Who's Looking for Whom?
a sermon based on Luke 15:1-10
by Rev. Randy Quinn
Two weeks ago I said I was going to ask
you to start wearing your nametags. I gave some good reasons for doing that and said
Id start wearing mine, too. Later that week, you received the Sundial in which I
again encouraged you to wear nametags. I said Id be wearing one when you came to
Well, last Sunday I went looking for my nametag.
I know I have one.
I even know where I kept it in my office in Bowl.
And I know where I kept it when we lived in Spokane.
I even know when I wore it last.
But I couldnt find it last Sunday.
I looked frantically. I searched the most likely places. I looked in less likely
places. I even looked in places I know I wouldnt put my nametag. I finally gave up
and used a stick-on nametag.
This week I went looking again. But this time I was a little more methodical in my
search. I began in my office. Slowly but surely looking in every drawer, every cabinet,
and behind every stack of things. When I couldnt find it there, I started to look at
home. First in the obvious and likely places. Then the less likely places.
I still cant find it.
And Im pretty convinced its either been thrown away or is in a box we
havent unpacked yet.
So Im using a stick-on nametag again today.
But Ive lost other things before, and Im sure you have, too.
Ive misplaced my glasses before, and Im sure anyone who wears glasses can
relate with that.
Ive set my car keys down in some rather unusual places, too.
And then there are the ever-so-unlikely places Ive located the remote control for
the TV and the cordless telephone.
When we moved to Spokane, we couldnt find a table runner that a friend of
Rondas made for us. We found it two years later - when we were packing to move to
Sunnyside. We found it in a box we never finished unpacking the last time we moved.
Weve all lost things before. Some were misplaced, some were accidentally set
down, some were dropped unknowingly. Some end up in "lost and found" boxes in
places we dont even remember going to. Then there are the things that end up in our
coat pockets that we find weeks, months, even years later!
Because we have all lost things, we know all about the emotions that Jesus is
describing in these two short parables. We know about the frantic search that doesnt
end until what was lost is found. And when we find whats been lost, we know about
the joy that fills our lives and our tendency to go and tell everyone about it.
We can visualize the woman who frantically searches for her lost coin. We can almost
hear her broom as it sweeps across the floor, as she reaches under the beds and into the
dark corners of her house.
And while not all of us have livestock, we can picture the distress of the man who
leaves the ninety-nine sheep in a safe place and goes out looking for the one that was
In both cases, we can almost get excited as they report their find. Unfortunately, we
also know the sorrow of looking for that which was lost and not finding it. Not only is my
I also lost my High School class ring while I was in college.
And I lost the address of a college friend and have not been able to continue our
We all know what it means to search and search only to realize it will not be found.
Thats part of what has been so difficult about the news reports from New York,
Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. We grieve for the people who are lost. And the longer the
search continues the less hope we have that any will be found alive.
Over 5,000 people lost in piles of rubble that are almost inconceivable. Tragically,
another frantic search began in Sunnyside the very same day.
People began looking for Joshua Hui shortly after he disappeared from his classroom on
Tuesday. And as you all know, there was no celebration when he was found a few short hours
later at the bottom of an irrigation canal.
But as I have been dealing with my own emotional anguish this week, I realized there is
another frantic search going on. I heard it in the stories of people as they shared their
concerns with me, and then I recognized it in me as well. You know, most of the time we
stop searching when we find something. Thats why we always find things in "the
last place we look." We stop looking once the lost has been found.
I realized as I was dealing with the story of Joshua Hui that were still
searching. Were searching in Sunnyside and were searching in New York.
Were searching as individuals and were searching as a nation.
But it isnt a search for missing pets, persons, or possessions. Nor is it a
search for someone to blame - which is not to say that there arent people searching
for those things. All across our community, all across our country, all around the globe,
there is a frantic search for explanations. We are looking for reasons. In many ways, the
basis of our society is been challenged and were trying to make sense of it. But
were searching in a way that suggests something has been missing. Its as if we
know we had the answer at one point in time, and only now are we realizing that its
And when we lose something, we start by reflecting on when and where we last had it in
our possession. When I lost my car keys, for instance, I started by asking myself what
else I was doing when I came in from the car. The grocery sacks led me to the keys in the
So when was the last time we had an answer to the kind of tragedies we experienced this
week? What has changed since then? Some will say it was simpler times, slower times. They
will point to the speed with which we heard the reports, for instance, and suggest that we
lost any sense of answers with the advent of CNN. Some will say it was the rise of Islamic
Fundamentalism and can be traced back at least to the Iranian Hostage crisis over twenty
years ago. Others will say it began when Americans became arrogant about their powers and
abilities to sway world events and opinions, an arrogance that almost always reports
tragedies in terms of the number of American lives affected as if they are the only
Still others will suggest it began when we stopped allowing prayer in public schools. I
suppose there are those who would argue that Im asking the wrong question, that in
fact we never had an answer, that it isnt something we lost but rather something we
never had before.
But I am convinced we had it at one point. In that sense, I think we are very much like
Job who sought to understand his suffering. His friends - if you could call them that -
all had their answers, some of which were trite, all of which were useless to Job. He
thought he understood God and demanded an accounting from God for the disasters that
struck. In the end, his answer came when he stood in awe before the God who had stood with
him in the midst of his suffering. Job had misunderstood the role of God in his life and
in the world.
I believe the essential mystery of God is what has been lost and that is what we are
searching for so frantically. The problem is we dont realize what it is were
seeking. We have grown up in an age where science has taught us to find definitive and
verifiable answers to our questions.
We know the speed of light.
We know that E=MC2.
We know how to build buildings.
We know how to fight fires.
We even know how to trace the lives of passengers on planes and determine who the
And so we search for a definitive and verifiable answer to why tragedy has struck. But
the yearning of our souls is not really an answer to the question of "why" as
much as it is an assurance that we have not been abandoned by God.
And God remains a mystery. Try as we might, there are no human explanations for who God
is. And the real irony is that while we are looking for God as if God is the one who was
missing, God has been searching for us because we are the ones who are really lost.
Jesus came to seek the lost. His parables were meant to help us understand the mystery
of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus. Jesus did not come to seek God since God was not
lost; he came to seek us, for we are the lost.
We have witnessed and experienced enormous loss this week. That loss has taken its toll
on our spiritual and emotional health. But I am absolutely convinced that God has been
weeping with us, for God has not abandoned us. I am also convinced that if we look for God
in the midst of the suffering we will find hope. Not hope in the sense of survivors being
found in the rubble, but hope in the sense that we can find a purpose in life. Its
the same hope that was proclaimed on Easter Sunday after the tragic and untimely death of
Jesus. Its the same hope that Paul proclaimed in his preaching.
All heaven rejoices when God finds us. And no trauma, no disaster, no peril can
separate us from God. Gods frantic search for us has ended. We belong to God.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything
else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ
Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:38-39)
Thanks be to God. Amen.