Below is the text of the sermon from Revd Josie about being lost – from Luke 15 1-10.
From the dictionary: c. 1300; “wasted, ruined, spent in vain,” c. 1500; also “no longer to be found, gone astray”, past-participle adjectives from lose. Meaning “spiritually ruined, inaccessible to good influence” from 1640s. Related: Lostness.
Loss of innocence. Loss of species. Loss of voice.
Have you ever been lost?
Have you ever looked around and not known where you are, who you are, what when why…. Or did it creep up on you? Who hasn’t had the experience of being lost, faltering – as individuals, as a community, as a Church?
It’s hard to find anything redeemable in being lost.
Think back to the beginning of the gospel story today. Those first two sentences that describe Jesus’ context Jesus as he spoke about things lost. “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” “
This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. What a strange fellow, to require nothing of those who seem to have nothing to offer. Our choice in companions says a lot about our character – these holy men knew all about choosing your company. Sure, sinners could be redeemed – but after repentance, after change, after begging for forgiveness. To give food, to give money – that is called charity and is a mark of a good man. But who is this fellow who willingly becomes intimate with those who have no desire to change, who make no promises about a better future, who are broken and dirty, body and soul? How dare he speak to us about the nature of God?
How dare he search out the lost and require nothing of them to be found?
Jesus begins his story with a shepherd searching for his sheep. Who among you, he asks, would not leave behind the certainty of the 99, leave them to the wolves and the wind and the sleet, to search for just the one? Who would not spend precious time and energy seeking this 1% of a flock, and upon finding it spend more time and energy in celebration, inviting friend and neighbor to rejoice for the one that was lost is found?
Who would do this?
Well, no one. No one does this. Certainly none of those holy men who knew the relative value of just one sheep.
Imagine you are a woman, Jesus said. Imagine you are a woman and have lost a coin, and you sweep and search and seek and comb until it is returned. Imagine you then spend that coin and more to celebrate, to rejoice that what was lost has been found!
What is the value of just one among so many?
Why worry about the lost when you have the found?
Jesus is painting us a picture of a God he knows intimately, in ways we can only imagine. These stories aren’t really about the sheep or the coin. These stories are about the search. The search, and the one who searches.
Jesus is showing us a God who seems foolish, too risky, too generous to a fault. A God who searches without ceasing for just one, one individual among so many. A God for whom we are so valuable that nothing is spared to bring us home. Jesus’ portrait might not be how we would paint a picture of God; not how we think God operates. It seems counter intuitive to value the lost over the found. Can we, should we trust that Jesus has firsthand knowledge of God and knows exactly how and who God is?
If God is the one who searches, does that mean God is the one who has lost? To lose a sinner would be tantamount to losing part of Godself, inasmuch as the sinner bears the imprint of the Creator. The recovery of the sinner is, then, not simply the recovery of something that has been lost; it is the recovery of God’s image-bearer. What is more, it is the recognition that God’s imprint is indelible—even on tax collectors and sinners. Notice there is no talk of the sheep or the coin repenting – what is described is not their “repentance” at all, but the absolute commitment of the searcher to finding them again.
Nothing but their presence is required to send the very angels in heaven rejoicing that they have been found. It is only at the very end of these stories that a connection is made between God’s finding and rejoicing over what was lost and “the one sinner who repents”.
Unlike the English word “repentance”, which implies contrition and remorse, the Greek word metanoia has to do with a change of mind and purpose — a shift in how we perceive and respond to life. Metanoia is primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind and change of conduct due to a change of consciousness.
Upon being confronted with a host of angels rejoicing that the one made in God’s image has been found, who could possibly not be transformed? First we are found, then we are transformed. Over and over and over again. From lost to found as many times as is needed until we are truly found in the very presence of God.
So why don’t we feel found more often? If God is actively, passionately searching us out, why do we so often feel so lost? Maybe it is because of our reaction to what happens when God draws near. We can experience being ‘found’ or ‘found out’. When we are found out, we feel shame, guilt, embarrassment at having been caught in sin or inadequacy. But when we are found, we experience relief that there is an end to the mess we have been making of our lives, hope that we can change for the better and joy that despite everything God still believes we are good. If we focus on being found out, we are likely to run away even more and indulge in defensive behaviour that denies the perilous state we are in. When we allow ourselves to be found, we turn to God with relief and share in God’s joy that we once again are made new, renewed, resdiscovered.
Who among you, Jesus asks, would leave all that is of value behind to search, search, search for just one among many? None of us would. But that’s ok. Because God does. Even now God is searching, sweeping, turning on the lights and shining in the darkness, ready to celebrate every time we are found.
Thanks be to God.