Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
Introduction and Call to Worship
As the man sought the lost sheep and the woman sought the lost coin, so does Christ seek all those separated from him and from his Father’s love. As we worship God together as one family of faith so we recognise the needs to share our faith that others too; friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues may likewise experience the transforming love of Jesus for all.
First Reading Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
God’s judgement comes like a scorching wind in the desert to the land, our hearts and our lives.
Second Reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Grace and mercy are abundantly available.
Gospel Luke 15:1-10
God’s care extends to even the least and the last.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
Who loves you the most? For some this could seem like an easy question to answer. For some this could be a difficult question to ponder. For some people, love can seem distant and beyond their present experience.
I was told a story about a woman in her early twenties who was desperate to find a man who would love her. So her mother asked around and arranged a blind date for her daughter. When the young woman returned from the date she said to her Mum, "That was the worst night of my life!" "Why is that?" her Mum asked. "He owns a 1922 Rolls Royce!" “Oh Lovely,” replied her mother, "Isn't that a good thing, he’s got a bit of money?" There was a momentary pause before her daughter shouted, “No Mum, he's the original owner!"
People often talk about looking for love and fulfilment and human beings long to be loved. Of course it is not just relationships with other human beings which meet this need, for our relationship with God is also about love. Luke, the Gospel writer for today offers us two parables that have a certain illogicality about them and yet point out the need to search for something that is important to us. First, the shepherd searches until he finds his lost sheep but we could be left wondering why he would leave ninety-nine other sheep to look after themselves and go off in search of just one, and to respond with overwhelming delight when the one sheep is found? For that matter is it sensible for the woman who finds her coin after so much sweeping, to then throw a party for her friends and neighbours, which must have cost far more than the coin she lost in the first place?
We can often view the world with sceptical eyes and ask why. And Jesus understands our preoccupation with gain and maximising profit. So the purpose of these two parables is to demonstrate God’s absolute and overwhelming desire to know and love each one of us and therefore the joy in heaven when God’s seeking love reaches its conclusion in meeting the beloved – You and I! Furthermore, the extent of the joy in heaven at the moment a life is transformed by a new relationship with the Lord cannot be calculated according to any human reckoning. For in God’s eyes nobody is ever really lost and must be found!
These two parables say something more – if the sheep and the coin are symbolic of sinners being searched for and found by God, the joy of finding them is not because of any change of heart on their part, nor new understanding of what they mean to the finder, nor conversion of any kind. A sheep and a coin cannot respond like a human. The parables simply point us to the truth that God loves the lost, that his love seeks us to bring us back to where we belong. And that heaven rejoices, abundantly and ecstatically, with every human being who recognises this truth and catches a glimpse of that joy within the response of his or her own heart.
Perhaps these parables, coming as they do before the parable of the prodigal son, emphasise the joy of the heavenly host as each person is brought into a loving, forgiving, nurturing relationship with God whose very nature is to transform and create relationships of love. And this is a love which is inclusive of all, for all, for all time and eternity. It is this same love which led Jesus to the Cross for each and every one of us, that he may overcome death and win for each one of us life eternal; something even more incredible than a man who loses a sheep, or a woman in search of her lost coin. God desires to be in a relationship with us, today, now and for ever.
In the seriousness of everyday life and the living out of our daily lives we make all sorts of decisions based on our reason, our experience, our understanding of good and bad, right and wrong and so on. Sometimes situations beyond our control or our health can cause us to question and wonder. We may at times even feel angry with god and struggle to be here in Church for worship. This is important and normal, part of being responsible, mature people wherever we find ourselves in the world as relationships do cause us to stop, ask questions and reflect. Our relationship with god should also cause us to pray – earnestly, honestly, regularly!
To learn to see ourselves from God’s point of view is to see how much God loves each and every one of us; when we are happy, sad, sick, well, negative, depressed, unfaithful, hurtful, abrupt… the list could go on and on! God still, unfailingly loves each and every one of us and rejoices when we turn to him in penitence and faith. And moreover, God loved us before we ever loved God!
It is this very unconditional love that we are challenged to take out of here and share in the wider world in which we live and move and have our being! Every person we meet needs to know they are loved too. It could just help them to cope with their own burdens and challenges to know that. And each of us needs to tell them, “You are deeply loved.” To show love to those we love may not be so hard, but remembering that God loves that person we are struggling with, as much as God loves the one we as yet don’t know, is tougher. But we have a vision of the joy in heaven waiting for us and for all whom God finds, loves, forgives and unites as his Church.
The joy of heaven cannot be calculated according to any human scale of reason.
The joy of heaven is for everyone who recognises God’s seeking love.
God loves the lost and seeks to bring them home.
To live with that vision of the joy of heaven and love of God is to live with love in our everyday world.