A Sunday sermon for you – 15 September – “Found”
With thanks to Owen Rogers for this. You can see this on his website:
I Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10, Exodus 32:7-14
The readings above connect with the idea of finding lost things. I have recently come across a Professor Solomon who is a findologist. He has a 12-step plan for finding anything you’ve lost. Follow his principles and you’re pretty sure to find your lost thing. To check him out visit his website: www.professorsolomon.com and you will have something useful for finding anything you lose.
Lost and found
Today’s readings are about God losing and finding people. In Luke we read of things found that had been lost and what joy that brings to God. In Exodus we read of God’s people getting lost from God and how he apparently came close to giving up on them. In Timothy we heard Paul saying how he had been lost and later found and what joy and blessing that was to him and to many other people as he spread God’s message.
What does it mean to be lost? Or, conversely, found?
To be found is to know God, to enter a living experience of friendship and relationship with God, to experience his leading/guidance, wisdom, love, creativity, character, kindness, and so on. A person who is lost doesn’t connect with God, may know many things about God but has little or no personal experience of the living God. May know, for example, about God’s hatred of sin and be aware of this through the guilt about their own sin, but doesn’t know the relief of forgiveness or the joy of the Lord.
We can answer when God calls us, we can come out of hiding. We can even look for God. But we can’t, ultimately, find ourselves. We need Jesus to connect us with God.
When looking for one thing it is not unusual to find another thing or things which we’d forgotten where they are. I did that this week – found something I’d forgotten even existed. Which brings out a distinction in the meaning of the word ‘lost’. I am lost when I don’t know where I am. Be it in the bush, or in some unfamiliar part of the city. I need a map or visible landmark or some such to get my bearings and then I’m no longer lost. I would also be considered to be lost if I were out in the hills and no one knew where I was and I could not be contacted and especially if I had not returned when I said I would. I may know exactly where I am but to everyone else I’m lost. If I go into hiding I’m still lost to those who don’t know where I am.
In terms of being lost in relation to God we use the word in both meanings. A person in a spiritual wilderness, disconnected from God, is lost. Just as someone who knows exactly where they are, has definite beliefs and can state them categorically, but has no connection with God is lost.
The people Moses led had a connection with God but it wasn’t very close and they walked away from it. Paul thought he had a connection with God through being a Jew but he was lost until Jesus enlightened him. People in Jesus’ audience were various. Some had a close connection with him so were found. Others were more like the younger Paul – thought they had it but didn’t. We can, too, get not totally lost but temporarily misplaced. That’s why we keep confessing – for confession requires repentance – thus restoring our closeness with God.
How does our lostness/foundness show?
It shows in how much our character and behaviour matches God’s.
But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
It has always outraged religious people that God doesn’t share their sense of good taste. He seems to have one set of expectations of behaviour and devotion for them with another for those who either ignore him or have never known him. In Luke 15:1-10 the Pharisees and teachers of the Law look on in disbelief and contempt as Jesus not only tolerates the presence of ‘sinners’ but even accords them the honour of eating with them. For the religious people this was inconceivable. Jesus speaks of a God who loves the sinner passionately – almost to distraction, since he, the shepherd, abandons the best part of his flock to hike across the hills in search of a stupid sheep which has failed to stay close to the shepherd. His emphasis is upon joy (vs 5-7,9,10) – the thrilling, overwhelming, almost hilarious sense of happiness because this one sheep has been saved or, in his second illustration, a coin has been found. This is what God is like. Compare the miserable muttering of the religious people in verse 2.
Paul points out this joyful mercy and grace of God (I Timothy 1:14) when speaking of his own rescue by God. He considers himself the worst of sinners (v 15) owing to his record of blasphemy, persecution and violence (v 13, see also Acts 8:1-3; Galatians 1:13,14). God has not changed. Paul understands that God has sent Christ precisely to save sinners (v 15), to rescue the lost (Luke 15:6) and to spare no effort to find what belongs to him (Luke 15:9). Good taste and religious scruples are of less interest to God than the exhilarating joy of seeing ‘sinners’ turned round.
All people have great value to God
Can we say that people are replaceable or are of differing values
Professor Solomon has a 13th Principle: If all efforts to find a thing fail give up on let it out of your life. What if God were to apply the professor’s 13th principle, shrug his shoulders and give up the search for one of us?
The Bible tells us that this is exactly what he will not do.
The message of the lost sheep and coin
There are two keywords in Jesus’ conclusion to the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. One is rejoicing. God rejoices, and all heaven with him, when one lost person is found by God. The second keyword is repentance. The reason the lost person has been found is because (s)he is a sinner who repents. Jesus even goes on to say that righteous people who do not repent are actually more lost than one who does.
None of us, or the people we know, or the people in the Bible whose lives we have looked at today, could have saved themselves or found themselves. Let’s rejoice because God searches for us, keeps us in sight, and never gives up on us when we are lost.