(This is the sermon preached on Sept. 11th, 2022. It is printed here due to problems uploading the service for this day.)
Jesus chooses distracted people to teach the lessons of his parables. To be distracted means having difficulty focusing or concentrating. Outward distraction can have severe consequences – such as the warnings not to text and drive, or talk on the phone and drive. Inward distraction –beliefs or perspectives preventing us from seeing the larger reality and bigger picture exist as well.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve encountered many throughout Luke’s Gospel who have been distracted. They have been distracted by Jesus’ presence, and the reality Jesus’ message runs counter to what they know, understand, and experience as the reign of God. The distraction begins with Martha and Mary when Martha prepares dinner for Jesus and is frustrated at Mary’s lack of help. Jesus reminds Martha and Mary of ‘one needful thing’ truly important: taking time to spend with God.
After this exchange between Martha and Mary, Jesus encounters several groups of religious leaders and Pharisees distracted as well. They are distracted by their understanding of the letter of the law – the way practices and rituals in the temple and in life are handled. They are distracted by who sits in the best seats at a banquet. They are distracted by who is invited to the banquet. who is healed, when this healing takes place, even how this healing occurs. They are so distracted by their own understanding of the scriptures they have a difficult time seeing and hearing the good news Jesus brings with him: Jesus comes to seek those who are lost.
To help them understand this, Jesus tells them a parable, or two, beginning with the question ‘which one of you?’ It’s not a question to put anyone on the spot, or cause any of them to squirm uncomfortably on their pillow while eating. Instead, it’s a question intended to help Jesus’ audience break through and free from their assumptions, and conditions of purity and tradition to see the bigger and broader perspective of God’s plan of salvation for everyone.
Jesus continues these questions with examples. If a lamb was missing from the flock, the shepherd would leave the others to find the lost sheep. If a coin went missing, the entire house was searched from top to bottom.
As one owned by pets, there have been a couple of times one of the cats has gone missing. Most of the times, it’s been because of really good hiding places. At least one missing pet was a matter of escaping the house without us realizing it. That sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach over a missing and lost pet – it’s hard to ignore. In that moment, the first concern is the safety of the lost pet: where they might have gone, whether or not they are safe, how long have they been missing.
So would a shepherd do that for a lost sheep.
And as one who sometimes misplaces important documents, or forgets where her keys are, or her favorite pair of sunglasses, there are those moments where the house, is turned completely upside down until the lost item is found.
With both a lost pet and a lost document, there is much rejoicing – to the point of wanting to celebrate and throw a party.
Jesus tells the parable to help the Pharisees and religious leaders understand his mission and purpose while on earth: to find that which is lost, to find that which is distracted, reuniting, bringing focus, and restoring all into right relationship with God. Jesus turns the world upside down in this understanding and practice. To have all be welcomed, to have all be restored is indeed gift and grace, and part of God’s incredible love for the entire world.
Jesus tells parables to distracted disciples. Much in the world lately has left us feeling distracted: concerns over loved ones, illness, the economy, the state of the world around us, and so much more. We may feel because of these distractions, we have lost our way.
Dear friends in Christ in mercy, in love, Jesus looks for us. Searching high and low, near and far, Jesus never gives up searching for us when we are lost. In our distraction, we may not always realize we are lost until we are found.
Back in August during the annual meeting of the Lutheran Deaconess Conference in Vancouver, Washington, news was learned a beloved Deaconess sister and her husband had not been heard from in two days. After visiting family and camping in Ohio, the couple left to make their return trip to Canada. The problem was no one in the family had heard from them. This was unusual because the couple always checked in with their family in their travels. The cell phone went straight to voice mail. Emails hadn’t been answered. Messages on Facebook weren’t being read or replied to. As a last resort, family reached out to others who might have an idea of their whereabouts. Various state police departments and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called in.
News of the missing couple spread quickly through the conference. Whatever joy from the past few days of being together in person for the first time in three years, four years disappeared. The joy was replaced with fear, worry, questions we didn’t want to ask, but knew somehow, in some way, they needed to be asked:
Had something happened? Were they alright? What could have gone wrong? Lord have mercy, Kyrie elesion, on them, their family, on those searching, on us.
More than a few prayers were prayed that night for the deaconess not with us, and now, suddenly lost from the community.
The following morning, the conference began with worship. Physically, there were many bodies in the room, but mentally – our hearts, our minds weren’t turned to God.
We were distracted: worried for the safety and well-being of the lost deaconess and her husband. We wondered. We worried. We waited. We prayed: Were there any updates? Any word? What could have happened? Were they okay?
I know there was a sermon that morning. I heard it, but with apologies to the deaconess who preached, I honestly don’t remember what the point of the message was.
What I do remember is after the sermon, after the hymn of the day, an announcement was made: those who had been lost were found.
The conference room erupted in shouts of joy, applause, tears of relief, hugs, exclamations of “Praise God!” or “Thank you, Jesus!” It didn’t matter we were in a banquet room at a conference center. It didn’t matter others walked past the room, wondering what in God’s green acres had happened to spark so much joy and celebration. The cloud of distraction was removed. The assisting minister took a moment of silence to center herself before offering a prayer of thanksgiving for the entire assembly.
Technology is a good thing – as long as it co-operates, and as long as one is in a geographical place to allow technology to be used. Before leaving Ohio, they bought an inexpensive cell phone to use on their return trip to Canada. Inexpensive was exactly that – cheap, and unable to connect to cell phone service in the areas they were traveling through. Several campsites they stayed at didn’t have reliable or strong enough internet access, making sending and receiving email messages difficult, creating worry and panic for loved ones.
They did not realize how much grief and worry they had caused their children, and loved ones, or to those in attendance at the conference. When they heard the story, heard how their grown children called various state police departments, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they decided to exchange the cheap cell phone for a better working phone. They were also embarrassed by the unexpected attention received.
Mixed in with the embarrassment was also relief. Relief knowing many had held them in prayer. Relief knowing multiple agencies began a search near and far, high and low for them. Relief knowing they were cared for more than they realized.
’Rejoice with me’ Jesus says. The unintentional lost sheep have been found. The distracted lost sheep has been redirected. The missing coin, the missing important document have been found and restored in their proper places.
YOU, distracted, worried, missing from the flock precious child of God are found, loved, and returned. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Pastor Traci Glover