In the Bible it is often possible to read about how God reaches out to his people, wishing them to obey him for their own good. Only as a last resort does he choose punishment. Jesus illustrated the value God places on each individual by telling the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. It would be unthinkable for God not to seek out those who are lost and bring them home to the sound of cheers from heaven.
At the noon SLT service on 15 September the readings were Psalm 14; Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10. This is my reflection from the day:
The observant among you might have heard more noise in the background when I’ve been leading services recently. Currently our daughter and granddaughter are living with us for four days a week while their house is being extended. The washing machine is a lot busier than it used to be, there is baby paraphernalia all over the house but it’s lovely to be able to spend more time with little Emily as she grows and develops.
One other ‘bonus’ of this arrangement is that we have our daughter’s two large Labradors living with us. Holly is a chocolate Labrador and is the smaller of the two. Henry is a yellow Labrador and tall enough to put his paws on my shoulders if he stretches to his full height. The dogs are living with us all the time as the house and garden at their home are not suitable for them at the moment.
As the dogs are with my husband and I all the time, it’s been important to get them to take notice of what we say to them. We have continued what they have been trained to do when they are fed. They sit and wait until they are told they may eat. They have learnt this very well, though occasionally Holly needs reminding. Something rather undesirable that they have learnt since being with us is how to open the garden gate and escape. We think it’s Henry who does this as he learnt to open a door at home also. He now has the nickname Henry Houdini; we are busy trying to find a convenient way to keep the dogs in the garden.
Our son-in-law comes to visit for one night a week so that he can experience some civilisation (having a shower when standing in a bathtub perched precariously on a builder’s prop is not much fun). As we were preparing to eat yesterday evening he noticed that the dogs were very obedient and lay down on their blankets while we were eating. This is something they were trained to do but seemed to conveniently ‘forget’. Every day I have told them not to beg for food when I am cooking or when we are eating. It’s dangerous having them around my feet and annoying having a nose thrust towards our dinner plates. If a gentle reminder doesn’t work I have used my ‘teacher’s’ voice to show the dogs I mean business. It seems they are finally getting the message, though they still push the boundaries a bit as if to check if I’ve changed my mind or not. (Needless to say I haven’t.)
I think you could say that: “for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.” This is what God said to his people through Jeremiah. God had given them his guidance, laws to train them to live well and be happy. Sadly his people took no notice; they were “stupid children” and carried on doing the wrong thing. Finally God reached the end of his patience and did more than raise his voice. He was angry and promised to lay waste the land, the cities, and empty the land of people and birds. This was the final resort when all else had failed.
When I insist that Holly and Henry do as they are told I am not trying to be unpleasant. I want them to be safe; I also want to be safe. I want to be able to enjoy having them around which I can’t do if they keep misbehaving. I believe God also wanted his people to be close to him and he wanted to enjoy their company. There is a clue to this in the passage from Jeremiah when God says: “Yet I will not make a full end.” Even though God was resorting to a severe punishment that was not his final word. He never gives up on his people.
Jesus gives us further insight into this with his famous parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. Every sheep had a value. To lose one was effectively to lose savings. Sheep really mattered to those who owned them. It’s the same nowadays for farmers in many countries who keep animals as a means of generating income. Their life savings are tied up in their animals. Recently severe weather killed thousands of alpaca in Peru and the farmers are ruined because their valuable animals have gone. It stands to reason that if a sheep was lost, the owner would do his best to find it again. Notice that he didn’t just stay at home ringing his hands. He went after the lost sheep, searching for it until he found it.
The woman with the coins would have worn them as a headdress probably. They represented her dowry. Each coin was valuable. It was simply not possible to accept the loss of one coin. Once again the parable shows how diligently the owner searched. She swept every part of her house, with a light on, so that she would find the coin.
In both cases the owners rejoiced when they were successful and invited others to share their joy. Jesus tells us that a similar joy will be present in heaven when a sinner repents. The sinner is one lost from God’s family, someone who is valuable. God searches, doing everything in his power, in order to bring back the one who is lost.
St Paul is a good example of a lost person whom God searched for, using quite extreme methods to reach him. I think most people know how Paul was stopped by a vision on his way to Damascus. We still talk about someone having a ‘Damascus Road experience’ meaning something that completely changed them. By his own admission, Paul was “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” Like the people of Israel whom Jeremiah addressed, he was skilled at doing evil but didn’t know how to do good. That didn’t prevent God doing all he could to reach Paul. Having reached him, God used Paul in an extraordinary way to reach people in many areas and bring them to faith in Christ.
The very fact that we are gathered here means that we have been lost and then found by God at some point in our lives. We may only just be taking the first tentative steps towards God or we may have been a follower of Jesus for many years. As with Paul, God will go to great lengths to reach each of us. Once he has succeeded he expects us to help reach others. Every time we succeed in doing so we can be sure that the angels are rejoicing at the news.