Searched and known is better than ‘lost and found’.

Scripture offers us a variety of evidence of the mysterious persistence of God; bushes that burn but don’t burn up; visitors (to Abraham & Sarah’s tent) who make wild promises of new beginnings; visitations in dreams and visions, and here, a voice calling young Samuel from sleep to sudden wakefulness. Last Sunday was a reminder that God has a voice. this week, we discover that God (voice and all) is on a mission.
There are several ways to describe this mission – the most common being the theory of “God’s lost and found” – made famous in song and parable (see the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32). The suggestion in this “lost but now we’re found” attitude is that it’s all about us.; we know better, but we choose not to do better. We are willful and (sometimes) awful where devotion and obedience is concerned. And since we (humans) cannot be relied upon to be solid citizens, God occasionally rummages through the rubbish heaps and dark places and ‘reclaims us’. This may be true, but it doesn’t tell the full story. It presumes that God only looks when we have made a complete hash of our lives, or completely turned from our true purpose. In other words, God waits for us to fail, so God can rescue us. I’m not saying that doesn’t seem to happen, but it paints a slightly cynical picture of God as a redeemer, doesn’t it? (Think – “Amazing Grace’ lyrics) – Does God really sit and wait? wait to be called (in distress) wait until it’s almost too late, and then arrive in triumph (or judgement) to save the day?
In a word – NO.
Yes, we are encouraged to call on God in our distress, and to seek God when we are lost (though we don’t always do that, do we…) – but it’s not because God is waiting for us to act. God’s action is preventative – premeditated and entirely proactive. We are not God’s ‘lost and found’; we have been searched and known.
Samuel is drawn from innocent service to divine spokesman; why? because God reached out in the night, whispering his name and describing the judgement on Eli’s family that would hand Samuel the ‘top job’. Nathaniel is astounded that Jesus ‘saw him under the tree before Philip called him’. Is Jesus just more observant that most people (probably), or is this another suggestion of the desire of God to seek and know even those who don’t give much thought to the things of God…
But it is this morning’s Psalm that make the best case for what I’m suggesting – that God is constantly seeking us out; constantly reaching out to enlighten us and encourage us to acknowledge our own need of God’s presence etc. It has long been among my favourite sections of Scripture – full of images that resonate with my own search for the meaning of all this. The message of the Psalm is simple and elegant; you can’t run – you can’t hide – God is bigger (and smarter) that our desire to escape observation; there is nothing we do that God does not notice (uh-oh), and there is (ultimately) no reason for us to try to give God the slip. Embrace the notion that God want’s us more than we want God. No escape – deal with it.
Now, when I first came to this conclusion, I was terrified; who wouldn’t be afraid – The idea of ‘no escape’ from a being who seemed fierce about the rules of behaviour is not comforting if you spent any time at all on the wrong side of the rules (and there were so many rules) …
but our terror is unfounded – God’s purpose is not to possess us or intimidate us, or even to ‘keep us on the straight and narrow’. God desires relationship. God’s devotion to this relationship is inexplicable; Nothing the Psalmist has tried puts God off his trail. Why? Because the Creator knows his work intimately and completely; nothing we do that surprises God; and the only habit that can damage our relationship is our habit of trying to escape God’s notice.
Why do we think we can outsmart the King of Creation? Why does it seem like a reasonable idea to eliminate God from our thinking (except on Sunday morning during worship, when we feel we must think about God?) It is true, that one of the tasks of the church is to consider better ways to share the good news – but mostly, we talk about why people won’t come to us to hear what we have to say. When you leave this place, do you take the message with you, or do you return to a game of ‘hide and seek’ with God?
I know that people expect me to be ready willing and able to think about, talk about and care about the things of God all the time (You’re a minister, after all) – and I suspect that there are some who can’t believe that I actually enjoy it – but it is the task of all of God’s people (and we are all God’s people) to share the joy, the love and the wonder that we have discovered in our worship together. And it helps me to know that it is not my (our) job to ‘seek the lost’; God has been doing that all along – Our job is to recognize that God wants to find us.
If God knows us – and is actively seeking us – are we ever really lost? That is the good news, friends – a word of hope in hopeless times. It means that desire or ability) to change our ways (aka repentance) is not a condition of our God loving us or desiring a relationship with us (aka salvation)
Our desire to change – to turn from evil and seek God’s righteousness and peace – is a reaction to God’s great love for us in Jesus.
Lost? probably. Found? Eventually; but only because we are so deeply loved and so intimately known by God who will not – who cannot – give up the search for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen

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