Scripture: Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV)
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.'
So he told them this parable: '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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ?Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.? Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
'Or 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? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ?Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.? Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'
Recently, I was searching the shelves in my office at the hospital for a book. I had seen it there only a few days before, but I couldn't find it, no matter how many times I looked. Just as I was beginning to despair, one of our Roman Catholic volunteers, Sr. Marjorie, came into the office and I poured out my frustration.
"You have to say a prayer to St. Anthony," she told me, "St. Anthony, please look around. Something's lost that must be found."
Sr. Marjorie and I have a good relationship, so I teased her a bit, "You've got the wrong saint. The one you really want to ask for help finding things is St. Phanourios." I told her the story that one of my Greek Orthodox colleagues had told me of the previously unknown saint, whose icon was miraculously discovered in the ruins of an old church in Rhodes in the 1500s. Due to the icon's status as a found item, the saint, whose name means "Revealer," became the patron saint of finding lost things.
"Besides," I told Marjorie,"Phanourios is a better saint than Anthony because, when your object turns up, you don't just say 'thanks,' you celebrate by baking a special lemon-spice cake, a phanouriopita, to share with all of the people at church. Any saint that comes with their own cake recipe is the clear winner in my book." This week's gospel reading reflects that same sense of celebration. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, the parties spill over and involve the whole community. Nobody questions why the sheep wandered off to begin with, there's no complaining about the carelessness of losing the coin in the first place. Everybody just celebrates.
Each week at coffee hour we celebrate all of those souls who have found their way home. Some have been there every Sunday for as long as they can remember. Others are returning after an absence. Still others might be there for the very first time. Maybe we should have a phanouriopita to get the party started.
God of the lost and the found, remind us of your joy for each soul that comes home to you. Help us to rejoice, to join the party, and to celebrate your gift of grace for all people. Amen.
Director of Spiritual Care at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. He also serves as pastor of the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury, CT.