Lost and Found
Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28 Luke 15:1-10
I have no doubt like me at some point you have been temporarily lost or have lost someone or something precious. The trouble is that at the time in the terrifying moment of a child lost in a crowd you do not know if it is temporary or permanent.
To find and be found is an incredible joy.
Suddenly fear and confusion and loneliness are banished by a kindly smile and loving arms. Occasionally, If you are Scottish, after a bit of scolding. “Where have you been? Interspersed with, “it is so good to see you give me a hug”. If it is a big drama then wider family and neighbours can be involved and there can be a party when the reconciliation takes place.
The whole world was involved, holding its breath and praying when those 12 Thai boys were stranded in a cave for 18 days were found and led out last July, 2018. Do you recall that story? The tension was palpable and the rescue mission courageous. Everyone I know celebrate and rejoiced when they were all safely recovered, but I can only imagine the delight and celebrations when those parents hugged their sons. I have no doubt tears of delight would be shed.
Such is the joy that Jesus is emphasising in the parables of the one sheep, and the one coin and one Son al in Luke 15. All told back to back, so we slow people like me get the message. The lost found and the result is joy. Joy, not only on earth but in heaven, is the point he is making. Jesus says:
Come, rejoice with me for I have found the sheep which was lost.
And so I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous people who need no repentance.
Isn’t it true to say Jesus specialised in finding the lost.
Those who knew they were lost and those who did not.
Isn’t it a deep thing that our Lord reached out to what someone, ‘the least, the last and the lost’.
The ‘least’: like little children, or the mentally ill; or the woman who had a constant bleeding who dared to touch the hem of his garment.
The ‘last’: like the crippled man by the pool of Bethesda, or the “mad” man living naked among the tombs; or the lonely woman by the well.
The ‘lost’: like the prostitutes, the bewildered Nicodemus, or the rich young man who went sadly away and corrupt inspectors of tax.
Do you agree? Nothing gave Jesus more joy than seeing losers recover their dignity as the children of God.
That was point one and here is the picture.
I am going to return to Jeremiah next week and his challenging messages. In a nutshell here is what he says today,
God’s people have sinned and judgement is coming! Jeremiah has, in previous chapters, called on the people to repent but without success. This passage uses language which echoes Genesis Chapter 1, but here it speaks of reversing creation.
We read in Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’
Contrast these words with this passage by Jeremiah:
‘I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.’ The first act of God in creation is to be undone – light will disappear. I am going to help us consider this in our prayers of confession which I have held back today until later in the service.
But consider now Sri Lanka without birds a verdant land turned to desert. What a disaster for Sri Lanka with your marvellous birds and verdant green growth, even green mountains which I saw in their glory at Haputale on Friday.
Now let us close with a stories of lost sheep and the lost coin.
A lost sheep is not a newsworthy event in Scotland or Australia. There is nothing romantic about the way we treat sheep. For some shepherd in Australia they are just big numbers to be rounded up by dogs, directed by the men on a trail bikes. Some contemporaries do give their sheep the best veterinary care. Others leave them much of the year to fend for themselves.
Biblical times could not be more different. Small flocks, often of 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 would herd the rest of the flock into the safety of a fold, and then set out to look for the missing one.
In the parable of Jesus, one is missing from a very large flock. It numbered of 100. This fellow had sheep to spare! Yet the shepherd goes off searching for the wanderer until it is found, returning home with it on his shoulders (a picture often found in ancient art). So precious is the one sheep, that they throw a party. Just think of that! A party in the honour of one recovered sheep!
God is like that coin searching woman, like the shepherd , says Jesus. There is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents, than over ninety nine righteous people who need no repentance.
This God of Jesus, who loves lost things, is the God I want to proclaim. God is out in the weather each day finding us. Sometimes it is a long journey. With some people it takes a lifetime before they allow themselves to be found.
One long, summers day, when Bruce was nine years old, he became lost in the country in the vicinity of an uncle’s farm. He did not even know whether he was missed; but he was. His Dad, Uncle and the farm workers were combing the countryside, searching in water holes and looking down wells. As the day wore on he became one very bewildered, terrified and desolate little boy.
When the sun was low in the horizon, he was found by one of the farm workers as he searched on a bicycle along the small county lanes. He lifted me up with his big sweaty, muscled arms, placed me high on his shoulders and rode triumphantly back to the farmhouse. Seventy decades later Bruce can still remember my relief and joy, and that of hisfather and the searchers, when they all gathered back at the homestead.
That farm labourer, whose name Bruce doesn’t recall, is a metaphor for him of the God who will not let go. This is a God of strong, muscled love; a God who can rejoice over the silliest sheep recovered, and the wedding coin retrieved.
And as for you he is just as interested in you?
Praise be. Amen.