On 11 September, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Psalm 14, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10.
Last week my husband and I looked after our eldest granddaughter for three days. She’s only stayed with us once before so she needed to take a little time to settle in to how we do things. For her first meal she decided she was full long before she had eaten even half of her meal. However, she miraculously found room for desert. I decided that I would need to insist on at least a reasonable attempt at the first course before I provided anything else. I think our granddaughter knew I meant what I said because after that we had no problems.
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. 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 insisted that our granddaughter eat her meal I was not trying to be unpleasant. I wanted her to have a healthy and sustaining meal for her own good. I certainly didn’t want an argument about eating at every mealtime which would have spoiled our time together. 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. Any disease, drought or disaster threatens the livelihood of the farmers. It stands to reason that if a sheep was lost, the owner would do his best to find it again. Notice in the parable 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.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor