Old Testament. Remember the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? Genesis 19? The two cities destroyed by fire from heaven? Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt because she looked back and she fled from the area? And reading the story, it seems that it is their sexual perversion and sin that caused their destruction, right? And that certainly seems to have been the last straw. The New Testament letter of Jude makes that clear. But the prophet Ezekiel sheds a little more light on the subject. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them” (16:49-50). Yes, the sexual abomination is there. So is pride, excess food, prosperous ease, all while ignoring the poor and needy. Those two areas of sin and evil are equal. Jesus made it very clear that he came to seek and to save those who were lost. Those who had wandered away, fallen through the cracks. Back in Luke 5, when Jesus was asked the question for the first time, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:30-32). He wasn’t saying that there were those who had no need of his healing, saving work. He was often in the company of religious leaders, civic leaders, the socially elite, AND in the company of prostitutes, tax collectors, and the sick. He was saying that those who know their need of grace are those who will respond, not those who think they are fine without God. He came for all. Who responded?


And at this point in Luke’s gospel, they still don’t get it. So in Luke 15, we find three parables. A lost sheep, a lost coin, and in next week’s text a lost son. They build on one another, and together they reveal the heart of God. They serve as the pivotal point in the book of Luke. God wants to make sure we understand exactly why Jesus came, what God was doing, what the kingdom of God is like. And Jesus came to look for those he’d lost.


He begins by talking about a lost sheep. Sheep are prone to wander. Today, farmers use fences to protect them, keep them together and where they’re supposed to be. The shepherds of Jesus’ day only used fences for the sheepfold, the night shelter. During the day, the shepherd himself led and protected the sheep, trying to keep them safe and together in open fields. But grazing sheep, head down, will simply wander off without realizing it. They’ll follow their nose, grazing along, not realizing that they’ve moved away from the protection of the flock and shepherd. These days, even with fences, farmers often use llamas, donkeys, or Great Pyrenees dogs to protect them. Because even if the fence keeps them from wandering too far off, with predators, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, they’re completely defenseless. And this shepherd notices that one of his one hundred sheep is missing. So he leaves the 99 and goes out looking for the one that’s lost. Now, I want you to notice something. This is a parable, but it’s also an analogy. Jesus wants us to imagine that we are the shepherd. “If you had 100 sheep, and realized one was missing, wouldn’t you go look for it?” He asks this as a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. Of course they would! And think back to King David, when he tended his father’s flocks. When he went looking for lost sheep, he’d fought off and killed a lion and a bear. He’d risked life and limb. It was dangerous, costly work. But if any shepherd would go looking for a single sheep out of 100 that had wandered away, why wouldn’t a loving, holy, perfect God do the same? Why is Jesus accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, eating and drinking with prostitutes and traitors? Because he’s looking for the lost, and those who know they are lost, without hope, respond.


Then Jesus ups the ante. The shepherd had lost 1 of 100 sheep. Now he talks about a woman who lost 1 of her 10 coins. This “woman” is likely a teenage girl, and the 10 coins are her dowry, the money her husband will get when he agrees to marry her. Now, remember the culture. This was a very patriarchal society. Women were often viewed as property and unworthy of the love of God. And without either a father or a husband to look after her, a woman was doomed to a life of begging and abject poverty. That’s why there was a constant emphasis in Scripture on caring for widows and orphans. They had no protection. No security. This dowry was her future. It was her security. Ten drachmas, each worth about a day’s wage for a common laborer, wasn’t much. But it was what her family had been able to scrape together. And she had lost 10% of it. It had fallen to the floor. Unlike our well-insulated homes with lots of windows to let the light in, ancient homes were usually windowless and dark to keep the hot sun OUT. And straw usually covered the dirt floor. The coin had probably fallen down in the straw. In a dark, windowless house. But the straw is sifted through and swept away. She’s on her hands and knees, feeling, perhaps with a lamp in hand so that she can see. Just as the shepherd must find his lost sheep, the woman must find her lost coin.


Now look at this. Look at Vv. 6-7. And again Vv. 9-10. Look at the joy the seekers have when they find what they’ve lost. The sheep, and the coin, aren’t just a set of lost car keys or a contact lens. They’re more valuable even than a lost credit card or wallet. They represent something precious. Of highest worth. That has been lost. They represent those who have wandered away from the love of God. Those who have been dropped and stomped on by society. Rich and poor. Men and women. Young and old. Black, white, red, yellow, and olive skinned. They represent all who live outside God’s welcoming embrace. The shepherd invites his friends and throws a party when he finds his lost sheep. The woman invites her friends and throws a party when she finds her lost coin. The repentance of even one sinner, the finding of even one who has been lost, brings great joy to the heart of God as heaven itself throws a party. If you have placed your faith in Christ, know that there was a time when God was desperately looking for you. And through those who know him, he continues to go out and look for that which has been lost. And to search until the lost is found. What would it look like if we went out into this neighborhood, knocked on doors, and said, “Hello, I’m … from the church up the road. And I just want to know, is there anything I can pray for you for? Can I pray for you now? Would you mind if I took your request back so that my friends and I can all pray for you? Have a great day.”


Pastor Jud Wilhite shares the story of a church member named Cody Huff. Before Cody became a member at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, he was sleeping in an open field next to the church. But at one time Cody was making loads of money as a famous bass pro fisherman who had even been featured on ESPN. Yet he couldn’t overcome his problem with drugs. He began a crack addiction that led him to smoke up $600,000 worth of savings, his house, his Harley, his new boat. He smoked away everything he had and ended up homeless. A man who had eaten at fine restaurants and interacted with celebrities had bottomed out and was now homeless.

But God would turn his life around—and it all started with the kindness of a church volunteer. Some people from the church’s homeless ministry were handing out sandwiches in the park where Cody slept, and they told him he could get a shower at Central Christian Church. The last place Cody wanted to go was a church, but he hadn’t bathed in so long that even other homeless men couldn’t stand his smell anymore. Cody explained what happened next:


I walked into the church, and this lady named Michelle, who knew me from the homeless ministry, said, “Good morning, Cody. How are you?” Then she looked at me, and she said, “Cody, you need a hug.” And I said, “Honey, you don’t want to touch me because I haven’t had a shower in 3 months.” If Michelle heard me, she didn’t seem to care. She walked up, and she looked in my eyes, and she gave me a big hug and told me that Jesus loved me. In that split second, I was somebody. She even remembered my name. That was the point where I knew that God was alive in this world. Over the next several weeks, Cody’s life began to be restored. He gave his life to Christ. He started leading a Bible study in the park for other homeless people. “That was over 3 years ago,” Jud says. “Now he’s married, and he and his wife serve faithfully in our homeless ministry every weekend. He has his own business. From ashes, God has raised him up to use him as an instrument.” But his involvement in ministry all started with the warm embrace from one of the church’s greeters.[ii] Who have you hugged lately?


These two parables give us more than a glimpse into the heart of God, into God’s purpose in the world. They give us a clear view. His purpose is to seek and to save those who have been lost. And as the people of God, our lives should reflect the heart of God. Who have you hugged lately?



[i] Ken Tucker, Are You Satisfied? (BookSurge, 2008), pp. 55-56

[ii] Jud Wilhite, Uncensored Grace (Mulnomah, 2008)