Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 15:1-10

The Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)


A common human experience is to lose something. Losing something can be very frustrating and produce a lot of stress, especially when you’re in a hurry or it’s a really important item. There are many reasons for why this happens; more often than not, we find the things we’ve lost when least expect it.

I heard this nightmare story which is why when I can “lose” my keys and they are in my hand, I am terrified to be a chaperone of other people’s precious children.

New Orleans–July, 2010. It was the final night of the ELCA Youth Gathering, and there was a group headed into the Superdome for what promised to be another exceptional time of worship, inspiration, and celebration with 30,000 of their peers. The group was composed of 20 youth from four rural North Dakota congregations and three adult chaperones. So far they’d managed to stay together and avoid disaster. Tonight would be different.

Somehow the youngest member of their group, a 13-year-old I’ll call Brad, went missing. The high school seniors had asked if they could go off on their own to get as close to the floor as possible, while the adults and the younger youth were content to sit on an upper level. So the seniors went down towards the floor and the rest of them squeezed through the crowds to take the escalator to the upper levels. But when they got there, Brad was nowhere to be seen. They tried calling his cell phone, but it was turned off, and because of the noise and bad cell phone service they couldn’t get anyone else to answer either.

After several panicked minutes, they found a Youth Gathering volunteer and put security to the test. They knew Brad had entered the doors with the group, but no one could remember seeing him on the escalator. Surely he wouldn’t have gone back out into the street! The Gathering staff did their best to calm the leaders fears and told them that as long as he was in the Dome he was safe, and if they did not find him before the end of the night they would lock it down until he was located.

Meanwhile, they gave a description of Brad to staff and other leaders, continued to call and text the older youth in their group, and began a row-by-row search. Still, finding one teenager in a crowd of more than 30,000 was like finding a needle in a haystack — but much, much scarier. 

Finally, after halfway into the program, the leaders found the seniors, and sure enough there was Brad–having the time of his life, and completely unaware that he was even lost in the first place.


This week’s readings share a thread. All refer to people who are lost and are brought back into the fold by God’s forgiveness. 

  • In the Exodus reading, God tells Moses he is going to destroy the people because they have quickly forgotten how God freed them from slavery. 

In the midst of desert wandering and challenge, the people’s faith in God’s guidance wavers and they become lost. Moses intercedes for the people and God forgives and restores them.

  • Similarly, Paul refers to his former sinful, persecuting self and relates that, with God’s grace and mercy through faith in Christ Jesus, he has been forgiven and is no longer lost.
  • Finally, in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus tells two parables about lost things. They are unhappy because Jesus has been eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus teaches them that God’s love leaves no person, even one considered the most lost, behind. The lost are valuable enough to search for, even if they are just one of a hundred. In the second story, Jesus says that the smallest thing is still significant to God and worth tearing everything apart to find. Once the lost are found, there is great rejoicing.

I often wonder where most people see themselves in the parables. Is it easier to think of ourselves as one of the ninety-nine? Or is it the woman searching for the coin? Can we even imagine being so lost that someone has to search for us?

The good news of the gospel is that God values us so much that God will search for us until we are found. Then God celebrates that we are recovered and brings us back into the fold. We have a God that searches for us. 

Just think on that for a moment. 

  • While we often think of ourselves as people seeking God, what does it mean to be sought out by God? 
  • Why do we often feel like we need to seek God, rather than allow God to come to us?

Perhaps in the times when we feel lost, we would be better to sit still, take a moment to breathe, and allow God to find us.


I can relate to the stories Jesus tells in this week’s gospel. When the group found Brad they all could have shouted from the top of the Superdome “Rejoice with us, for we have found the teenager that we had lost!” How precious was the sight of that child! Anyone who has ever worked with and traveled with youth knows the level of responsibility such work entails. You are entrusted with dearly beloved, precious children of God; the weighty calling requires a delicate balance of ministry, cat-herding, awareness, authenticity and transparency, and earned trust and authority.

Hearing how they felt about losing Brad in New Orleans, I can only imagine how Jesus feels about each and every one of us. No matter who or what we are. No matter what our perceived worth or standing in the community, our economic status, or our “righteousness,” the Creator of the universe values us and seeks us out. We are loved without merit, saved by grace, and redeemed to be part of the beloved family of God.

Even if, like young Brad, we don’t realize how lost we are, our Lord still looks for us and works with us to bring us to awareness and to a place at the table where there are no insiders or outsiders, only sinners redeemed by love and grace. What was lost is found, and we–all of us–are precious in God’s sight. 

May we always strive to see one another as God sees us–in the light of grace and with joy in our mutual “finding”!


The stumbling block in this text comes when we try to sort people into “lost sheep” and “the other 99.” Undoubtedly there are many in our assemblies hoping that the ones they consider “lost” in their life find their way back to Jesus, and here we are patiently in the pews waiting for that to happen!

But perhaps the lesson before us is less about who is lost and who is found, and rather about how we go to be with those in this world that others have given up on.

Maybe this text is more about going to seek, as Jesus does, those trying to find there way or stuck in the dirt and grime of life. Jesus seeks and Jesus finds, friends, but if we take seriously that we are the hands and feet of Jesus then we are the ones who are to seek and find.

At first blush that “seeking and finding” language might seem like there’s a suggestion that we’re going to “bring people back,” or something like that. But if we honestly trust that God is alive and active in the world, then our work is going and seeking after the ever-seeking Christ, the one who walks on the margins.
Put plainly: if Jesus is out seeking those confused and forgotten by the world, then when we seek after that sameness we find Jesus there, too, healing the sick, raising the dead, and upending our tables of religiosity in ways we never expected. We are both the lost coin and the companion of the woman, rejoicing in the foundness that happens in God’s realm. We are both the wandering sheep, and the fellow shepherd who accompanies Jesus on the journey.