Forty-one years ago Roger and Sally got married. They did all the normal things that married couples do, and, eventually, they had two daughters of their own. But still there was something missing; there was a part that just wasn't there. Roger had a daughter from a previous, short-lived marriage many years before, a daughter he had never been able to see, never been able to contact. He and Sally told their two daughters about their half-sister, and the whole family longed to meet, see, touch, know that little girl. And all they knew was her name: Valorie.
Roger carried in his wallet the only photo he had of Valorie, a picture of her as a baby in the bathtub. Over the years, Roger, Sally, and their family moved 38 times in 41 years. Thirty-eight moves, job transfers, new opportunities, new possibilities. In each town with each new neighbor, each new home, and all the new people being met, Roger always wondered in his soul, "Might I see Valorie here today?"
When you're a loving father, every one of your children has immense value. There is no such thing as one child that doesn't matter. You treasure each one. Roger could have played the percentages game. I mean, he was caring for two out of his three daughters. I mean, two out of three ain't bad. But loving fathers don't play percentages.
God's love is like that. So Jesus told them this parable:
"…suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (NIV)
Now the coin in that story that Jesus tells was a drachma, and drachmas didn't have a whole lot of value in that day. You couldn't buy much with a single drachma. It was nearly valueless. But that drachma was not valueless to that woman. She treasured each one of her coins, and one of her possessions, one of her coins, was missing. So she lit the lamp, got the broom, searched high and low because something that she treasured was lost, and it had to be found.
God's love is like that - God's love treasures. God's love treasures each one because there's no such thing as a life that is valueless. No such thing as a life without worth. No life, no person, who is without value to our Lord, the Giver of Life. He treasures every one of his possessions, and that includes you.
Through 38 moves over 41 years, Roger searched for Valorie. He didn't really know how to search - it's a lot easier to find a son than a daughter because girls have names changed, ex-wives remarry, names change, pictures change. There were very, very few tracks left to trace. But still Rodger carried that photo in his wallet.
Every time he was near Jacksonville, where Valorie had been born, he physically searched the city for traces or clues to a Valorie that was lost and needed to be found. There was a part of him that was unsettled and restless. He and Sally bought phone books and scoured them for clues. His two daughters talked about saving their funds to hire an investigator someday to help find Valorie, as a special Christmas gift for their father. Roger used the Internet - throwing out feelers in any direction possible - until the day he came across myfamily.com. He went to that website, and he shared his story of his daughter Valorie, of 41 years, of a search that just wouldn't end.
A loving father will search for that which is lost. There's no giving up - no quitting point. Any father who has ever lost a child for even just a moment can tell you that.
Ten or 12 years ago, Anita, my wife, and I and our two girls, Sara Ann and Griffin, headed to Disney World for a vacation. I went to high school in Lakeland, Florida, and so we were going to stay with my parents. And we made our plan, and, unfortunately, Anita and I made a crucial mistake: We invited my parents and her parents to go with us. So now, instead of caring for two kids, we were now caring for six people - four grandparents and two kids. But Anita had a plan. She's careful, she's meticulous, she's detailed, and she mapped it all out. She had laid out the day to maximize our time in the Magic Kingdom. She even bought one of those books at Barnes & Noble that helps you lay out and plan your day. The girls were, I guess, four and six - Sara Ann being six, and Griffin, four. And so on our day calendar, one of the events was to go to Country Bear Jamboree, you know, the place where all the stuffed bears play the bluegrass music, and we were looking forward to that, and the girls were excited. And so we filed in.
Our plans said that as soon as Country Bear Jamboree was over, we were going to step out of the Jamboree hall, out to the street and watch the parade of all the Disney characters. So Country Jamboree happened. We had a great time. They had us all file out of the hall. We went out into the street. And there was one glitch in our plan, because evidently, everybody else had the same plan - so when we filed out, we walked straight, not to the street, but into the sea of people, a sea of tourists and cameras and mouse ears. And so we got into a single file-me, my wife, my two daughters, my four grandparents with us-and we filed down the street through the crowd trying to find a spot so that we could perch ourselves on the curb and watch Mickey and Minnie and Daffy and all those characters come walking along the parade.
I turned around when we found our spot, and there was no Griffin, my four-year old daughter. I asked my dad, "Grandpa, have you seen Griffin?" He gave me a bewildered look, and all of a sudden panic sat in. Here I was in a sea of people and I had the worst feeling I have ever had in my stomach. My four-year old daughter was gone. Anita and I immediately headed in separate directions - marching down the middle of the parade route, shouting at the tops of our lungs-I headed one direction, she headed the other-"Griffin! Griffin! Griffin!" The worst fears in the backs of our minds - the tour book had taught us that it only takes about 10 minutes to get a child out of the Magic Kingdom. We had 10 minutes before who-knows-what could be happening to our little four-year old daughter.
Everywhere we looked there were crowds of people but no Griffin. Still we marched up and down the parade route coming back to each other, reporting in that we'd had no luck, we couldn't find her. We asked workers from Disney World to help us, and they began to search too. We left everything - we left our parents, we left the grandparents, we left everybody, we didn't care who saw us, we didn't have any idea if anybody wanted to try to stop us. We didn't care who got in the way - we were on a mission. Our child was lost and nothing else mattered.
Several minutes passed, and a Disney World worker came up to me, and she said, "Oh, don't worry. We've found a child, and she brought a girl who was about 12 years old with black hair. And I said, "That's not my child!" And I went back out into the street, dodging the band as it was coming down the parade route. Back and forth I went, up and down the street, alongside my wife, yelling at the tops of our lungs, "Griffin! Griffin! Griffin!" A few minutes later, another Disney World worker came up with Griffin in tow. "Is she yours?" she asked. I couldn't say a word. I fell down in front of my little four-year old girl with her red hair, and I hugged her - tears streaming down my cheeks. Griffin was unfazed by the whole thing. She was kind of playing with her hands, and she looked at me and she said, "Poppy, I have a hang nail." It was one of the happiest moments of my life. The people around us we didn't even know, but they applauded and smiled. And I wanted everyone to know. I wanted them to celebrate. In fact, I wanted the whole world to stop and rejoice because what was lost had been found.
A loving father acts; he is not passive. He doesn't stand by. A loving father searches until a lost child is found. He never quits.
God's love is like that. God's love seeks and persists. His love never quits.
Roger kept searching, and he engaged myfamily.com. And the myfamily.com staff asked him a few questions, and a few months later they called back with a few more questions - Roger getting his hopes up when the phone rang, and the caller ID said "myfamily.com." But they just had more questions about Valorie and about his former marriage and about Jacksonville. A few months later the phone rang again, still more questions. Then, finally, a few months later, the phone rang again, and Roger, this time, didn't have his hopes up. A woman at the other end of the line said, "Mr. Scott?' "Yes?" Roger said. "We found her!" Roger says those were the three simplest, most beautiful words he had ever heard: "We found her!"
Contact was made - at first from a distance and without much detail - until Valorie agreed that she was willing to take the step to meet her father, the man she had very few details or very few memories of. They made the plans to meet face-to-face in Atlanta, and as soon as she gave the word, Roger wrote from Seattle to Atlanta, as he prepared to make the cross-country trek to meet his daughter after 41 years. In his e-mail, he said, "I'm completely packed and ready to go. My trip starts at 8 o'clock tonight with a ferry ride, a shuttle ride, an airplane ride, a three-hour layover, another airplane ride, another shuttle ride, a car ride, and a hotel check-in. And finally we will be together!"
And meet they did. They met, they hugged, they cried, they touched, they marveled.
Roger became what he calls "the Cholesterol Guy." You remember that ad, where the fellow wakes up in the morning, and he's just telling everybody around him, "I lowered my cholesterol! I lowered my cholesterol!" But Roger was, "I found my daughter! I found my daughter! I found my daughter!" Looking for anybody to tell. He didn't care who they were, whether he knew them or not. It was a joy that couldn't be contained, a joy that had to be shared, a joy so great that one person could not possibly hold onto it. That's how a loving father is - when he finds the one that is lost, he rejoices and invites everyone else to do so
That's why I tear up at virtually every baptism I participate in. I like for people to applaud. I don't mind some shouting. I'm not so big on being dignified in church, to be honest, because all these parables in Luke 15 - The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Lost Son - all three of them end the same way. Par-ty! Festival! Joy!
God's love is that way: God's love rejoices! In fact, that may be the best part of God's love - God's love rejoices.
A woman calls her friends and invites them to rejoice with her. The coin that she has treasured has been found.
God's love for us is like that. It's extravagant - 4th of July fireworks! A raucous celebration - angels and saints, all of heaven rejoicing.
God loves. That's a promise. I invite you to embrace that promise. I invite you to live in the immensity of that promise.
Please pray with me.
Almighty and everlasting God, God of supreme and immense love, we bask and revel in your unconditional love, the treasure that seeks and persists, that rejoices. It humbles us to know just how much you love us. And today we hope, we pray, we invite you to invade our lives with your incredible love. In the name of Jesus Christ, your Son of love, we pray. Amen.