Our family just returned from a couple weeks of driving, meetings, driving, camping, driving, hiking, driving, seeing family, and driving some more. We covered over 3,000 miles, most of them in Texas.
But I’m happy to report that I’m 52 cents richer for the experience. That’s how much money I found while running or walking for exercise in the mornings and evenings…3 dimes, 22 pennies, and one casino token! That brings to nearly six dollars the total I’ve found already this year.
I first started picking up change while training for the New York City Marathon in 1995. During the months of preparation, as I passed the miles along roadsides and sidewalks and parking lots, I’d always stop to pick up pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. I’d put them in a large jar, and that jar is now full to the top after eight marathons and more than a dozen years of running. I have found coins from Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Canada, Korea, and South Africa as well as occasional dollar bills, and even the rare five and ten dollar bills. My biggest find was a $20 bill! All of them are in the jar. Anytime I find a coin in the presence of my kids, one of us carries forth the family tradition that we started years ago by saying, “Well, I guess that makes it all worthwhile!”—a reference back to the comment I used to make long ago after finishing 15-mile training runs only to pour out five pennies on the table when I returned. A lot of work for a little pay-off.
My favorite coins in the jar are those I picked up on the edge of destruction…those so badly scarred, scraped, bent, or chipped that a few more days of highway traffic and they would have been beyond recognition. Since I’ve had years of training at searching for lost coins, I occasionally impress friends with my ability to see, locate, and identify coins on concrete, even at long distances. Sometimes while running, I’ll turn around, cross the street, and reach down to pick up a penny that barely caught my eye from the other side of the roadway. How do collectors see them when others don’t? You see what you’re looking for.
No preacher can talk about finding lost coins without somehow returning to the stories told by Jesus about lost things. (You knew I’d get to this point, didn’t you?) In the 15th Chapter of Luke (maybe my favorite chapter of my favorite book of the Bible), Jesus answers the religious “insiders” who are grumbling about his spending too much time with the “outsiders” by telling them three stories…about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. How does the sheep get lost? It nibbles its way lost; through distraction, ignorance, naivete, and simply following its own appetites without seeing the “big picture implications,” the sheep ends up wandering away from the flock. How does the son get lost? Willful rebellion against his father—basically wishing his dad were dead so he could get all his stuff and do his own thing.
How does the coin get lost? It does not wander nor rebel. It gets lost, becomes lost, is lost by someone else. No matter how you cut it, the lostness of the coin is described by a passive verb construction. Someone loses it. Carelessness? Distraction? Apathy? Anger? Negligence? Accident? We don’t know. But these attributes describe the person who loses it, not the coin itself.
Our congregations fulfill their mission in a sea of lost people, within and beyond our walls. There are so many ways we find ourselves cut off from God, from each other, from our families, from community, from our own best selves, from what God created us to be. We nibble ourselves lost, and we willfully rebel. The story of the ages is repeated in each of us.
But think about the people who aren’t lost because of their own volition, but because we lose sight of them. We don’t see them, like throwaway coins on the side of the road. We drop them, lose them, let them slip through the cracks and out of view and out of mind. They aren’t valuable enough to make the effort to find them.
Who are we losing sight of in our own churches, in our own communities? People get lost in our health care systems, our educational systems, our economic and political systems. They disappear from our view right in our own everyday paths!
And we lose people around our own churches…..people who live right in our own communities whom we cannot see. I was invited to meet with a congregation in South Texas one time about their future planning. I couldn’t find a parking space near the church because of all the traffic from attending a PTA meeting at the elementary school across the street from the church. As I met with the leaders, they said that their number one concern was that there were no young people in the church or the town anymore. When I told them I had to park a block away because of all the traffic at the elementary school across the street, they told me that I couldn’t count those kids and young families—they’re all Hispanic! The coin didn’t ask to be lost, did it?
And we lose people within our own churches…older adults, people going through divorce who slip into activity and are gone from us before we realize it, children who disappear amid family strife, single moms who don’t feel at home among us, families with children with special needs who visit a time or two and never return.
How did Jesus come up with this story of the lost coin? Surely people lost as many coins from their pockets, leather pouches, boxes, urns, and hands back then as we lose from our pockets and purses today. And I imagine that through his many miles of walking, Jesus must have occasionally reached down to pick up a lost coin and smile with his companions. Maybe he even kept a jar of lost coins himself, reminders of all the lost people he gathered around him by his Spirit to become his followers to transform the world he came to save.
How are we doing, friends, at searching for the lost?
Yours in Christ,