Toorak Uniting Church

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Lost and found

Luke 15: 1 – 10     Psalm 14
Rev. Ian Brown
12 September 2004

Here is something of an invitation to converse with Jesus and reflect on his stories:

How many of you have ever lost a sheep?

Not many I’d guess, one doesn’t find too many sheep in this neighborhood, but I think we could suppose a few coins might have been lost in these parts?

Jesus stories are about real life and what it teaches us; Jesus is interested in the things that really happen to us, as well as in gently opening up the issues behind these very real experiences.
His listeners knew about loosing animals, about loosing coins and had the wisdom to realize that these could be a metaphor for thinking about other forms of getting lost.

People can get lost, ... there are times when we can feel a little lost, or more than just a little, and there are people who get quite badly lost.

What have you lost, I wonder?
      What was that like?
            What does it feel like to loose something important?
Were you ever lost as a child, or have you lost a child? It’s one of life’s truly awful feelings!

The small child lost in the shopping centre with a tear in the corner of their eye, or bawling their heart out is one of the sights of real anguish seen in our well off western world.

Recent world events remind us again that loss can be terribly tragic. The loss of so many innocent lives in Russia, now in Jakarta; a world, some say that is loosing it’s innocence. I know that God stands especially close to people in these instances of loss, but this is not the sort of loss Jesus spoke of. He was talking about ordinary, inadvertent loss. These events of terror are not really loss at all, but violent theft, the stealing of life and peace. This forceful use of awful power to take cannot be called a simple loss. This is the sort of evil denounced in Psalm 14; "they are corrupt, they do abominable deeds."
In our world community, much is being taken by people who feel aggrieved and justified by their cause. Our news is full of it, full of commentators looking for why.
We certainly feel at a loss to understand or to help.

In Australia today one lost sheep is not a newsworthy event. There is nothing romantic or noble about the way we treat sheep. For us they are just 1,000, or 15,000 head, to be handled by dogs or by men on a trail bikes. Or they are that pathetic mob of trembling mutton that are packed like woolly sardines on a ship bound for the Middle East.

Biblical times could not be more different to this. Small flocks, often 20-30, each sheep with a name, each shepherd living seven days a week with his flock. One lost sheep was a significant event.
The shepherd in the story has a hundred sheep, a huge flock for the day – sheep to spare, but he leaves his 99 and he searches.
This is the God we worship, God has people to spare, but each one is precious, each one sought, and a celebration over each one found.

Jesus told his stories about sheep and things being lost and looking for them because he came to help and save those who knew that they needed help - the people who felt lost or were made to feel like they should get lost.

And because Jesus was seen hanging around undesirable people there were good upstanding folk who thought that this wasn't right. They said "this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." Well that’s right!

Jesus said that he came especially for these people who know that they need help. Jesus came to show God's love to them and to lead them home, to save them all from their lostness.
It is also true that we can loose parts of our selves, I don't mean just losing limbs, we can loose our confidence, our direction, our health.

It set me wondering, what else can we loose of ourselves?

We might loose our self worth, purpose, memory, direction, loose aspects of our health, our abilities or our hope, loose self control, friends, spirituality, integrity, connections, community. There are many things of great value that we can easily loose.

Today's gospel, and remember that gospel means good news; - the gospel is that Jesus comes to seek and save the lost, he goes after the ones who are off the tracks, Jesus cares about the lost parts of our selves. And Jesus comes not to point the finger of accusation at us or force us to follow him - Jesus comes to find us and to help us to find ourselves and our true life, the "life abundant" that he spoke of.

The response in heaven, Jesus said is one of great joy and celebration - a party in heaven over the return of the lost, joy when we recognize our lostness and turn to Jesus.
This is the true wonder of God's grace.

Who then are we in these stories, are we the lost, people with needs that we recognize and are prepared to take to Jesus; to be found and taken home? Or are we like the Pharisees, folk who grumble when undesirables are welcomed into God's love?

Today we might wonder - how lost can someone be - and still be loved and sought by God? According to this Jesus of Nazareth, who knew a thing or two about being on the wrong end of state power, the lost are always sought.

How then do we respond to God who searches us out to heal and help us find ourselves?
How do we engage in God’s work of seeking out the lost?

How do we respond to a God who is like a shepherd who must find every last sheep, or a God who is like a woman who won't let one coin be wasted?

May we all be people with the grace to be found and a willingness to join in the great joy of heaven. Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2004

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