Saturday, September 14, 2013

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have you ever misplaced or lost something that was really precious and valuable to you- a special childhood toy, a cherished photograph, a memento from your school days, a wedding ring? This is exactly what happened in one of Jesus’ parables we just heard- the Parable of the Lost Coin. If you recall, Jesus spoke of a woman who had lost a coin and frantically swept her house to find it. When it finally turned up, she was beside herself with joy, and she gathered her friends to celebrate with her.

However, there’s much more to this story, as Jesus’ first listeners surely would have known. They would have understood that the woman in the story had lost not just a coin, but had in effect lost her wedding ring. Two thousand years ago, Jewish wives did not wear wedding rings. Instead, when a man married a woman, he gave her a silver cord on which was strung ten silver coins, usually engraved with his name, and she would wear this on her head. To lose one of these coins would surely have been a heartbreak, and we can appreciate the joy of the woman in Jesus’ parable when she recovered hers.

We can learn a lot about God from this Parable of the Lost Coin. It tells us how much God loves you and me as unique, irreplaceable individuals. Think of it this way: We can imagine that the woman in Jesus’ parable could easily have been able to replace the lost coin. Likewise, if a woman today lost her engagement ring, she could probably go to the nearest jewelry store and by another ring similar to her old one. But it just wouldn’t be the same, would it? It wouldn’t be the same one that her husband had given her as a token of his love; it wouldn’t be the one she had come to treasure so dearly. A new ring would always be a poor substitute. We might say then, that a person’s engagement ring really cannot be replaced at all, ever.

This is precisely the way God thinks about you and me. In his eyes, we are deeply cherished, and under no circumstances can we be replaced. When we are lost to him, God doesn’t think, "Well, these little creatures are just a dime a dozen. There’s always more where they came from!" In God’s eyes, we are priceless, because we are absolutely unique.

Scientists have determined that the chance of another human being having the same DNA as you or me is 10 to the 2,400,000,000th power. If we were to write out that number with each zero being one inch wide, we’d need a strip of paper 37,000 miles long. As Rick Warren writes in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, "When God made you, he broke the mold. There never has been, and never will be, anybody exactly like you."

It’s because we are so special and so valuable that when we are lost, God goes looking for us. And God never, ever, gives up the hunt. The famous Christian writer C.S. Lewis was being interviewed on the radio when he was asked, "Mr. Lewis, can you tell us just when it was that you found God?" Lewis paused and thought for a moment, and then he said, "I can’t say that it was I who found God. In reality, it was more as if God found me!" But this is always the case. Because even if we think that we may have found God, it was God who was inspiring and guiding our search for him all along, whether we knew it or not.

Typically, God uses people to help him with his search. I’ll bet God used certain people to bring you where you are today, here at St. Hugh’s/Christ the King, worshipping as a believing member of the Body of Christ. I know that God has used a lot of folks to shepherd me along my journey.

What’s more, God wants to use us to help him find others. Just think for a moment about your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors. Surely there are some within this network of relationships that are in need of God, who are lost. They are our personal mission field. As the old saying goes, we may be the only Christian that they know. God wants to use us to help them be found by him.

Another thing we can learn from the Parable of the Lost Coin is that when a lost person found by God, there is great joy in heaven. When the woman in the parable found her lost coin, she threw a party with her friends and neighbors. And as Jesus went on to explain, "There will be great rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

I know of a married businessman who at one point in his life developed a drinking problem and began an affair with another woman. But then he was found by God, and God turned his life around. The man stopped drinking, ended the affair, made amends to his wife, entered marriage counseling, and returned to church. As he shared with a friend, "I have this image that there’s a celebration in heaven going on because of what’s happened to me." And according to Jesus, he was absolutely right.

I once saw a cute poster of a little dog hanging in a church classroom. The caption read: "I’m valuable because I’m loved by God!" In a nutshell, that is the message of the Parable of the Lost Coin. When we’re lost, God hunts for us because we are priceless and irreplaceable. As John Newton wrote in his famous hymn, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see." That’s the God we have; that’s the God we worship. Thanks be to God!

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