1st Sunday after Christmas
Texts: Luke 2:41-52;
Col. 3:12-17; 1 Sam 2:18-26
FOUND, CLOTHED, AND FED
Stories of being lost and found — both where you don’t even know you’re lost and stories where you do know you’re lost.
We all have stories of being lost and found. It might be with our children. It might be when we were children. Or maybe it’s a story of being lost as an adult. There are those jokes about us men not stopping to ask for directions.
But I have in mind this morning a more serious form of being lost and found. We have a favorite video in our family called The Buttercream Cream, a story about a small, rural town gang of youths who go about helping people instead of hurting people. But one of these youths, Pete, is an orphan who goes from his small town gang to living with an aunt in the big city. There, he slowly gets mixed in with a rough street gang, innocently at first, but then gradually becoming more like them, losing his innocence. His aunt sends him back to his grandparents in the small town where, instead of getting back with his old friends in the Buttercream Gang, he makes his own new gang of thugs sowing mischief and destruction. Pete is confronted at one point by one of his old friends, Scott, who is desperately trying to change Pete back to his old ways. Pete tells him that he can’t change: “It’s not that easy,” he tells Scott. “Have you ever gotten lost on your bike?” he asks. “When you finally realize you’re lost, you turn around and try to find your way back to where you were, but you make another wrong turn trying to get back, and you get even more lost.”
I’d like to talk about that way of being lost and found this morning. When we might not even realize that we’re lost at first. Then, by the time we do realize, it’s too late. We can’t find our way any longer on our own. No matter how much we even want to find our way back, we keep making more wrong turns and getting more and more lost. Perhaps it’s in a relationship, like a marriage. We didn’t even realize we had made a few wrong turns until it was too late. And sometimes a divorce doesn’t even help. We jump into another relationship, another marriage, before we find out what wrong turns we made the last time. Or maybe we got lost in the wrong job. Perhaps it was with drugs or alcohol. That’s still one of the most common ways to get lost. We think we’re just having a little fun; things are under control, we think. We don’t realize that we’ve taken some wrong turns onto the road of addiction until its too late. Even if we desperately want to find our way out, addiction has a way of getting us more and more lost — until, as in the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step program, we really stop trying to find our own way out, and we open our lives to simply being found that One who can truly find us and set us on the right path again. We admit our powerlessness, our lostness, and we turn our lives over to God, so that we might truly begin to find our way again.
This is the kind of lostness I want to talk about today. The kind of lostness that we confess most Sundays at the beginning of our worship, our lostness in the ways of sin. It’s the kind of being lost and found that we sing about in one of our favorite hymns, “Amazing Grace” (singing): “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.” This hymn recognizes, too, our blindness, that sometimes we don’t even see that we’re lost.
This is the kind of lostness that the Bible wants to talk about. And among the Gospel writers, St. Luke gives us this theme more than any of the other three Gospel writers. He has a whole chapter on it that is unique among the gospels. In Luke 15 Jesus tells us those three parables back-to-back-to-back: the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost, Prodigal Son. On Sunday mornings we gather to celebrate that we who are lost have been found. We celebrate like that shepherd who finds his lost sheep, like the woman who finds her lost coin, and like the Father, who upon the return of his Prodigal Son, tells his servants, “Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” We have been found, dressed in baptismal clothes, and fed with the Word and Sacrament.
Luke is also the only Gospel writer to tell us this story of Jesus being left behind in the Temple, without his mother and father even realizing it until three days had passed. But this, of course, a bit of a different story about being lost and found. On the surface, it’s about a twelve year-old boy being lost and then finally found by his parents. But in the exchange at the end between Jesus and his mother, it becomes evident that the story is really about the parents being lost. The boy Jesus knows exactly who he is and where he needs to be: in his Father’s house. It’s his mother and father who have lost him and need the help.
The amazing grace in this story is that it’s like a dry-run for what comes later: Jesus and his disciples will also later journey to Jerusalem, and the disciples will come away from Jerusalem thinking that they have lost Jesus forever to the cross, and not understanding that they are the ones who are lost. Jesus wasn’t lost on the cross. No, he was doing what he needed to do to save us! He was going to his Father’s house. When Jesus dies in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus knowingly offers his spirit back to God: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He does so, knowing that on the third day those who think they have lost him will find him.
Luke tells us that wonderful Easter story about the two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to the nearby village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; look it up in the pew bibles, NT p. 90). Like Mary and Joseph in this morning’s dry-run of the Easter story, these two disciples are going out from Jerusalem thinking they have lost Jesus. The difference in the Easter story, though, is that after three days, the Risen Jesus is going to find them. These two disciples on the road to Emmaus think that they have lost Jesus. They, of course, are the ones who are lost, so lost that they don’t even recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road. Jesus must explain to them everything from the Hebrew Scriptures about himself so that they might begin to recognize him again.
What did he tell them that morning? We don’t know, of course. That must have been an amazing bible study, don’t you think? It’d be great to know what Jesus told them. There’s no way we could reconstruct the whole thing. But I think that Jesus probably would have begun at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, with that story of the fall into sin, our first wrong turn into getting lost. Our lostness begins with listening to each other, listening to fellow creatures, instead of listening to God our Creator. Adam and Eve lived in Paradise. They had everything they needed, with just one boundary set from God. But they listened to their fellow creature, the serpent, and began to believe that maybe they didn’t have everything they needed, after all. They became convinced that God was withholding knowledge from them. And Paradise was lost. They began to live in a world which they perceived as not having everything they needed, a world in which they were now in competition with God and with each other. In such a world, one son kills the other son. They had made a wrong turn, without realizing it, and we have been lost ever since.
As we said, this is only the beginning of the story. Jesus must have gone much further with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, detailing for them the entire story of our lostness, and why it was necessary for him to die on the cross for us to be found again, to be clothed and fed. We won’t try to reconstruct that whole story this morning. But that wonderful story of the first wrong turn has given us a good start on recalling once again this morning why we are here every week to celebrate: because we who were lost have been found — and not just found, but clothed and fed, too.
That story from Genesis 3 leaves that first man and woman having made the first wrong turn without, perhaps, having fully realized exactly what the wrong turn was. But the story ends with a moment of grace in response to something that they did realize: they realized that they were naked. And God clothed them. Well, God in Jesus Christ has provided even finer clothing for us to wear — the finest! Our second lesson from Colossians has the wonderful news that we may clothe ourselves with the clothes Christ has prepared for us, the clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
Our gospel lesson notes that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph — but this is after he has just corrected his mother about her understanding his first loyalty: obedience to his heavenly father. Jesus came to retrace the steps that we had made. He most especially went back to get right the first wrong turn we make: listening to each other more than listening to God our Creator. He came to listen and to live in obedience to his heavenly Father’s loving desire. He ingested the Word of God and lived it. He was able to wear the clothes offered to all of us since the beginning of the world, the clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And, like he did for those disciples on the road to Emmaus, he came to seek us out and find us. He came to show us the way home to our Father’s house so that we who have been lost may be found and might receive the same greeting as any prodigal son or daughter to our heavenly Father’s house, to hear our Father say to us, ‘Quickly, put on a robe — the best one. … let us eat and celebrate; for you, child of mine, were dead and are alive again; you were lost and have been found!” And so we do celebrate again today that we have been found, dressed in baptismal clothes, and fed with the Word and Sacrament. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Zion Lutheran,
Racine, WI, December 31, 2000