Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lost and Found, Part 15 of 78

TEXT: "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:8-10).

IDEA: God searches for men and women because He values them and they belong to Him.

PURPOSE: To help listeners feel how intent God is to find those who are lost.

In my better moments, I want to value what God values and be concerned about the things that concern God. When I can, I want to give my life to what outlasts me. I don’t always do it, of course, but when I really think about my life, I want to have a heart for God and I want to have a heart for what’s on His heart.

That’s why I have been drawn to the three stories Jesus told in Luke 15. He told them to the religious leaders of His time when they raised some nasty questions about His lifestyle. They simply couldn’t figure out who He was or why He lived and what He was about. It wasn’t that He was keeping it a secret, but what they heard and what they saw didn’t seem to measure up.

One thing they knew for sure, though: they didn’t approve of the places Jesus went and the people Jesus knew. He attracted men and women whom they considered the scum of society. Worse than that, He ate dinner with them and He actually went out of His way to get to know them. To their minds, good people always ran with good people, and bad people attracted bad people.

That’s why the religious leaders of His time wrote Jesus off as a religious fraud. He talked about God a great deal, but from their perspective, He didn’t walk His talk. They concluded that Jesus’ association with the rabble of society—tax collectors and sinners—was really a secret attraction to their sin. They couldn’t put knowing God and knowing scoundrels and disreputable people together. Jesus didn’t act the way serious religious people acted. They couldn’t figure Him out, but they concluded that He must be as phony as a con man. They wouldn’t be taken in by the likes of Him.

Jesus didn’t let those criticisms go unanswered. They deserved a response. Yet, when He answered their sniping, He did so by telling a parable. It is a parable made up of three stories. One of the stories featured a housewife who had lost a silver coin. It represented a day’s wages or more.

“Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors and says, ‘Celebrate with me because I have found the coin I lost!’ Jesus drove the point home, ‘In the same way, I’m telling you, there is great joy in the presence of God’s angels for one sinner who repents.’ ”

According to Jesus’ story, the woman’s lost coin was one of ten coins. Losing the coin meant that she had lost ten percent of all the money she owned. That’s a pretty significant loss. When you lose something valuable like your checkbook or a credit card or your purse, you search until you find it. That’s particularly true if you know you had it yesterday—and you haven’t been out of the house—and you know it must be there somewhere.

That silver coin may also have had sentimental value. In the ancient culture and in parts of the Near East today women wore coins in a necklace around their necks. The coins were a kind of dowry. They were protected by the society. The law said that a creditor couldn’t demand the coins to pay off a household debt.

To lose a coin from the necklace would be like losing an earring. When you lose an earring that your husband gave you on your tenth anniversary, you’re frustrated. The set isn’t worth much without both earrings. The earrings are valuable. They cost quite a bit of money, but they also mean a great deal to you because they are an important part of your life.

Losing the grocery money would be enough reason for that woman to turn the house upside down looking for the silver coin. But if you think about the emotional value of the coin, it was a part of her life. She had worn it for years. She had to have that coin. No other coin could take its place. That explains her frantic search.

In one of our Midwestern states, one winter afternoon, a small boy fell through the ice on a local pond. His friends ran to a nearby store and yelled to a group of men standing about that the youngster who had fallen through the ice. When the men heard what happened, they all rushed toward the pond, except for one man who stayed behind. He said that he had to take care of his store. After all, he reasoned, fourteen grown men ought to be able to rescue one boy.

When the men arrived at the pond, they realized that the ice was too thin to support the weight of a man standing up. So they slid out on the ice on their stomachs to distribute the weight of their bodies on the fragile ice. They actually formed a human chain that reached out to the hole in the ice to rescue the drowning boy. But when they did, they were one body short. The youngster slipped beneath the ice and was gone.

As the men walked back up the hill to the store, they saw the man who stayed back because he wasn’t needed. They could hardly find the words to tell him that the boy they failed to rescue was his own son.

If that father had known it was his own son who had fallen through the ice, do you think that anything or anyone could have stopped him from going to the rescue? He would have been the first man to the water. When someone is valuable and precious to us, we will do anything to save them.

That’s why the woman in Jesus’ story searched in such a determined way for that silver coin. It was valuable and it held special meaning for her. Even when it was lost in a corner of her living room and of value to no one, the coin had value to her. That’s why she looked under the bed, and in the corners of the room, and in all the drawers, and she shook out her clothes until she found it.

That little story makes Jesus’ big point clear. He associates with all kinds of people because God values them and they belong to Him. They are not lost sinners; they are His lost possession, and each one means a great deal to him.

The homespun story simply asks, “Have you ever lost your car keys, or your wallet, or a precious earring?” Do you remember how you felt, and how hard you looked until you found it? If you do, then you should have no trouble understanding why Jesus went to any lengths to find people who were lost.

I want to love what God loves and have a heart for what’s on His heart. God loves men and women deeply that other people may not care about at all. That must change my attitude toward people I may be tempted to despise.

There are millions of people in Canada and the United States who check on a survey that they believe in God, but they are too lazy to get out of bed on Sunday morning to attend church. They say they have no interest in religion and are certain that all pastors and priests and rabbis are into religion for the money. Yet, no amount of indifference or hostility that they have toward God changes the fact that God values them and that He wants to bring them to Himself. If God doesn’t write them off, then I have no right to cut them out of my life.

In his book on the parables, "And He Told Them A Story," Richard Hoefler captures what it can mean to realize that God values all kinds of women and men. A careless teenager speeding down a street in his souped-up car lost control. The car jumped the curb and killed a little girl. It came to a stop when it smashed into a tree. The young man climbed out of his car and, seeing what he had done, ran up into the hills.

When the sheriff arrived, he was able to trace the young driver because he had left a trail of blood leading up to the opening of an abandoned mine. When the officers arrived at the mine, they discovered that the boy was trapped just inside the opening by timber that had given way as he climbed into the mine. The opening that was left was too small for the sheriff or any of his men to enter. A tall thin man standing among the spectators volunteered to rescue the boy. He squeezed through the narrow opening and in a few moments found the injured teenager, carried him back to the opening and pushed him to safety.

A reporter on the scene recognized that the man who rescued the boy was the father of the little girl who was killed. The reporter asked the obvious question: “How could you risk your life to save a kid who had just killed your daughter?”

The young father answered, “My first thought was to let him die. He deserved it. But then I heard his pathetic cries for help, and all I could think of was—Christ died for him, too.”

That’s what Christ felt. That’s how God feels about men and women who murdered His Son. That’s how I want to feel. I want to value what God values and feel what God feels. I want to respond as Christ does to men and women who are lost.