My wife and I were going home for Christmas. I was mid-way through my internship with Northside church of Christ is Wichita, KS and we were leaving (for a few weeks anyway) the bleak and snowy winter of Kansas to enjoy a Fresno, CA Christmas at home. We decided that driving would take too long and we were not up for a long car trip, so we booked our flight witha layover in Dallas. Everything went…well, they went.
We were late leaving Wichita because the plane was having some issues. It is a little unsettling stepping onto a plane that is having problems, but somehow we did it. But because we were late leaving Wichita, it meant we would miss our connecting flight. So we were able to arrange a later flight (same day fortunately). We made it to Dallas (finally) and had some extra time on our hands. We walked around the airport in no particular hurry, watching everyone bustle around. We found the gate our plane would be departing from and decided it was lunch time. We found a Whataburger (which they do not have in Wichita) and ate there. I remember it was warm in the terminal. And when we had left Wichita it was bitter cold. We were expecting it to be cold in California, so I had my jacket with me. But in the tropical climate which is the Dallas airport, I was roasting so I took it off during the meal.
After lunch, we collected our things and went back to the gate. I check with the people at the desk to make sure things were OK (since we had to be bumped) and lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, we had been bumped to First Class!! Oh yeah. Kim and I were exuberant over this news. First Class! La De Da. Neither of us had ever flown First Class before so this was a treat. We were excited and could bearly contain ourselves as they began boarding. We marched triumphantly, noses high as we walked past the lowly folk who had to fly coach. Oh brother, right. Well, I suppose it was not quite that grand, but it was pretty awesome. We found our seats on the plane, stowed away our carry-ons and sat back in those oversized chairs, waiting for take off.
I was mentally checking off the things I carried on. Laptop…check. Backpack…check. Jacket…and literally as the flight attendant was closing the door, it hit my like a sack of bricks. My jacket. I had left my jacket in the terminal at our seats. By the way, this was no ordinary jacket. This was my favorite jacket: black corduroy with a wool collar, not too think or thin, I had had since high school, my wife had a matching coat that I had gotten her one year for Christmas…just a good coat which I loved. And I had left in the terminal in Dallas.
I very calmly informed my wife what I had done. She called a flight attendant over and we explained the situation. Of course there was no way I could get off the plane to go try to find my coat. She called the people at the gate desk to search for it. They looked but told her it was gone already. Just moments previous I was elated to be in First Class; now I was absolutely deflated, disheartened that my jacket was gone.
For the entire we were in California, I was inconsolable. Every day I called the Dallas airport lost and found. Every day I was told my jacket was not there. For three weeks I agonized over my coat, certain it was lost. I did get a fleece pullover for Christmas, black and white just like my coat…but it was not the same. I contemplated buying a new coat, but they were too expensive. All I could do was wait.
The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.8-10) is a twin to the preceding parable. It has the same context and much of the same imagry. A woman has ten coins (Gk. drachma). This is equivalent to ten days wages. Some infer that this is the image of a very poor women and these ten coins are her life’s savings. So naturally, if this is so, when she loses one, that is a big part of her livelihood, she would sweep the house, light lamps, trying to find that one coin. Picture a frantic search, a search where perhaps there are tears. Her hands and knees become bloody from scraping the floor. Persperation beads on her forehead. Her eyes are ablaze with intensity. Where is the coin?
So also is God pictured here: he is involved in a frantic search for every soul of every person. There are no lengths he will not go to, not lamp he will not light, no corner left unswept, no furniture left unturned until he finds his lost child. It is a frantic search for our God seeks a creature that is created in his image, much more valuable that any coin. It is intense because our God knows what lay beyond death for the soul not saved. He is searching and is not far from each on of us.
Finally, the frantic search is over; the coin is found. Picture a woman with tears welling up, streaming down her face. She has found her prize. But she will not keep this to herself; calling her friends over, she invites them to rejoice with her. In the same way, heaven erupts in celebration over the sinner who repents. Angels break out in glorious praise of God and rejoice even with God himself over the return of the lost one.
On our return flight to Wichita, we had a layover in Dallas. The frantic search was on! Kim and I raced around the airport (no small feat in the Dallas airport), hurriedly making our way to the lost and found department. I was going to make sure that my coat was gone. I had little hope of getting it back. Nevertheless, I found the lost and found department and made my request as I had so many times before during the last three weeks. Black corduroy, white wool collar, Burnside brand name, pocket contents. The lady made her way back to the racks and looked around.
“Black jacket, you said?” she asked. I nodded.
“Wool collar?” A glimmer of hope as I nodded again.
Wouldn’t you know it, she pulled it off the rack. My jacket!! My lost jacket…was found. My jaw dropped. My wife’s jaw dropped. We couldn’t believe it, but there it was. She handed it over to me, and we went on our rejoicing, calling family and letting them know what happened so they could rejoice with us. And I know what your thinking…it’s just a jacket. But to me it is so much more; it is memories and connections, it is a hundred cold days, it is mine. Surely you have something of sentimental value. Lose that one thing and you hurt. But the feeling of finding it…there are no words for that feeling.
It is that feeling I carry with me when I read Luke 15. Lost things that are found. I imagine God has those same feelings, only magnified a billion times because of how big he is and how much more precious a lost sinner is to God. Our God is a God who rejoices over the return of lost people. It is this God Jesus pictures for us in these parables.