The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      15th September 2019
Meeting God in the Lost and Found
Ayla Lepine

What a wild thing for God to do in this morning’s reading from Exodus. The Lord changed his mind! Another way of translating the verb to describe what God did is ‘relented’. God ‘relented’. Please forgive your people, Moses pleads. More than that, Moses asks God to be the God he promised to be. God made a covenant with the people: ‘Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.’ God promised to protect. God promised to make his people flourish. We might hear this plea echoed in Jesus’ assertion in the horror of crucifixion: ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’ How can Moses even have this conversation? Because he knows God is love. The God of abundance. The God of mercy.

The parables of the lost things – an anxious and bewildered sheep and a small coin lingering under a carpet or between the sofa cushions - focus our minds and hearts on what it feels like to lose something valuable, and offer a chance to focus on what it feels like to be lost. The sheep and the coin don’t stay lost for long. The climax of the parable is not the experience of losing, but the joy of finding, and the joy of restoration, return, and coming home.

When the shepherd searches for the lost sheep, the attitude is one of hope and full attentiveness to the task of seeking. Jesus connects not only with the familiar imagery of shepherds and their task, but also with scripture. In the Book of Ezekiel, we see ‘For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.’ The shepherd is not blaming the sheep for getting lost, or waiting for the sheep to figure out its own way back. Moreover, this shepherd is also a shepherd who trusts the collective instincts of the 99 and promises to look after them too. They want to be with him. They want to be together. Something of value has been lost. There is no anger, no punishment, no rejection of the lost thing or the person who has lost it. Never mind how or why it got lost. Now it can and must be found. Let’s find this because it’s precious and important. And let’s rejoice - not alone, but together, as a community, when it’s found. The search is motivated by love, not be fear, desperation, or anger. 

What kind of God is this, who seeks, searches, knows, and cherishes? The God who loves us is also the God who gives us permission to be fully ourselves, fully alive, and offered infinite grace, again and again. 

God Says Yes to Me, by Kaylin Haught:

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

What have we lost? Keys, phones, wallets.....the profound distress of searching for a lost pet… but this parable of sheep and coins is designed to take us through material things into the deeper questions of spirit, emotion, self-worth, what worth we ascribe to others, and how all of us are bound up in patterns of seeking, finding, losing, discovering, and coming home. God is with us in our experiences of loss. God promises to restore us to a state of love so immersive and so vast that there will be no more sorrow, no tears, no anguish of separation. In the Kingdom of God, nothing is lost. Dare to believe in the God who never tires of searching for us as we stumble through our experiences of loss, darkness, confusion, or shame. We can dare to believe in the God who is always rejoicing when we turn towards him and choose to love God, our neighbour, ourselves.  

God is the shepherd who goes after the sheep.

God is the woman who goes after the coin.

We are the coin. We are the sheep.

We can also turn this parable like a kaleidoscope to discover as much as we can about our relationship with God. Where do we see ourselves in this parable about a sheep and a coin? The shepherd or the woman searching for something or someone precious? Or someone who comes to rejoice with the community when the lost becomes found? We are not sheep or coins, of course. We are real human beings, all of us sometimes lost, all of us a cause for God’s delight and rejoicing when we’re found again.

Finally, what about those 99 sheep? The security in numbers is comforting, isn’t it. There may even be the hope that the lost one would stay lost. A wise priest, speaking about inclusion in his congregation, once told me: ‘We are so inclusive that we include the excluders.’ ‘Why?!’, I couldn’t help myself from asking. Why include someone who excludes someone else? Because there is always room for transformation, forgiveness, coming home. I still find that idea painful. Who is the sheep - perhaps someone you know well, a politician, an extremist who oppresses others, angry Leave voters, angry Remain voters – that we might rather would just stay lost? God, our Good Shepherd, our Woman who searches for the coin, is calling their name. Right now. And we have no control – nor should we – over who God loves. God loves everyone. We have to love the way God loves. And God refuses to abandon a sheep, no matter how that sheep got lost.

God offers hope, dignity, love, and mercy to us all. No matter what we’ve lost, no matter what we’re searching for, God rejoices in who we are and invites us home.

This church is your home. This Eucharist, when we consume the Body and Blood if Christ together, is a feast because God searched for us, brought us home, and gave us Jesus so that we might be fed. We promise to be the Body of Christ and the family who look out for each other and rejoice together, who welcome everyone in whether they feel lost or found. Find God here at the altar and in the people around you. God welcomes us to the Feast with joy. Amen. 


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