Thursday, September 13, 2007

Red Dirt Ramblings: Lost Taxis, Stolen Souls

Week of September 16: Luke 15:1-10

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 3So he told them this parable: 4 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’”

Yesterday, we had a small staff devotional in the Mission Office. We read this scripture and I asked Rosalie and Collins if they had ever lost anything valuable. They both nodded and told their stories.

What I found interesting is that both stories had to do with things that had been stolen. They didn’t speak of things which they had misplaced; instead, both spoke of things that had been lost because somebody else had taken them.

For example, Rosalie told how she and her husband had scraped money together to buy a small car and start a taxi business. After only a few weeks of operation, someone stole the car. At first, the taxi driver said he had been carjacked. But after a police investigation, it became clear that the driver himself was part of the plot.

The police awaited Rosalie’s testimony to put the driver into prison, perhaps for a long time. Rosalie was ready to do it, but her husband stopped her.

“You’re the prison minister for the United Methodist Church,” he reminded her. “You know what it’s like in that place. Do you really want to send him there?”

She paused to consider the situation, and concluded that she couldn’t do that to him.

To this day, the car has not been found.

And thus, Rosalie considers it “lost.”

Each one of the three parables in Luke 15 center on a lost item: a sheep, a coin, and a son. But in each story, the item itself is responsible for having become lost: the sheep wanders off from the flock, the coin rolls under a table, and the son leaves the family farm.

The emphasis of all three parables is on the reactions of the shepherd, the woman, and the father when they find their lost things. Jesus compares their relief with the “great rejoicing” in heaven which occurs when a sinner repents.

However, this week, I have been considering the fact that many people are “lost,” not because they have wandered off by themselves, but because they have been “stolen.” Something or someone may have emotionally or physically removed them from their place of security and comfort; great impersonal evil forces may have swept them away from the presence of God and into despair and misery.

In places of great poverty, people often feel, not so much “lost,” but alienated, removed, dislocated from their dignity. There is little that one person can do to recover what has been stolen from him or her.

But that is apparently exactly what Jesus seems to be talking about. A person is never completely separated from the eternally-searching Spirit of God. There is always a shepherd scanning the hills, a woman on all fours checking dusty corners, and a father standing by the road waiting …