Summary: If we have ever temporarily lost a child whilst shopping or at the beach, or lost a precious belonging, we will begin to grasp how God feels towards lost people.
In October 1984 my brother-in-law Alasdair got lost. As a family they had visited Venice – long before I knew them – Sandy and Valerie my in-Laws, Moira my wife who was 14 at the time, and Alasdair who was 11. They were at St. Mark’s square, Venice – at the same time as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was visiting, and Alasdair got pulled along with the crowds. He followed the crowds into St. Mark’s Basilica, just in time before the doors shut! Outside, Sandy, Valerie and probably Moira too were beside themselves with worry and concern. Alasdair was gone. Where was he? A search ensued, and I can only imagine the relief there was when quite a while later the Basilica doors were opened, allowing Alasdair to be reunited with his family.
If you were in that situation – someone you love dearly was lost and hidden from you – would you seek and search with all your might?
Or would you instead continue to simply take in the sights, the sounds, and the smells around you? After all, if someone’s foolish enough to wander off then surely it’s their own fault - isn’t it? They were brought up to know not to wander off! If they’re going to just follow any old big name into a big building and get locked in then they’re just stupid aren’t they? I mean, you’d never catch me doing that. I was brought up to do as I’m told. If someone gets lost, or if someone gets addicted, or if someone gets into a bad relationship, or if someone lives their life badly they know where I am. When they’re ready then they can come, repent, say sorry, do penance, grovel around a lot, work their way up the religious pecking order, and then start to live life properly. They know where we are and what we stand for, don’t they …
And the mumbling, murmuring, muttering religious lot said, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them” (15:2). He eats with them!
Yes, Jesus shares his bread with sinners – with recovering sinners like you and me, and with anyone who will receive him.
It’s so easy to be religious – to get the rule book out and quote it to every unbeliever, waif and stray. But why do some Christians find it hard to search and seek out the lost and broken? I don’t know. I have no simple answer – but we do have these parables of Jesus that resonate with our experience.
When we get separated from someone we love we seek, pursue, search, and hunt for them – just like the shepherd who “[goes] after the lost sheep until he finds it” (15:4); just like the ‘woman [who] has ten silver coins and loses one …and [searches] carefully until she finds it’ (15:8); and just like my in-laws who searched until they found my brother-in-law – and just in case you’re wondering: Yes, when they found him, he was feeling rather sheepish.
Lost people are precious to God. He sent Jesus to seek out the lost sheep of Israel (Mt. 15: 24). He sends us, his Church, to join in with his search for lost, hurting people of all nations (Mt. 28:19); in Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8); Billericay, Queen’s Park, Outwood Common.
So what’s stopping us? I like the story of the grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment & the grandfather asked, "Do you know where we are?" The little boy said, "No!" The grandfather asked, "Do you know where we‘re going?" And the little boy again said, "No!" The grandfather chuckled & said, "Well; I guess you‘re lost then?" The boy looked up at his grandfather & said, "No, I‘m not lost; I‘m with you."
Perhaps we feel a bit daunted and overwhelmed, unsure of the territory, not sure what to say.
But we don’t go searching for lost people alone. God goes with us. More than that he goes ahead of us because he’s already there, calling and drawing lost people to himself. We just get involved where God is already at work. So, can we trust God like that little boy trusts his Grandfather to know where he’s going?
How do we start? We start by remembering that God feels more love and passion for lost people than we felt when we lost something or someone precious. Then we start to seek out people.
How do we do that? Simply by putting ourselves in situations where people are. It could be by getting involved at the Summerfest on Sunday 17th July even for an hour between 11 and 5. It could be by serving free tea and coffee at the Queen’s Park Fun Day on Saturday 23rd July. Talk to Mark or Hannah Pape or to me. Paul has a vision for St. Mary Magdalene being a refuge on a Friday and Saturday night.