Life can be cruel, and life can be harsh. If you ever wondered about the harshness of life in institutions like orphanages, studies looked at children who were orphaned or abandoned newborns in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Because of staggering numbers in the large institutions, the babies received minimal physical contact. It had a lasting effect. There was nothing caring about their care. They got their physical needs met, but none of their social and emotional needs met. Many of the babies died. They did also notice that many were for life stunted in their emotional and social development, and that even many of the facial muscles of the babies did not develop fully, and that the muscles around the mouths and the eyes that express emotions were affected. Horrifying in its implications. We are made to need each other.
Think about it, a baby is in need of everything. They are reliant on us, and require so much care. And we willingly give it. Babies are a bundle of hopes and dreams, of need and fulfillment. So much in such a small package. If you ever wondered if God made us to be in relationship with other people try tickling yourself. You cannot do it. It is impossible. Try it. Go ahead.
But have someone else, poke you in the ribs, or run a feather on your bare foot, and we cackle. We are wired to be with others.
And I believe we are made to be with God. All of us. There is nothing in the Universe that God wants more than you. Jesus paints pictures here in Luke 15 of a God who seeks and treasures that which is missing. The stories told today are the first two of three in Luke 15, but they all point to one thing: “God loves you.”
And when I say you, I mean more than those sitting in this church listening to me this morning. That is what is so scandalous about what Jesus is saying here. Remember how it started. He was eating, drinking, and God forbid, maybe even enjoying himself with those that were seen as Outsiders, but worse than that, Untouchables. Tax Collectors, traitors to their neighbors siding with the foreign invaders, the Romans, and other sinners, people deemed unworthy of being in relationship with from most people’s standards. And yet, here Jesus was. In their midst again. So called prophet, and yet by society’s standards he could not see what was obvious. These people were UNWORTHY of contact from decent people.
And so he tells three stories, though only two are included in today’s stories. The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son (Also called the Prodigal Son) are the summation of Jesus response to the Pharisees and the Scribes, the Church-y types that were judging Jesus’ social habits. And each of these stories provide a different nuance.
All three describe the seeking nature of God. God seeks out a way, any way to be in relationship. God desires nothing more. The Shepherd, the Housewife, the Father are diligent and determined. That is established.
But we, like the Pharisees and Scribes, need to see the point that Jesus is making here. How much say did the Coin have in being lost? I mean really, how much free will does a coin have? None. Zip. Nada. Sometimes, we, like the coin, find ourselves lost. We did nothing to make it happen, and we can do nothing to remedy our situation. I can think of a lot of people in the same boat. Through no fault of their own, through no sin of commission or omission, they are lost, apart from the life-giving and soul-sustaining relationship that is in God. But God still seeks them out. God loves them, too.
What about the Sheep? This lost sheep, who is doing what sheep do. Should it have stayed with the flock? Of course. But it is a sheep, not known for their innate brilliance. This missing sheep of the 100, the 1%, finds itself lost and alone. It probably just followed its nose, and then some more, and then some more, and finds itself a long way off, with no clue on the way back. Did it have Free Will? Well, yes. It made choices, and could be said to be a self-made situation. And even though it is to blame, does the Shepherd turn his back on it. NO! He turns his back on the ones who have their act together, not to forget them or ignore them, but they do not need more blessings of his company. They need to be reunited with the one whose fellowship is missing, and so that is what the Shepherd does. He is the good Shepherd. No one gets Lost on his watch. Even when the Sheep was dumb, and put himself in this situation.
And today I will mention only, the third story, the Lost Son. He was not dumb, he chose to be lost. It was not mindless (like the coin) or accidental (like the sheep). This was a Sin, a deliberate decision to break fellowship. And yet, even there, the Father goes running at the first chance he has to welcome him home.
You see, we were made for relationship. Philosopher Blaise Pascal put it this way:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”
[This is from page 75 of Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (New York; Penguin Books, 1966).]
We ought to be in relationship with God. We ought to be in relationship with each other. There is no other way to be to be who we were born to be, created to be. Fearfully and wonderfully made to quote the Psalmist. And there is none beyond redemption. There are none unworthy or undeserving from God’s perspective. St. Paul reminds us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And found a way to bring us home. He longs for that. He seeks us, even when we do not realize it. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, nothing we did, nothing we could do, nothing we could imagine. God loves us. Period.
One day about 6 or 7 years ago, my youngest daughter get separated from our family while at Target. She was just a toddler. We were standing there, and we looked around and she was gone. Just gone. We had not moved. We had not left her. It was baffling. To complicate the matter, she did not speak well, and when she did, only we could understand her. Luckily my wife was with me. I told her to look around, and hold onto our oldest, and I ran to the front door of the store in case someone had grabbed her. In moments like that, every irrational fear comes, and it is hard to keep one’s head. I truly ran, and when I got to the front of the store I scanned around looking for her. She was so short, she could go through clothes racks, and spotting her in them would be impossible. I was about to call for an employee for help in the search when I see her coming down the aisle, fast and deliberate. She was headed right for the exit, thankfully all by herself. And when she saw me standing at the exit, she broke into a grin. “I KNEW YOU WOULD FIND ME!” She laughed and smiled. I could have killed her, and love her to death all at the same moment. All the adrenaline needed a place to go. She had wandered somehow from the back corner of the store, to the front door with no one stopping or slowing her. My only guess is she was heading for the car. Oh my. My heart still races thinking about it. But nothing, and I mean nothing, could have kept me from finding her. She was my baby, and I love her. I love her more than I can say. Always have, and always will. God loves everyone of us even more than that.
In fact, according to these stories, God is probably not focused on us here this morning. He is worried about the guy who got into bed two hours ago after an all-night bender. He is worried about the poor young single mother who wondering who is going to watch her children tonight when she has to work, while she props herself up to care for them after working all night last night. God is seeking the elderly person who wonders if anyone remembers that they are even still alive. God is worried about those in the wars that came from 9/11 15 years ago, the soldiers and victims on both sides in these endless wars.
In all of our lostness, we can be found. God will not stop as long as it is possible. For God’s love never fails.
So with that in mind, who needs God’s love this week? Who did you think about when I was preaching today? Who did God remind you about? Who would be the last person in the world you could think of? Maybe you can help out the Shepherd and reach out to them this week, and remind them that the Good Shepherd loves them, and hopes to get them back in his fold. Maybe you can be the Shepherd’s Crook that reaches out and helps bring them home. God help us to see with God’s eyes, and reach out with God’s love. Amen.