I suspect many preachers will use these texts to exhort us to seek out and tend the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the destitute. And so we should. But I think there is something else too.
These are stories of restoration. They come before that most moving tale of restoration – the man with two sons, the gracious father, the so-called prodigal son. Another story of lost and found. One son is lost in recklessness and wilfulness, the other in envy and resentment. The gracious father welcomes the wanderer home, and is ready to ‘welcome’ the sulker back to grace.
Homecoming is the theme. Homecoming is what Christianity is all about: forgiveness, shalom, reconciliation, restoration.
Getting lost, however distressing, is necessary. We can’t seek something until we realize that we’ve lost it. We need to miss something in order to welcome it home. Although we’re often like the a-wandering and a-squandering son, and often like the begrudging son, we need to move beyond them, and become the father: compassionate, welcoming, forgiving. This is how we find eternity and peace – when we are ready to welcome back home.
And what is it that we need to welcome home? What is it that, like the shepherd and the woman, we need to seek?
I wonder if inside each of us there is something that we think we’ve lost. Maybe we begin to realize that there is part of us that we’ve covered up with fig-leaves of pride, arrogance, and the certainty that we are right. It was never lost, of course, just hidden from view. The sanctuary of the soul. If only we knew it, what we seek is what we already have: the Divine within. We can’t reach this inner self unless we have been lost. We re-turn, and return as we strip away the leaves of amour propre, the dignity on which we are so ready to stand.
I suspect that nearly all our spiritual sickness comes from trying to bolster up a false self-image, together with a sense of guilt or shame about it. We’re reluctant to accept ourselves as the maimed creatures we are. When we acknowledge that we are imperfect, and see the full extent of our imperfections, we come home. We find ourselves. We relax into ourselves. When we confess our sins, we feel great liberation, a great sense of being at home.
I turn with groaning from my evil ways, and I re-turn into my heart, and with all my heart I turn to thee. God of those who turn, and saviour of sinners, evening after evening I will re-turn in the innermost marrow of my soul. (Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626)
In today’s stories about lost and found, and in Exodus, we are assured that the Lord is never indifferent. The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep and brings it home. The lost sheep is part of self. We are no use to anyone, least of all ourselves, unless we recognize our own need for homecoming.
Coming home to the Divine. Through re-turning we return to the divine by surrendering.