24th Sunday: Lost and Found
First of all, last Wednesday we remembered the tragic murders that took place nine years ago in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. We pray today for all who have died and for an end of violence, particularly violence in the name of religion. We have experienced violence in the name of Islam. Many others throughout history have experienced violence in the name of Christianity. God did not reveal Himself to us so we can kill each other. Violence in the name of religion is an offence against God. While we are determined to protect our country and citizens from this ever happening again, we also pray for the courage to resist returning violence with violence. That is the old way, the way of the Old Testament. It is not the way of Jesus Christ. May those who have suffered on 9/11 and throughout history rest in the arms of the One who is the Prince of Peace.
Today’s Gospel is not about violence. It is about joy. There is a lot of rejoicing going on in today’s Gospel. A lost sheep is found, a lost coin is found, and, in the longer form of the Gospel, a lost son is found. In all three of the incidents, the sheep, coin or son could have been written off. After all, the shepherd had 99 other sheep, the woman had 9 other coins, and the father had another son. He could have washed his hands of the son who had treated him so badly and offended everything the father stood for. He could have decided that he just needed to be happy with the son who was faithful to him. He couldn’t and he wouldn’t. People who care don’t write people off. Instead they focus on them.
I remember a number of years ago a lady, a mother with four children, telling me that her second oldest had become quite difficult. “He doesn’t do his schoolwork,” she said to me, “He is nasty to his sisters and brother. He snaps back at my husband and me. He doesn’t do his chores. His behavior is not acceptable.” She decided that he would become her project. Her main focus would be on him until she can help him to be the boy she knew he could be. It is not that she would ignore her other children. But he needed more of her attention. She was not going to give up on this one as being lost. She would find ways to help him through this difficult time of his life. That would be her goal. I am sure that many of the parents here have had projects in their families.
We are God’s projects. He doesn’t give up on any of us. Instead he searches for us. He finds us, and He calls us back to the family that is his Kingdom. I remember many years ago reading Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven. Perhaps you have read it. In the poem the poet relates how he had spent years running away from God, but God would not stop pursuing him. Just as a hound chasing a fox will keep a steady pace until the fox tires out, God continues to pursue us. His Love for us makes Him the Hound of Heaven.
This is important for us to remember when we feel that we are beyond help. We fall into habitual sin. We can’t believe that we have returned to that which destroys us. We are tempted to give up on ourselves. And yet, God still pursues us. He will not give up on us.....any of us.....ever.
The gospel begins with the Lord explaining to the Pharisees and scribes why he is eating with tax collectors and sinners. They want to change their lives. They had been lost, but now are found. This is a time to celebrate.
God celebrates the times that we return to him. Jesus said, “I tell you that there will be more celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents then over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” We know that. We know the joy that we have and that He has when we return to Him. The tax collectors and sinners did not come to hear the Pharisees and scribes, because they knew that they would find only judgment. They came to hear Jesus, because he was happy that they wanted to change their lives. We do not go to confession because we are seeking the pain of rehashing our deepest secrets. We go to confession because we know that our Savior loves us and embraces us with joy, and we know the joy that we experience when we are one with Him.
God does not give up. He will not give up on us, calling us to him personally. Seeking us out individually. Nor does He give up on anyone, even those who have been far from the faith, from morality. He calls us all to join Him in the joy of His Presence, the Joy of the Banquet of the Lord.
The return of those who have had been away is a time for celebration. Maybe greed, lust, anger, pride, some sin or other, convinced them to leave the warmth of the family. The cause of their leaving no longer matters. They have returned. The family is back together. We need to celebrate.