Lost

Loss is a constant feature of life on this planet – or so it seems.  We lose battles and games; we lose stuff, we lose our way.  We talk of lost love, lost innocence, lost enthusiasm and lost purpose.  We fear the loss of life and lost relationships, and religion has been vital to us (as humans – over history) in our efforts to make sense of it all.

Ancient Hebrew stories of redemption – liberation from bondage in Egypt, or restoration from exile in Persia – these are ‘lost and found’ stories on a large scale.  John Newton, author of the words to ‘amazing Grace’, personalizes the lost and found motif from a Christian perspective, and that is how we think of our faith journey most often; as a personal revelation of our ‘lost-ness’ blossoming into being ‘found’ in Christ – a powerful metaphor for salvation.  Good news, to be sure  – but what if there’s more to be learned?

Jesus makes it personal with these two short parables in Luke 15.  We know what it is to lose something of value – the ache of losing can be replaced by the joy of finding – but when Jesus offers his theological tagline: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” – he takes this parable into new territory for us.  If Jesus is talking to the “found”, then the parable isn’t personal any longer; he has stopped talking about us.  We are instead being asked to consider those who are outside the fold, who are (it seems) equally precious in God’s eyes.

And so, this parable is a useful model for mission; and ‘seek the lost’ becomes “the world for Christ” and the word is taught and preached in all corners of the globe, in cities and towns and villages with great faithfulness and that is the way it should be.  But loss continues to be a feature of life on this planet – our religious fervour notwithstanding – and I wonder what this metaphor says to those who lose but never find.

Because that happens doesn’t it.  Each of us knows someone who has lost a spouse, or parent or friend as a result of their death.  Many of us have  experience with those whose sense of self seems to be slipping away because of dementia.  In tough economic times, many face the loss of work, which results in lost confidence – and there are days when the restoration of those things seems so far into the future that we can only despair; we know those, and sometimes we are those, who know only loss.

Where is the good news for us in this metaphor?

Being urged to persistence in the search is no help.  Neither is being invited to the party when someone else has been successful – these only underline our sense of having failed.  And when our losses cannot be recovered -when death or degenerative diseases are the cause – there’s nothing to search for but memories, and they are hard to find and harder still to hold.

Today’s memorial moments are the exception, I suppose – but the events of 11 September, 2001 serve to prove my point.  In addition to the loss of life, North Americans lost a sense of privilege that day.  We had been blessedly insulated from such large scale acts of barbarism – acts of war usually involved the people and property in Europe, Africa and Asia – we were actors on someone else’s stage.  And since that day, fifteen years ago, the powers that be have claimed to be searching for something – revenge; security; a return to ‘what was’ – and it simply can’t be found.  So I ask again; where is the good news?

Jesus theological reflection – repeated for emphasis – holds the clue.  Yes, he speaks of joy in the repentance of one who is lost, but consider what that says about the attitude of God.  Because we count ourselves among the ‘found’ – because we call on the name of God, and make much of God who is in our midst as we worship and work – we are inclined to forget that God is not ‘one-dimensional’  God may be gathered with us as we celebrate our redemption, but God also waits with those who are waiting for a word of hope.   The good news for all who wander lost, is that they do not wander alone; the good news for all who suffer loss, is that we never search alone. We need not endure the pain of loss alone, for if God stands ready to rejoice in the finding, surely that means God has been present in the searching.  Yes, there is redemption in finding and being found; yes, there is joy in repentance and recovery of that which is precious.  But what I am learning – and what Jesus words here suggest – is that the act of losing; the struggle to make sense of death, disease or the stunning state of world affairs – all these things can be redeemed when we recognize that God is with us; anxious for us – sharing our tears – bringing an unquenchable light into the darkest corners of our lives.  That light doesn’t right all the wrongs, nor can it turn back the clock on our pain, but it serves as a reminder.

For God too has suffered loss.  The work once described as ‘very good’ has taken innumerable twists and turns – and the purpose of faith – the mission of the church -what one writer (Marcus Borg) calls “the dream of God” – is the redemption of all that is lost.  And that dream of God has come to us in Jesus, who was a friend to those who were lost – people who had no hope, no influence, no dream of their own – and to those (and to us) he offers a chance to find something new.  New life; fresh hope; a glimmer of light – a memory redeemed.  Thanks be to God, this is what the gospel of Christ offers, not just to those who find, but to all who search.

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