February 4, 2018: Losers and Lost

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Luke 15:8-10 New Revised Standard Version
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.

I am a loser.

I don’t mean I am a Charlie Brown, 1908 - 2016 Chicago Cubs, Wylie Cyote, Washington Generals kind of loser.

I don’t mean loser in an existential, “no exit” kind of way.

I am not talking about self esteem, or self worth.

I am a loser … of things.

Always have been.

I am always losing or misplacing things.

The list is exhausting:
keys several times a week,
wallet continually,
how many pairs of gloves,
how many pairs of reading glasses,

my favorite Harvard baseball cap on the metro,
a beautiful watch Judi gave me for our 25th anniversary gone for good,
the car, (so far just misplaced in parking lots, not lost completely),
stocking caps,
bank cards,
shoes, (I have been missing a pair of black vans for about six months. If they are at your house, let me know),
a bicycle,
in Jerusalem, I misplaced (lost) my money belt complete with all of our money, our ids, passports for my entire family for 12 hour nightmare. It was, perhaps, the most panicked I have every been.
This past week, I lost my mom’s walker (for a bit). You ask, how could you do that. I respond, “its a gift.”

I am a loser. Any other losers in the room?

Jesus tells a story about a woman who is a loser- a loser of a cherished coin.

We know very little about the woman. We know she has nine coins, a house, a lamp, a broom, and friends.

Well, she had ten coins… but lost one.

Now, she might be a wealthy woman who has lost a coin out of its setting in a piece of jewelry, specifically a diadem. It was common in the ancient mideast to use coins as set pieces for Jewelry. Perhaps she is one day admiring her tiara and notices a missing coin. Oh no, her late husband gave her the headpiece as a wedding gift and now it is ruined because it is missing a coin, imagine losing a diamond setting out of a ring- same connotation.

She frantically tears her house apart. As a wealthy woman with a spacious home, she lights multiple lamps and sweeps in every corner of every room looking for her lost coin.

Or, perhaps she is a young woman and the 10 coins in her possession are an agree-upon dowry for her upcoming wedding and without the tenth coin, she will be rejected by her husband’s family.

She may be close to her wedding day, and the idea that the loss of a coin might mean the end of her hopes and dreams.

She frantically tears her house apart. She lights a lamp and sweeps in every corner looking for her lost coin.

Or, she might be a poor woman who has only 10 coins to her name, perhaps it is all that is left to her after her husband’s passing. She is managing her small inheritance very carefully, but now, all of a sudden, that missing tenth coin threatens her ability to survive.

Between upcoming taxes and family responsibilities,
she cannot make it without that tenth coin.

She frantically tears her house apart. She lights her single lamp and sweeps in every corner looking for her lost coin. As a poor woman, she lives in a home with dirt floors. And she sweeps them, hoping that in the cloud of dust the coin will shimmer.

I am reminded of hiking through the jungles in El Salvador and seeing one woman after another, sweeping the dirt in front of their tiny mud or tin homes. They were sweeping the loose dirt off the hard packed dirt on the narrow trail that leads to their front door.

Who ever the woman is, whatever her age, whatever her social status, she has lost a coin and the coin is of great importance to her. And so she looks for it. And looks for it. And looks for it.

When it is found, she is happy, joyful, celebrative, ecstatic. So excited is she that she runs from home to home in her village inviting neighbors and friends to her home to party with her- a little wine, a little bread, some cakes, lots of dancing, lots of laughter. That which was lost is found- its value restored.

Jesus tells this story as a group of religious elites, folks who thought they were better than others because of their religious views and deeds, were listening in. They were critical of the people who were following Jesus- misfits and underdogs and poor folks and collaborators and women who rented out their bodies and men who had sold their souls.

These religious folks were likewise critical of Jesus because he invited these people to join him, accepted them unconditionally, ate falafels and tilapia with them.

So, in order to make a point to these religious types, Jesus told a series of stories, one about a shepherd, one about a father and his boys, and this one, about a woman who lost a coin.

To his listeners that day, Jesus was declaring:

We are all equal in the sight of God. There are ten coins, all of which have great value to the woman and any of which would cause her grief if missing.

So it is with us and God. Each of us is valued, loved, esteemed as child of God. Equally deserving of God’s love and grace.

In his amazing little book, Animal Farm, George Orwell has the animals taking over Mr. Jones farm with a promise of equality among the animals. Over time, some animals came to see themselves as better, more important than others.

The sign that was originally posted reading, “All animals are Equal” soon evolved (or devolved) into a sign that reads, “All animals are Equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

While I am sure it can be debated, I would contend that almost every movement, political, social, religious that has begun with the promise “all people are created equal” has at some point devolved into a structure that allows access to some and denies access to those who are deemed less than.

Even the church,
with its leader Jesus
calling for radical mercy
and unconditional love
and unceasing servanthood.

Has often veered off course,
and declared some of us unworthy of grace and love.

If I am gay
or speak another language
or am poor
or am depressed
or come from another place
or am struggling
or am considered a loser
or have made big mistakes
or have failed miserably
or believe differently
or dress differently
or travel a different path
there are churches and church leaders who will write me off as lost, much like the religious folks confronting Jesus over his choice of followers declared both Jesus and his followers as unfit and unworthy.

Let’s learn from the woman in the story.
Each of us, each of them, is of value.

We, us and them, have been searched for and found in the love and grace of God.

Let us celebrate that love and grace and extend that love and grace to all those we encounter on our journey.

Amen and Amen.