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A homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA at 8:00 a.m. on March 10, 2013.  

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C (RCL): Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            I wonder how many here got caught up in the frenzy of the TV show “Lost.” It was a drama which ran for six seasons about the survivors of a commercial airline that crashed on a mysterious island somewhere in the South Pacific. The show was apparently very popular due to a good dose of science-fiction and the supernatural that revolved around various lives which were suddenly torn apart or thrown together.

Today’s Gospel lesson contains no sci-fi or supernatural elements, but is likely the most popular parable ever told by Jesus. The Prodigal Son, which is rivaled only by that of the Good Samaritan, is a drama about a kind of ‘lost-ness.’

Earlier in Luke, Jesus spoke about sheep getting lost by nibbling their way apart from the flock; they find one tuft of grass to nibble on, and when that’s done, they look for the next patch to extend their meal. Sometimes they were carried away by their appetite into realms unknown and places unseen, or, at least, out of sight from the shepherd. We too may be like those lost sheep that nibble our way into the faraway country.

Jesus also spoke of the coin that is lost through carelessness. We might choose the wrong friends, move in the wrong direction, hang out in the wrong places, or make the wrong decisions. With all this wrong-ness in our lives, we could become lost, one from another, through either indifference or negligence.

The ‘lost-ness’ that Jesus speaks to in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is, in fact, a chosen state. You think you know what you’re doing. You thumb your nose at God and the people around you. And like the Prodigal, you make off to a faraway country by your own choice.

So how is it that that which was lost later became found? Scripture suggests that it is not the result of some great and wonderful spiritual revelation. For being found does not necessarily require cleaning up your act and changing your lifestyle (although it may help!) As in the case of the ‘least of these’ that Jesus called to become Disciples of Christ, God cleans the fish after God catches them. In fact, with this Prodigal, the tipping point comes in verse 17 when this willfully lost one “came to himself,” suggesting he makes a wiser choice than those of the recent past. “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; …” There is nothing here that looks like science-fiction, or feels the least bit supernatural.

There are two truths in this story which feel very re-assuring: 1) that you and I have a homestead in God, and 2) Jesus is always seeking us to find us, to have us, and to keep us close.

When we’re lost, it’s because we have nibbled our way off to places apart from where we are meant to be. Each of us has a place in us for God to reside and abide with us. There is no other thing, be it employment, success, a special relationship, or even our families, which will fill that void. It is intended for and reserved by God for God. Much like when Adam and Eve left the Garden because of their transgressions, when we stray, we leave the presence of God and eventually find ourselves feeling homesick.

You’ve heard me say this before - When you feel the lack of God’s presence in your life, ask yourself: Who moved? We are made by our Creator to have a life and home in God, and God in us. Jesus as the great Good Shepherd is always actively seeking to find us when we stray.

Jesus regularly sought the lost in all kinds of unlikely places. He upset religious leaders by supping with the lost – those who were not righteous, nor clean, nor altogether good. Jesus as the great healer would go to those places where healing needed to occur. Our Lord seeks us in our lostness. It is in the being found by Him that we return home and find our roots, either once again or perhaps for the first time.

While on a Journey-to-Adulthood pilgrimage to Scotland with youth from Grace Church, we took a daytrip from Iona to Staffa in the Southern Hebrides. (Heb-rid-ees) Staffa, a volcanic island with amazing geological features of prismatic columns of basalt, is home to Fingal’s Cave that was carved by the sea’s waves. As we crossed the water to Staffa, I had an epiphany of ‘being home,’ of fully embracing my Scottish heritage from my mother’s side of our family. It was neither fantastical nor supernatural, but completely affirming. What a delight it was to be found at home on the seas of Scotland.

We must have a sound understanding of what and where our true home is in order to really be aware when we are lost. If you ever know what it means to be lost, it might be a gift. For knowing you are lost means there may be joy in the returning back home.

Here in Luke’s Gospel, there are four things that are lost. I’ve mentioned the sheep, a coin, and the Prodigal Son. But the fourth thing that may also be lost is the Prodigal’s older brother. He is lost and doesn’t even realize it. That may be more tragic than the first three. His lack of awareness of his own lost-ness may be too bound up in staying home, playing by the rules, and missing out on the extravagant love of his father.

P. T. Forsyth, a wonderful English preacher, said, “The only way to the Father is through the far country.” [i] I believe the far country can be that place where we are disillusioned with who we are and where we find ourselves. It is then when we have nibbled too far from the flock, or have become too careless with the people, paths, places or choices we have made.

When the Prodigal Son learned, not too late thankfully, of that divide which separated him from family and the place which is his home, he said, “Is this all there is?” And the Father replied, “No. There is more. Come home.”


[i] in Chapter 31: Lost and Found of Mastering the New Testament: Luke, by Bruce Larson; Lloyd J. Ogilvie, General Editor; Word , Inc., 1983, p.230.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your excellent homily on your web site. I love the way you tie scriptures to "Lost" and our every day life.
Love, Dad
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )