Sunday Sept 11, 2020 8.30am St John the Evangelist Sandiway
Once, I was with my mother in Walmart. You might have heard about Walmart. Giant stores with acres of things for sale. Anyway, I got separated from her and looked all over and couldn’t find her. After a while I got a bit panicky and I must have looked really worried because a sales assistant came over and asked me if there was anything wrong. I said to her that I had lost my mom and didn’t know where she was. The lady said, “let’s go to the customer assistance counter. Maybe she’s waiting for you there.” She took me by the hand and led me to the counter, but my mom wasn’t there. After a moment’s pause, she asked, “Do you want me to put out an announcement saying you’re lost?” I said, “No, I’m 47 years old, that would be really embarrassing!”
We’ve all been lost and I’m sure each of you could tell me a story about being lost. Some would be funny and some might be sad or frightening. Being lost and losing things is part of the human condition.
We’ve seen this week the power of loss. The Queen has died and we will not see her again, nor will we see a monarchy in her image ever again. We have had hours of the media telling us how important she has been to us and we’ve had lots of stories about the grief people are feeling at the news of her death and they are having genuine feelings of loss even though they didn’t know the Queen.
I would put it to you, however, that this time last week, if unprompted, many of wouldn’t have given a thought to the queen throughout the day. Maybe even throughout the following week. Just a month ago we had stories of the then Prince Charles receiving shopping bags of cash from middle eastern rulers and over the last 20 years, if a comedian wanted to get a laugh they would talk about Charles being the world’s oldest management trainee.
But on Thursday, that all changed. It changed because of loss. You don’t know something is missing until it is. Until you look for it or reach for it. You assume it is in its place, waiting for you. You take it for granted. Then, suddenly, we were told the Queen wouldn’t be there any more. We had lost her.
There will be lots of studies written about our response to her death. My manager walked in to work on Friday morning and started weeping because the Queen’s death reminded her of the loss of her mum and other important women in her life. And I think for many older people that is one of the reasons for such powerful feelings about someone they didn’t really know and who is for all intents and purposes ignorant of them. Many felt the loss because the Queen was a symbol of stability and continuity; she had always been there through their life. Her image was on the stamps or coins or royal warrants on cornflakes boxes. It was comforting to know she was there, and by extension, order and stability were there too.
Jesus fills his stories about lost sheep and coins with this sort of powerful emotional response to loss. A shepherd experiences loss, the loss of a valuable sheep. A woman loses cash. But look at the response! He leaves 99 sheep to go find one that is missing. The woman wastes her day looking for some coins. These aren’t normal responses to loss.
Does it make sense for a shepherd to go and get the one and leave the others behind…no. Surely, they have acceptable losses. You don’t abandon the rest. Does someone rejoice at finding some coins by immediately spending them on a party celebrating finding them? No. These are outrageous responses to loss.
So why does Jesus talk in these terms? Why does the finding outweigh the loss?
I think we can learn from our own experience this week. The grief and pain and sadness we have seen in response to the death of the Queen is the same feeling God has when we are lost to him. God has this living love for us all the time. Burning brightly and passionately. He is always looking for us and thinking of us. We are never out of mind or out of fashion with God.
And of course, these little stories in Luke will be joined by a bigger one about a boy who rejects and insults his family and who returns home expecting humiliation and instead finds a feast waiting for him because his father never gave up on him. The father runs to him and kisses him, puts him in his proper clothes and restores him to his proper place. In a way, through the three stories here, there was never a loss. The sheep would be found because this shepherd can leave 99 and they will be safe where he has left them. The coins were in the house, ready to be found. The son was never forgotten and constantly watched for.
I’ll say something bold here. What we really are missing isn’t just the person, it is what they represented in our national life. And we are afraid that with her gone, we might be lost too and our world lost to some uncertain future. But Jesus tells us that God never loses us, and that we are always capable of being found and restored. And to that I would say a profound Amen.