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Lost and Found

May 9, 2012

Lost was a popular television series a few years ago.  It followed the survivors of an airplane crash over several seasons of suspenseful drama.  We are fascinated with stories of lost objects and people.  We follow these stories with great interest–desperately hoping that the missing person, animal or property will be found.  Tragically, not all are found.  The word “lost” appears many times in Scripture, but it only appears six times in the same verse as the word “found.”  Four of the six times the words appear in the same verse are in the fifteenth chapter of Luke—known as the “lost” chapter.[1]

Luke 15:  The “Lost” Chapter

Luke 15 includes the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost boy.  The emphasis of the parables is not on being lost, but on being found.  A master communicator, Jesus addressed his audiences in the current vernacular.  In chapter 15, he used common examples of lost property and a boy to explain to his audience that while we are all lost, God will go looking for us, find us and return us to His flock.  The focus of the parables is not on the “lostness” of the property or person, but, instead, on how they are found:

Lost Agent How Found Tools
sheep shepherd looked for eyes, experience, shepherd’s crook
coin[2] woman looked for eyes, broom, light
son God sought circumstances (pigs, poverty), insight that comes with experience, free will, prayers of family, forgiveness of father.

The final story in the trilogy, the parable of the lost boy, brings together elements of the first two parables, teaching us that we are precious to God, and that He will use people and circumstances to bring us back into the fold.  Like the sheep and the coin, which required someone to look for them and find them, the lost son also has a finder:  God.  God sought out the prodigal son, and used circumstances and people bring him home.  The father was a key character—the son knew of his forgiving nature.  It is unlikely that he would have returned home if he expected to be rejected and turned away.  The parts played by the father, the younger son and the elder son are generally considered to be metaphors for God (the father); us lost souls (the younger son) and the self-righteous Pharisees (the elder son).

We are reading The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen, in our small group, which is based on Nouwen’s study of the Rembrandt painting by that name, as well as the Luke 15 parable.  There are three other people in the painting, in addition to the three main characters. The barely visible woman in the upper left of the painting is thought to be the mother.  It’s easy to imagine the days and nights that the mother spent praying for the safe return of her younger son.

An Easter People

Another mother who prayed for the return of her son was Monica, whose son led a dissolute life, frittering away his immense intellect and abilities.  A stalwart prayer warrior, Monica never gave up on her son; she prayed constantly for him, and spoke to godly people who would have a positive influence on him.  At the age of 32, the son was struck by the truths of Christianity during a personal crisis, and converted.  He was Augustine of Hippo—“Without a doubt . . . the most significant extrabiblical theologian of the first millennium.”[3]

Augustine was in search of truth; God always responds to those who seek truth with an open heart.  The statement, “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song,” is generally attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo.[4]  It is a fitting reminder, during this Easter season[5], of the basis for our hope.

Life gives us many opportunities for despair– the loss of a loved one to death, drugs or illness; the loss of a job, the loss of health, setbacks at work, the loss of retirement funds in a fluctuating stock market, the loss of love, the loss of friendship, the loss of a home and other treasured things—to name a few types of losses leading to despair.

But in a world filled with despair, we need to remember that we are an Easter people—a people with hope in the future.  Echoing St. Augustine, John Paul II reminded us: “Never abandon yourselves to despair, for we are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

The great irony of the resurrection is that while Jesus’ Jewish disciples and followers expected Him to be swept into power as their earthly king, God turned that expectation on its head—offering Jesus, not as an earthly king, but as a sacrificial lamb.[6]  The Good Shepherd, in charge of finding the lost lambs of the flock, became himself, the sacrificial lamb for the forgiveness of our sins.  We who, like the prodigal son, have “helplessly lost the way,” are amazed to be rescued by Jesus:  “Who would have thought that a lamb could rescue the souls of man?”[7]

It’s no wonder that “hallelujah is our song,” and that George Frideric Handel was inspired to compose a piece of choral music (“Hallelujah”) in his Messiah that, almost three centuries later, rocks our souls every time we hear it during the Easter and Christmas seasons:

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

May 6, 2012


[1] R.Z. Meyer, pastor emeritus of Palisades Lutheran Church, explained that Luke 15 was referred to in seminary as the “lost” chapter of Luke, since it recounts the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost boy.


[2]  Note to Luke 15:8-10: “Palestinian women received ten silver coins as a wedding gift. Besides their monetary value, these coins held sentimental value like that of a wedding ring, and to lose one would be extremely distressing.”  Life Application Study Bible, NIV, Tyndale House Publishers.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk, March 2012, “Augustine on Faith and Reason,”:p. 45.

[4] I have not been able to locate the source of this quote.  It could have come from one of his many Easter sermons, or it may be a paraphrase of several of his writings (e.g.: his exposition of Psalm 148; Selected Easter Sermons of St. Augustine, Philip T. Weller, B. Herder Book Co. (1959), Sermon #17, p. 127.)

[5] The Easter Season in the church calendar runs the fifty days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost—beginning with the empty tomb, continuing with numerous sightings of the resurrected Jesus and  ascension, and ending with the fulfillment of his promise–the coming of the Holy Spirit.

[6] John called Jesus the “lamb of God.” (John 1:29, 36)

[7] Kim Hill, female vocalist and songwriter: “Wonderful, Merciful Savior.”

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