I wonder what it feels like to be totally lost. As I was thinking about what I was going to say this morning, I was trying to remember a time when I have been lost, and I couldn’t. Of course there have been times when I’ve had difficulty finding the way to the place that I was meant to be going, and there have been times when I’ve not been sure exactly where the bit of ground I’m stood on is on the map that I’m looking at. But I don’t recall a time when I’ve ever felt that I didn’t have a single clue how to get home.
I think that is how I would know that I was properly lost. If I had no idea how I was going to get home, then I would be lost.
Maybe you have been in that position; you have known what it feels like to be entirely lost. If not, perhaps that idea might help you to begin to imagine what it would be like to be lost. How would you feel if somebody took you from here in a blacked out car and dropped you in the middle of a wood, in the middle of the night, in a country where you didn’t speak the language, with no money. If you wandered around that wood until you couldn’t walk another step, and you’re just curled up in a ball, at the end of your resources, knowing for certain that you are never going to see your home again. You are truly lost. Despair, fear, deep sorrow.
What then if you see a light swaying through the trees. Are you imaging it? You think you hear a voice calling your name. Your throat is so dry you can’t call out. You feel warm arms cradling you, gentle hands lifting you. You smell the familiar scent of home on the clothes of your finder. The taste of reviving drink is sweet on your tongue. What then? You have been truly found. Hope, faith, vaulting joy. And not just joy for you, but joy for the one who has found you. Joy for those who have missed you, those who have been praying for your finding. Joy and rejoicing and a party.
The two stories that we have heard this morning, from Luke’s account of the good news of Jesus’ life, draw on this contrast between the despair of lostness and the joy of finding. It seems to me that the more we dwell on this contrast, and really allow the reality of how different the two are then the more we will understand God’s call on our lives.
The reactions of the two characters in these stories tells us something about this contrast. Neither of them are indifferent to their loss. You can tell a lot by how important a thing is to somebody by what they do if they lose it. If I drop a 50p piece on the street and it rolls into the drain, I’ll be a bit annoyed but I wouldn’t try and lift the grating. If my wedding ring came off and rolled in, I would be down in the road, shoulder deep in the gutter to get it out.
The shepherd left 99 perfectly good sheep to go and spend time and effort finding the one that was lost. The shepherd knew that for the sheep, being lost meant death. It meant the possibility of attack by wild animals, it meant not finding safe water or grazing, it meant disease. Being lost leads to death.
The women went to a lot of effort to find the coin that she had lost. It was a tenth of her meagre savings. It was part of her dowry, in that culture, part of her value as a person. It was extremely valuable to her.
Both characters rejoiced, and invited others to rejoice with them when they found what they were looking for. You might even think that they went overboard in celebrating. But that is part of Jesus’ point. The difference between being lost and being found is huge. It is the difference between death and life. The somewhat extreme reactions of the shepherd and of the women to the losses and to the findings make this very clear. The difference between being lost and being found is extreme. It is the difference between death and life.
But it seems to me that the point that Jesus makes at the end of each of these stories is really important. He talks about the joy in heaven, the joy of the angels, in essence: the joy of God. There is joy in heaven when the lost are found. There is more joy in heaven when the lost are found than over anything else.
And if this is true, then it seems to me that if we as humans are created in the image of God, and as followers of Jesus are being made more like God, then we will find that our greatest joy will also come when the lost are found. In simple terms, what brings God joy will also bring us joy.
Who would like more joy in their lives? I know I would. And in these stories, one of the things that Jesus is doing is showing us how to experience more joy. By joining in God’s mission to find the lost and then to join the party, we will know more joy.
I have to say that this is my experience as well. Some of my most joyful memories are of times when I have been involved in someone who was lost being found, and starting to follow Jesus. I love it. There is no better feeling than opening an email from an old friend who has come to faith. There is nothing better than walking with Jesus as he tracks somebody down and being there when he lifts them in his arms and brings them home. What could bring us more joy than knowing that someone will live forever in the safekeeping of God’s love.
So, if we have got some handle on how huge and critical the difference between being lost and found is, if we want to bring joy to heaven and to ourselves, and we want to join in the task of finding, what does that mean practically? What are we actually going to do?
As I was reflecting on these stories, the various things that the shepherd and the woman did struck me. The shepherd left where he was and went after the lost sheep. The woman lit a lamp and swept the house. As I thought about these actions, I wondered what those actions might inspire us to do. These are only a few suggestions, you might want to spend some time this week reading these stories and asking the Holy Spirit to show you what things you could do.
The shepherd left where he was and went after. What does it mean for us to leave the place where we are and go after? Might this inspire us to leave a comfortable place, to move away from the place that we live to a new place, to do things outside this building, to work with people that we don’t know yet?
The woman lit a lamp to bring light into dark places. What does it mean for us to light a lamp? Might this inspire us to speak the words of kindness, to go the extra mile, to bring hope when people are in despair, to speak words of truth when people are tied up in lies or a false and negative image of themselves.
The woman swept the house. What does it mean for us to sweep the house? Might this inspire us to pray? To get down on our knees, listening for the clink of the coin, listening for that opportunity to reach out a hand to somebody who is lost and draw them in. Might it inspire us to reach into places we can’t see, but know are there, to exercise our faith.
In our church life together we are coming up to a season when we have lots of opportunities to invite people to come and find out more about living a life that isn’t lost.
There is Back to Church Sunday at the end of September, both morning and evening services, each with a different flavour and focus.
There is the Barn Dance, a gentle opportunity to invite people to come and have a good time and to strengthen this community.
A Light Party on October 31st for families to come and be creative and celebrate together.
There is a Memorial service in November where we invite those whose loved ones have died through the year to come together and remember them before God.
An Advent Party at the end of November, another opportunity for families to come together in creativity as we prepare for Christmas. Lots of Christmas events- Christingles etc.
All these events are happening here, and people will only come if they are invited, so I wonder who God is asking you to invite? Who is God calling you to go and find? What opportunities is God preparing for you to shine your light into? How thoroughly are you prepared to sweep in prayer?
I am really looking forward to Christmas. It is a season of great joy as we celebrate the time that God came to live among us, to seek us out and to find us and rescue us from the places in which we were lost. Because of Christmas none of us ever needs to be lost. How much greater will our joy be if we are joined at Christmas by those we have seen being bought home, found, safe and sound. How brilliant would it be if this Christmas is, for us at St Mark’s, a party to celebrate the finding of that which was lost.
Are we willing to catch hold of that vision and to take responsibility for playing our part in making it happen? Will we leave where we are and go after? Will we light our lamps to shine the light? Will we sweep and pray?