2 Corinthians 5:6-21 & Luke 15:11-32
Many years ago Thea was putting the washing on the clothes line when she looked down at her engagement ring to find a clasp askew and a diamond missing. The diamond had not only financial worth but great sentimental value. The diamond had come from Thea’s mother’s engagement ring and Thea’s mother had passed away when Thea was just five years old.
We scoured the backyard, I even vacuumed the grass and panned the contents. We swept the ground and moved items in what ended up being a vain search.
Some weeks later as I walked through the dining room in the mid-afternoon, I noticed a little glint of something sparkly on the floor boards that was created by the sunlight breaking in. Yes, there was the diamond, which must have come out before the foray at the clothes line.
Thea and I and a very young Katherine were overjoyed. What was once lost was now found.
This story from our family history is not just like the story of the Lost Son, but also the Story of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep which directly precede our reading today. Indeed they should all be seen together as we will soon see and the theme that runs through them, like our story, is that something was lost, someone went looking, then something or someone was found and then there was rejoicing.
Today we begin the first of three aspects of our Lenten journey – being lost and found on the journey.
Next week we’ll reflect on the need for refreshment on the journey and finally on Palm Sunday at the Breakfast service the focus will be finding purpose for the journey.
Bible stories like today’s reading are also parables. The word ‘parable’ is again from the Greek we read in the Bible, particularly in Matthew’s gospel and here it is from ‘para-ballo’ which means ‘cast/throw alongside’.
It indicates that there is another story, a greater story, and a greater learning for people across time and space – indeed a learning for you and me today.
God is the seeker, As the great Jewish scholar C. G. Montefiore says, he is ‘the God who actively seeks them out and then brings them home into the fold’.
God is the one who takes responsibility for the lost one.
God is the finder and the one who throws the party.
In these three parables, God is the woman, God is the shepherd and God is the farmer/landowner/father.
This is God who risks all in the search – who leaves behind the 99, who degrades himself and faces ridicule by running out to the wayward son, the one who does not judge or punish for the wrongs done, but celebrates when the lost is returned.
This is the same God who debases himself, in the same way Jesus did by meeting, partying and eating with outsiders, the wrong people – the women, the lowly shepherds and the dishonouring children.
As the church, the Body of Christ, we too need to have the characteristics of this gracious, loving, longing, inclusive, accepting, hospitable and seeking God.
In addition, perhaps, as followers of Christ we should not get caught up in the reactions of those who would judge the folly of leaving 99 sheep for one or an older son who rejects the grace of the Father, or who is put out by the seeming unevenness of the relationship between father and younger brother.
Instead, let us concentrate on the vision, the initiative and outward-looking nature of a God and a church that would seek the lost.
Recently in church council we have been looking at our vision, our plans and purpose as the Uniting Church in Kiama-Jamberoo.
There are some interesting things to remember about vision and searching for with our eyes.
Firstly, if we look too close at something, our eyes can’t focus and what we are looking for becomes non-defined.
Secondly, if we are in the dark, like the woman searching for the coin, then we need some illumination from another source to bring light. In the Middle Eastern homes of this period there were few if any window openings. So even in daylight, inside the home it could be dark and so a new way of finding what was lost had to be found, a lamp is lit, rather than simply groping around in the dark.
Thirdly, if we look down and around ourselves, the view and vision will always be a limited one.
Fourthly, and alternatively, if we are always looking up in the sky, we miss what is before us. In 1977 Johnny Cash wrote a ballad with these words, ‘you’re so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good’ – this is the danger of always looking up for answers.
Indeed there are many ways for us to end up lost.
Instead, perhaps we should take our cue from the father [God] in the parable we read today.
He is looking out towards the horizon in the daylight, or as we are told, looking a long way off, and when he recognised his son, the lost, the one in need, he went out to greet him and meet him face to face – not just with words but with a love that spoke of forgiveness far beyond the words, for the child who had once abandoned his family.
In the seeking that occurs with the father, the shepherd and the woman, the desired ending is the same; to find the lost and to rejoice.
However, in today’s reading joy and rejoicing is not the end. The elder brother is like a church that is myopic, on a staid course, short-sighted, jealous, focused on punishment and denial, rather than grace. With his vision downcast, he cannot or will not see a new order.
The younger son has a new insight and it is based upon, not only self-preservation, but reconciliation and humility of Spirit [as Paul reminds us in our reading from 2 Corinthians].
Where do we put the emphasis in this story – on the father or on the elder son?
It may be safer to point the finger, rather than risk shame and failure as we look over to the horizons at the possibilities and the new and risky ways of doing things, even the ways that may seem foolish, and in ways that may see us judged adversely by the world.
Let’s take heart. As Tom Wright correctly points out in his book called ‘Luke for Everyone, we don’t know what the elder brother’s final reaction is to the father’s words at the end of this parable. The story is left unfinished and while we may like to know what happens next, it is left in the air – rejoicing is not complete, but then neither is our mission or journey.
While God is always doing a new thing our very own Basis of Union reminds us that we are Christians on the way, always journeying forward, opening up new borders and greeting those who want to be forgiven and loved.
We may get lost at times, but God is always there to find us again, when we call upon his name.