In looking at what to say today I had to keep looking at what the readings were saying – they all have a common theme or thread – lost and found.
In the Old Testament reading Jeremiah we read that he is given a preview of destruction and devastation that is to fall on Judah – a nation collapsing – the natural order disintegrating – the rich have become richer and the poor continue to lose out – sound familiar? Sad but true, even in today’s world.
For example global warming experts constantly remind us that the earth we live in is not endlessly abundant in resources or immune to our exploitative ways and yet we continue to plunder and go on our merry way.
Jeremiah’s words echo in our ears, “For my people are foolish, they do not know me….., they are skilled in doing evil but do not know how to do good.” Jeremiah goes onto describe an apocalyptic vision that could have been written for today’s world – after all where is there peace – no famine – no wars – no political intrigue or shenanigans – indeed we only have to listen to the news or read the newspapers to see that nothing has really changed.
An interpretation of this could be that there needs to be a shift in our own behaviour; a spiritual ‘revival’ that may be the only chance we have in saving our world – it is asking us to really have a change of heart in our attitudes to move forward from a people who ‘plunder’ to a people who care and heal.
It is asking us to be more respectful to our world and to our friends, families and the wider community. It asks is to be more inclusive and not to always think, `As long as I am alright….’.
At the end of verse 27 there is the statement, “Yet I will not make full end.” – what does this mean? Perhaps it is telling us that God will not give up on the people – us.
Do you sometimes get the feeling that you need to tell it like it is – it does exactly what it says on the tin – Jeremiah’s vision is a moment in which he expresses the idea of departed glory and the prospect of desolation as a result of our continual recklessness. However, the last word should not be seen as a condemnation but the possibility of redemption – he asks us for a change of heart – to think of differently – outside of the box.
Moving on – Timothy had a lot on his plate and it would appear he battled discouragement. Paul writes to encourage this preacher to continue to serve the Lord faithfully. He also writes to challenge him to grow in the Lord and to stand up for the truth in spite of the opposition he is facing.
I found particular text challenging as it currently mirrors my current experiences with our Church, with Presbytery and the natural questions we all have in current situation of being vacant. We are becoming frustrated, impatient and we feel, and at times quite rightly, ‘that the powers that be’ are not moving quickly enough – we can take the horse to the water but we cannot make drink the water.
The Church – or to be more precise – those in office within Presbytery and beyond move slowly and all that myself and Tony can do is press on, take the comments and report back to you – we may not like what we hear – hence the frustration = but we will get the job done.
Back to Paul’s writing to Timothy – Paul indicates he was a man of violence -he persecuted Christians – however he tries to steer us away from this account of himself by the declaration that, “Christ came in to the world to save sinners,” – so what could this mean – as with the theme of all the readings we have heard today, Jesus will not will not give up on us and actively seeks out the lost, so that they return or join the fold.
In the reading from Luke, I find it quite troubling that there is something quite reckless and troubling about Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
We read that the shepherd will abandon his sheep in the wilderness in order to seek out the one that is lost.
It is almost as though Jesus is saying that the sheep that are not lost can be reasonably exposed to the risk of no protection from the watchful eyes of the shepherd as he goes in search of the one that has gone astray.
From Handel’s Messiah, there is a chorus, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray’ – I remember singing it a long time ago when I was in secondary school – it always struck me as strange but true – a lot of us will follow like sheep as it feels safe, comforting – we are more comfortable if we are not alone – or on the outside
This is a challenge for any congregation of God’s people who should believe that the church exists for those who are outside its boundaries and not just for those within.
A ministry focussed on the outsider, the stranger, (and indeed the parish), may well invite opposition from insiders who believe that they have ‘paid for their ticket’ and that they do not deserve to be abandoned in the wilderness.
The parables depict the extent of God’s concern for all of God’s people and reveal just how far God will go to search out and restore a relationship with those whom God loves.
When one who is far way has been found, there is reason to throw a party. Our sometimes dour Presbyterian tradition has often found it difficult to deal with the aspect of celebration that frequently crops up in scripture, but even angels would not wish to miss one of God’s parties.
Just before I finish off I want to read to you a prayer or ode, written by the former Moderator of General Assembly, Rev Albert Bogle and is published in a book entitled Sanctuary – I thought it was quite apt given our current situation and it asks the question:
Jesus, are you a Charismatic or a Presbyterian?
Lord, I was just wondering
Which church would you attend?
Would you still want to go to the synagogue?
Would you be a Presbyterian?
A Roman Catholic?
A Baptist perhaps?
Maybe you’d be a Charismatic? I mean, after all,
You are really into healing and miracles!
Lord, I am asking this because
I am not sure you’d fit into our church
We like things to be predictable,
Respectable and dignified.
But not too serious
You may be just a bit too radical for our culture.
You see, we might ‘think it’,
But you ‘say it’
I don’t think the Vacancy Committee
Would choose you.
You don’t mind me being honest?
You know – speaking my mind?
Lord, You really gave the Scribes a hard time
Not to mention the Pharisees
You didn’t take prisoners
You were about people over precedent.
What would you think about our red tape?
Our Kirk session
Our church laws
Our way of doing things?
Lord, you said,
You’d love it -it’s from the heart?
Ah now you’ve got me!
Sheep have an instinctive tendency to wander. If the shepherd did not go out and seek this lost creature, it would not have found its way back on its own.
Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd who not only searches for lost sheep, those who have gone astray, but we should remember the He was a man willing to lay down his life for them and indeed us.
In the story about the Lost Sheep the shepherd actively searches and finds what is missing.
As a Church and a people we need to realise that instead of going our own way, we need to closely follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We cannot do it alone – there is no ‘I’ in team.