This morning we have heard two readings that speak about lost things being found.
In the reading from the letter to Timothy,
Paul speaks of being lost and wretched, then being overwhelmed by grace, faith and love from Jesus.
Jesus, in the passage from Luke, responds to the Pharisees curmudgeonly grumbling about who he spends time with, by telling stories of lost things being found.
The stories we have heard from Jesus are two of the three parables on the bounce in Luke’s gospel about lost things being found.
We have heard about a sheep and a coin, and the one we have stopped short of is the prodigal son.
These are all familiar stories; so familiar we may be somewhat underwhelmed by them.
I wonder if part of the lack of appeal is the packaging.
I am a sucker for a great title –
I wonder what difference there would have been in sales of ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night time’ if it had been called, ‘a novel exploring autism’?
It would have been a great shame if the title had meant the book lost its impact, because it was certainly a story worth telling.
And so we come back to our three parables;
the parable of the lost sheep,
the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the lost son.
Of course, these are titles given at a much later time –
it is not that Jesus had put posters up around town advertising the stories as such!
These titles we see in some bibles have been around for less time than me!
When I read these little stories,
I find it is far more exciting and inspiring to concentrate on another character.
The lost sheep is somewhat dull –
anyone who has any experience of sheep will know they are pretty stupid animals, and beyond watching sweet little lambs bouncing in fields, it is hard to feel affection for them
[granted, this may be bad memories of teenage years running around a field at 7am trying to herd them into the back of a truck!]
But, if we look at the shepherd, the character who shows us something of the nature of God;
he is much more engaging.
You may have noticed the curious phrase,
‘which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?’
When I read this, I think, which one of you would?!
Even with my declared lack of affection for sheep,
would you really leave the vast majority of your livelihood, in the wilderness, alone, and go off in an unspecified direction for an unspecified time in search of one sheep?
And when the sheep is found, there is a huge party.
I would like to suggest we rename this,
‘The parable of the crazily devoted shepherd.’
And then there is
‘the parable of the obsessively diligent housekeeper.’
The coin is inanimate –
there is no way it can know it is lost.
Indeed, the value of the coin does not change,
be it in the hand of the woman or hiding under a dresser – a silver coin remains a silver coin.
The amazing thing about this little picture Jesus paints is that the woman, again, there to show us something of the nature of God, values the coin so highly.
We can imagine her stopping whatever else she had on that day, not continuing until she has found that lost coin, no matter how long it takes.
Nothing is more important to her than that coin.
And when the coin is found, there is a huge party.
The writers of the lectionary, in their wisdom,
have decided to chop off the last of this trilogy of lost and found stories, but I would like us to look at it now,
as it shows another, beautiful, facet of the nature of God.
Whilst we have the given title – the prodigal son,
I would like to suggest this story be renamed,
‘The parable of the uninhibited, running father.’
You know the story; the son asks for his inheritance early, culturally saying, ‘father, you are dead to me’.
It’s a terrible, terrible thing to do.
We might imagine to pain and disbelief of the Father,
as he handed the money over and watched his son go.
And we know the young sons fate.
We know that he gets to the point where he decides to go back to his father, not because he is overcome with love and remorse so much as he wants to improve his own situation.
But it is then we come to this beautiful phrase that,
when I really read it for the first time,
really let the force of it hit me, I wept,
and it still has the power to do that to me now.
‘But, while he was still a long way off, his father saw him,
and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.’
This is so full of layer upon layer of meaning.
While he was still far off – the father has been looking out for him. All that time, he never gave up hope of seeing him again.
The father did not hold onto the pain of rejection,
but allowed himself to be flooded with compassion.
And this incredible image of the father, the patriarch, running – which would have been cultural anathema –
to the son who had been so cruel.
He did not care what anyone else thinks –
love totally dictated his actions.
And when his son is found, there is a huge party.
This trilogy of stories are by way of answering the criticisms of the Pharisees, reflected in the final story by the older son, who could not understand why Jesus would be celebrating with the people he spent time with.
And maybe we, too, need to be reminded of all that there is to be celebrated; that we are overwhelmingly loved with an amazing, no-matter-what love, which extends to everyone.
This week we met as joint PCCs to talk about how we share this love with those around us.
How, having received this good news ourselves,
we can share that with others.
There are many around the fringes of our congregations, many in our parishes, who may be feeling lost at this time for all kinds of reasons.
Many for whom the knowledge that they are loved with this unconditional, overwhelming love could bring transformation to their lives, and give us reason to celebrate.
And this is the task Christ gives to us who have received this love.
But need to know we are loved before we can offer that love to others.
When we recognise this love,
share it with others and celebrate,
we will indeed see Gods Kingdom come,
here on earth as in heaven.
After the service today, those who would like to are going to have some time together thinking more about the love that we have received, and how we might share that love with others.
If you are unable to stay, can I ask you to think about the opportunities to celebrate we have coming up;
The fellowship meals on 29th Sept, our Harvest Festivals and Christmas, and who you might encourage to come with you to hear something of God’s love and celebrate.
And those of us who stood up at the beginning of the service, I pray that as you bring Good News to those around you, that may prompt people to ask you questions about why you do what you do, and give you opportunities to tell your stories of being lost and then found by the generous, overflowing love of God.