“Rejoice, for I have found..”

Sermon, Trinity 3, June 21, 2015, Gospel, Luke 15:1-10
There are few things more frightening than losing track of a child or more
relieving than to find a lost child. A few months ago I was in Wal-Mart in the
lighting section, looking at some light bulbs for our house. I had our 3-year old
daughter Vanessa with me. She doesn’t like to sit in the cart anymore, so I let her
walk with me as we shopped. I was in the row of lighting products, looking at the
rows of light bulbs, every couple of seconds looking down to check to see that
Vanessa was still there. Then I looked and she was not there. I said “Vanessa!
Where are you?” I went down to the end of the aisle and looked down adjacent
aisles. She couldn’t have gone too far in just those few seconds. My heart started
to beat faster. Why didn’t she answer me? Her two favorite sections of the store
are the pet department and the toy section, so I headed quickly to the toy section,
asking the clerk in the sporting goods section on the way if he had seen a little girl
walk by fitting her description. He hadn’t. When I had looked in every aisle of the
toy section, calling out her name, I walked back to the pet department. By this
time I was frightened. She certainly must have heard me calling. I prayed as I
walked, “Help me God find Vanessa.” Why didn’t she answer? A clerk saw my
distressed face and asked me what the problem was. I told her and she asked for a
description of Vanessa. She got on her walkie-talkie and called a code name to all
employees. All of a sudden dozens of people were on the floor, coming out from
the back, looking for Vanessa.
They went up and down the aisles and still didn’t see her. I started to go
over images in my mind of someone abducting her. Then the clerk I had first
contacted got a message on her walkie-talkie that they thought they had found
her. The clerk took me to the aisle, just one away from the light bulb aisle, and at
the end of the aisle were two workers looking down at the bottom shelf. Then I
saw her. She was sitting quietly on an empty shelf, evidently playing a game of
hide and seek. I was so relieved and so grateful, I knelt down and took her hand
and brought her out. I thanked and apologized to the employees for having to
look for my lost child, lost because of my oversight. They were all very
understanding and were glad to have helped. I know they were very happy that
this little girl had been found, too. To use Biblical language, there was joy before
these angels in blue when my little lamb was found.
I’m going to tell you another story. My sister and I were in grade school we
took off one afternoon down a trail in Grand Lake, Colorado. We told our parents
that we were going out for a walk. We knew where we were all the time. We
walked to a trail at the end of the lake and walked along it. After some time, we
didn’t know how long, we decided to head back. When we got to the trail head
there were park rangers and police and a frantic mother and worried father. It
had been a couple of hours and they didn’t know where we were. The police had
heard from people that they saw us going onto the trail. My parents imagined
wild animals attacking us, or us being lost. My sister and I both thought at the
time that they were overreacting. We knew where we were and we felt not danger.
In our minds we had everything under control.

And isn’t that the way we like to think of ourselves–in control, that we
have things figured out, that we can handle ourselves, avoid danger. It is said that
young people think of themselves as immortal. It is an independent streak that
we grow up with. God has given us a certain freedom in the use of His gifts of
reason and abilities.
I think we often bring that independent streak into our faith lives, as well.
We think that our faith is just between God and us. We can figure out our own
little contract with God and we’re good to go. We don’t need to go to church to
hear His Word. We know the basic story. Jesus is the Son of God who died for my
sins. If we believe that, then we go to heaven. That’s our ticket, our get out of hell
free card.
The problem with an independent faith that it is cut off from the regular
worship of the church is that it is not grounded where the Shepherd, the Lord
Jesus Christ has placed His Word and Sacrament. It is independent of the
protection of the flock. When we strike out from the flock on our own we can find
ourselves in all kinds of dangerous situations–dangerous to our faith, dangerous
to our eternal life. Jesus compares those who have wandered away from the faith
found in the Word as wandering sheep. Wandering, detached sheep are easy prey
for animals like wolves and lions. If they get stuck or hurt they are not able to get
to food or water. A sheep that wanders off by itself puts itself in mortal danger.
The good shepherd knows this and goes out to find it. The wandering sheep that
realizes its peril will hear his voice when he calls and gladly come back to him, to
be carried back on his shoulder.
We can get into all kinds of danger when we wander away from our
Shepherd, when we neglect regular Sunday worship, when we neglect to read our
Bibles, neglect our daily prayers, and devotions. When we neglect these things
we wander away–some not so far, some far away, some for a short time, for a few
minutes of doubt or days without God’s word in our lives, some for weeks or
years, but we all wander away. For we sin daily. We separate ourselves from God,
as we confess together at the beginning of our service. The devil is waiting for us,
prowling like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The devil especially
wants us to wander from the church, where the Word of God is purely preached,
where the body and blood of Jesus is rightly given in the Supper, and where
lambs are brought into the fold in the waters of baptism.
We stray from the fold when we mold the word of God to fit our own
personal conception of what we think God should say, sculpting the image we
want of the God we want, rather than the God we have. We stray when we give in
to temptation, the temptation to gossip, the temptation to watch internet
pornography, the temptation to think hateful thoughts of our brothers and
sisters, the temptation to covet what others have. We face temptations daily,
some greater, some less, according to our age and station in life, as Luther says in
his large catechism.
We all stray, but in His mercy, our Good Shepherd still looks for us, still
calls to us, looking for us, and he still finds us. He loves us and cares about us.
When we hear Him calling and return to Him, that is, when we repent, He is
quick to forgive us, and he carries us back to His flock, the Church, the company
of all believers. Jesus says that each time a lost sheep is found, each time a sinner
repents, is a time of joy for the Shepherd, and the angels in heaven, who rejoice
that the lost sheep has been found. In the parables in our Gospel readings today
the shepherd tells his friends to rejoice and the woman tells her friends. “Rejoice
with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Rejoice with me, for I have found
the coin that I had lost.”
In both parables the sheep and the coin are found. They don’t find
themselves. To paraphrase the words of “Amazing Grace.” they were lost, but now
are found. And so were we all lost at one time. We were born lost, enslaved to the
sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, our first parents. We were born already
lost, in the Kingdom of darkness and the devil. But we were found in the waters of
Baptism, found by our good Shepherd, who brought us into His flock to present
to His Father as His own. God the Father put a new name on us, Christians. He
circumcised our hearts with the seal of the Holy Spirit, with the gift of faith which
receives the gifts of God in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal
life. We were found, and it was not just our parents and family who had joy at
our Baptisms, for the Good Shepherd said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my
little sheep”, and there was joy before the company of angels.
We who believe and are baptized are part of God’s flock, protected by the
Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us, and who rose again and sits at the
right hand of God the Father. We are safe within His flock from the attacks of sin,
death, and the devil. And when we stray, which we will, the Good Shepherd will
go looking for us again. He will call out to us with His Word to return, to change
our minds, to repent of our rebellion and apathy. And the Holy Spirit, working in
that Word, will turn us around to our Savior who will carry us back again to the
flock of the faithful, to His forgiveness, and to His protection. The Holy Spirit,
working in the Word, will change our minds, will grant us repentance. He will
show us our foolishness, our sin, and show us our Savior.
In his Small Catechism Martin Luther urges us to remember our Baptisms
daily. When we do this, we will hear again the Word of Jesus who found us the
first time in the waters of the font. When we make the sign of the cross, as Luther
suggests we do when we rise, and before we go to sleep at night, we are not
making some superstitious gesture, but we are simply remembering that the sign
of the cross was put on our forehead and hearts at our Baptisms, the seal and
brand of the flock of God. We remember that in this flock we are safe. When we
remember our Baptisms we let Jesus find us again, we repent and are found.
I told the story of my sister and me on the trail to my wife Vickie when we
visited Grand Lake for the first time together. We went to the same trailhead and
walked the same trail for about a quarter mile, but since it was very hot that day,
and the trail was crowded with people, so we went back to town. The next
morning at breakfast we heard that a mountain lion had attacked two children
running along the trail, brother and sister, the ages of my sister and I when we
went on it. The boy was tragically killed. It was the first time a human had been
killed by a wild animal in the park’s history–a very sad day.
I thought how sad the parents of that child must be. And I thought back to
my parents’ reaction to our wanderings on that trail forty years before. My
parents had not overreacted. We were too young to know that, though.

Your Father in heaven wants to protect you from the attacks of a roaring
lion, the devil. He wants you to stay in the protection of His flock. He will feed
you in this flock with the pure food of His Word and sacrament. He will use you
to support your brothers and sisters in this flock with your prayers and
encouragement, with tithes and offerings, building each other up with your
presence and your steadfastness. He will use you to invite others to His flock by
your witness. His Shepherd will eternally say to you and all those around you.
“Rejoice, for I have found you.” And you will sing and join with all the company of
heaven in thanksgiving for the God who sends, the Shepherd who finds, and the
Spirit who leads us in the way of the Shepherd. Amen.

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