Before I attended seminary at Duke Divinity School, I took a year to serve at my home church as an intern. I worked with our children and youth groups. The congregation was kind enough to give me opportunities to preach. In fact, I returned to preach a homecoming there a couple of years ago. One church member said, “I remember when you were an intern. You’ve gotten so much better.” (I’m not sure that was a complement).
On my last Sunday before I headed off to Duke, my youth director called me in front of the congregation. He presented me with a leather United Methodist hymnal with my name printed in gold. On the inside of the hymnal, he wrote me the most encouraging note of support and thanks for my service. My home church gave me a personalized hymnal. I took it off with me to seminary. During days of doubting myself if I could really handle the workload of seminary, I would turn to that front page of the hymnal and read those words of encouragement. I have taken that hymnal to every church service.
If you turn to the communion liturgy in my hymnal, you will find grape juice stains on the pages and bread crumbs. If you turn to the baptismal liturgy, you will find water marks from baptisms I have officiated. If you turn to the hymn “Silent Night,” you will find candle wax that has dripped onto the page from Christmas Eve services gone by. My hymnal has become a tangible sign of God’s work in my life and ministry. I treasure it.
Which is why it pained me two years ago, when I headed into worship and reached for my hymnal on the corner of the desk and it wasn’t there. I felt off kilter the whole service. For the next week, I dug through every box. I scoured the sanctuary. I looked in Blair’s office to see if she borrowed it.
I put a notice in our weekly email. Nothing! No leads. Every time I saw a colleague with their leather bound hymnal, I’d run over to check for my name. I had hoped during our move to Haygood, the hymnal would pop up somewhere as we packed. Nothing.
We all know what it’s like to lose something. God does too.
In chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells these two parable about losing something.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The truth is that these parables are not about sheep or coins. They are about God’s greatest treasure: you.
Just recently, I wasn’t having the best start to the week. I was upset about the Falcons’ game. I was in my office and saw my phone was blinking with a message. It was a 205 area code so I thought it might be a sales call. Later that afternoon, I finally listened to the message. “This message is for Rev. Zant. I’m the administrator at Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa. We found a hymnal with your name on it.”
(I didn’t know they went to church in Tuscaloosa).
It occurred to me that I left it there on a youth choir tour two years ago. I gave them a call as quickly as I could. She said, “I’m the new administrator here at this church. I’m cleaning up this office. There’s junk everywhere. I came across this hymnal. And my co-worker and I were looking at it. She said we could probably trash it. Looks like someone spilled juice all over it. But I saw your name and I looked inside and saw that nice note. I said, ‘I bet he’s been looking for it. I’m sure it means the world to him. I think it’s worth saving.’ So I looked you up and gave you a call. If you still want it, I can mail it to you.”
And today, it’s in my hands!
As I have reflected back on it, I didn’t once feel, “Wow. You guys have had that hymnal for two years and you’re just getting back to me? That’s awful.” Nor did I feel guilt and say, “Will, you’re such a clutz.” All I felt was joy. I found what was lost. That’s how God feels about us when we are found. If you are looking to be found, God is ready to celebrate you too.
I think about those words on the other end of that phone. “I’m sure it means the world to him. I think it’s worth saving.” Because I hear God’s words loud and clear for each one of us. You mean the world to God. You are worth saving.