Lost and Found: Reflections on Luke 15:1-10
September 15, 2013
Chapter 15 is the heart of Luke's Gospel. In its three parables of Lost and Found—Sheep, Coin, and Sons—Jesus uses images for God that are offensive: a shepherd, a woman, and a Father who has no pride. In several of his parables, Luke emphasizes repentance as a dramatic redirection of a main character's mind and purpose: The Prodigal Son, The Rich Fool, the Rich Man and Lazarus. This parable on the other hand... well, how does a lost coin or a lost sheep repent?
If you're not a former Roman Catholic, you may have never heard this prayer: "Tony, Tony, turn around. Something's lost that must be found." I'm a United Methodist, but I had a friend once who told me to try praying it when I had lost my car keys. It's a prayer to St. Anthony of Padua who is believed to be the patron saint of lost items. The 13th-century holy man left a wealthy family to become a poor priest. The tradition of invoking St. Anthony's help in finding lost or stolen things traces back to a scene from his own life. As the legend goes, Anthony had a book of psalms that, in his eyes, was priceless. There was no printing press yet. Any book had value. This was his book of psalms, his prayer book. Besides, in the margins he'd written all kinds of notes to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order. A novice who had already grown tired of living a religious life decided to leave the community. Besides going AWOL, he also took Anthony's Psalter! When he went to his room to pray and found it missing, Anthony prayed it would be found and returned to him.
After he prayed this prayer, the thieving novice fleeing through the forest, was met by a demon (okay, this part of the story is murky—how a negative could be an avenue of God's good). Anyway, the demon told the thief to return the Psalter to Anthony and to return to the Franciscan Order. He did, and was accepted back.
Soon after Anthony's death, people began praying through him to find or recover lost and stolen articles. "A Prayer to Christ," written in honor of St. Anthony shortly after his death goes like this:
The sea obeys and fetters break
And shattered hopes limbs thou dost restore
While treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.
The popular version of this is "Tony, Tony, turn around. Something's lost that must be found." So many coins clinking around on the floor of your congregation: lost hope, faith, self-esteem, perspective. So many lost items, so little time. A woman told me recently, "I can't stand to go into my Church anymore, not since my husband's funeral there last year." If she is a member of your Church, you have got to find her lost faith for her and give it back to her!
If a student comes into my office and says "You gave me a B on my sermon instead of an A because there wasn't enough good news in it. I wanted to explain to you why. It's not that I wasn't listening in class. It's because since my miscarriage I have lost my faith." I have to find her faith for her and give it back to her. The future proclamation of the Church depends on it.
We are in the business of helping people find lost items. Isn't that in our job description? To be the Good Shepherd who goes out finding those lost sheep, risking skinned knees and strained wrists as we crawl into the ravines where they have stranded themselves? Or wait, I guess we're to be the loving parental figure of Motel 6, "leaving the light on" for them, keeping the home-faith fires burning while they're out for a decade or so finding themselves. Isn't this our calling? To be the one charged with turning on the lights, getting out the dirt devil, and listen for the thump that tells us a significant object has been sucked into the vac bag? Then get in there with both hands and retrieve that thing. Get out there and bring in those new members. Give those seekers what they're searching for. The music. The message. The sense of mission. Proclaim that word. Serve up that Bread of Life. But make it tasty.
In all this finding activity, what are you in danger of losing, pastor? For Luke the treasures of the life of discipleship were the habits of persistent prayer, compassion for the poor, and joy.
One Sunday morning several years ago, on my way into the church our family attended in Pennsylvania, I spotted the Lost and Found box in the entry way and decided to look through it to see if I could find my son's missing blue mitten. There was no blue mitten in it, but there was a pair of glasses in there. A set of keys. A watch. There is a lot that can show up in the lost and found box of your life lying in there unclaimed while you go about your ministry. It's possible to lose a lot of things and keep on keeping on. You can lose:
Direction Faith Faculties Friend
Focus Ground Hair Hope
Heart Head Keys Mind
Mobility Perspective Respect Spark
Sanity Teeth Temper Touch
Sometimes when you lose something, it's a good strategy to retrace your steps and find the spot where you lost it.
Revisit the mall stores where you might have left your credit card. The sink where you took off your wedding band and put in on the soap dish. Retrace your steps. Where did I mislay my communion time with God in favor of a crammed calendar? Where did we temporarily misplace our compassion for the poor in favor of programs? And where did we leave our joy in proclaiming God's Word? My "Thank God Sunday's coming because I have something to say" in favor of "Sunday's coming again...I have to find something to say."
And when your energy is all used up, and gone, that's okay too. Just lie in the corner and God will find you. God will retrieve you, too.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.