What is the found that we have to celebrate?
John 15:9-17 Luke 15:4-10
Can you see what is wrong with this picture?
On Friday I was fortunate to be able to participate in a training and development day for the Ministers of the Synod of Wales. As part of that day, Dan was asked to reflect on some of the development strategies that are happening in New Zealand. When he showed the photograph that is on the screen now it immediately struck me that there are resonances between that and some of the things that we’ve heard about this morning about the lost sheep and the lost coin.
These parables, are very familiar and I remember them being told during Sunday School when I was a child. I have always thought it a bit odd that a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep to the elements, while going off to look for one that had got itself lost, was there something special about the one that was missing? The answer to that is of course there was, it was lost, vulnerable and probably frightened! What about a woman who would turn her house upside down in the search for one coin when she is not in need of it because she has nine more of them? What if the coin were part of a dowry? The loss of that would not only bring financial but also a personal disaster. These parables may well be trying to encourage the reader or hearer to think about some element of what it is to have experienced loss, either within the self, the worshipping community or the life community that needs to be rediscovered in order to have a deeper or more meaningful relationship with Christ, but I think that there might be more to it than that.
What if we look at these examples that Jesus gives from a different perspective? What if instead of referring to the Parable as that of the lost sheep, we were to think of it as the Celebrating Shepherd, or the Parable of the lost coin as that of the Celebrating Women? I think that gives us a slightly different lens in which to see what Jesus is saying.
At the heart of the trouble was the fact that Jesus was not behaving as the “good religious” people of the day though he should. For a start he was making a habit of eating and drinking with tax collectors, lets face it they’re not terribly popular in any culture but at that time and in that place they would have been collecting taxes for Herod or the Romans or even worse both! Then there are the sinners, they are probably the lower ends of society, perhaps they were unable to read or acquaint themselves with the “Religious Law”, or maybe those who were just too poor to keep it. They were certainly regarded by the self appointed experts as hopelessly irreligious and out of touch with the demands that they believed that God had made on Israel through the law.
There is a Jewish belief that there are two parts to God’s creation, Heaven and Earth, they are two halves of the same creation and are meant to fit together, and be in harmony with each other. Therefore, if there is a celebration going on in Heaven over finding that which has been found it is fitting that there should be a party in the Earthly realm too. In both of the stories we are reminded that it is not just the shepherd and the women who are rejoicing and celebrating with their friends at their own recovered treasures, but angels and God self are rejoicing in Heaven too.
The picture of the bridge brought to mind the fact that we can get very fixed about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, obeying the rules, keeping the law. Looking after the big – what may seem important things, while the smaller insignificant or lost things go un-noticed. Much like the picture it’s a beautiful well constructed bridge, when it was built it did indeed span the river, but, because of where it is in New Zealand and the way in which the land is and the time that the construction took, the river it was meant to span has moved! While humans were busy making a bridge, God was busy doing something else. We need to give ourselves the time and space to stay connected so that we are aware of what’s happening in the Heavenly realm in order to discern not only what God is doing, but also where we are being invited to join in.
So as Christians, Walking the Way – living the life of Jesus today, in Pontypridd in the 21st Century, what is the found that we have to celebrate?
I believe that the reading from John, is a reminder that Jesus Christ has found us, not only found us but invited us to dwell in Him as he dwells in us. Abiding in Christ is to make our home in Him as we allow Him to make His home in us, it is about a desire to be in relationship with the Trinity. We may have friends who live some distance away, but there is a love that becomes a uniting force. So it is with Jesus, we are united by love but He is with us as a real presence. Jesus told his closed friends if they eat his body and share his cup as we will do shortly, they dwell in Him and he in them.
Jean Vanier says it much more succinctly than I can,
“The barriers that separate the finite from the finite, the temporal from the eternal, the human from the divine, have disappeared.
At times it is necessary for us to live an austere life, like John the Baptiser, and to seek certain separation from our bodies, to strain to reach God through our own efforts.
But God has appeared in the flesh, has become vulnerable in the flesh.
God has come to offer us friendship, to invite us to become the beloved. God has become little and vulnerable, to live a communion of hearts with us and to join God in giving life to others. It is not a question then, of striving towards God but of humbly opening the doors of our hearts to God who is knocking there.
This friendship with Jesus is something deep but simple, like other friendships. It is not a big mystical experience or impressive apparitions; it involves living day by day with Jesus, walking with him, listening to him, following his desires, and being nourished by hi words and by his body.
Now is that not a find worth celebrating, and inviting our friends to celebrate with us? Heaven and earth may just touch!
Our service closed with these words from ‘Prayers for all Seasons’ by Nick Fawcett
send us back to the world
with your eyes rather than ours,
Help us to see not only the bad but the good,
not simply the ugly but the beautiful,
not just the worst but the best.
Help us to see around us the seeds of your kingdom,
and nurture them lovingly
until that day comes when your will is done
and you are all in all.