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Lost Sheep

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, raise the questions, ‘what does it mean to be lost; and what does it mean to be found’? These are vitally important questions for us, because they go to the heart of what the gospel is about, and the role of the Church. There are several definitions of the word ‘lost’ – unable to be found or recovered; unable to find one’s way or ascertain one’s whereabouts; confused, bewildered or helpless: morally fallen; no longer available. The word ‘found’ has little or no real meaning without there first being a sense of loss. We have all experienced what it means to lose something we value; the anxious searching high and low, just as the shepherd with the sheep, and the woman with the lost coin, and the immense relief and joy when we find our lost property. But this does not compare with the agony of the loss of a person, the death of a loved one, or a child who has gone astray physically or morally. When a child goes missing, not only the police, but whole communities can be involved in the search, and it’s not knowing what has happened that often causes the most distress, the waiting and the praying for some news. The reading from Luke 15 goes on to the parable of the lost son, known to us as the prodigal son, ‘prodigal’ meaning recklessly wasteful. The son had the freedom to do what he wanted with his inheritance, and chose to squander it until he was reduced to desperately poor circumstances. Finally coming to his senses, realizing what he had done, he returned home in repentance and humility to his father’s house. He was prepared for righteous anger, but what he received was complete understanding, compassion, love and forgiveness from a father who ran to meet him. “Let’s have feast and celebrate”, he said, “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

Lost property implies a separation between owners and that which belongs to them, which can only be resolved by searching and recovery. In the original fall, sin caused a separation between God and humankind, and the world was lost. God called out to Adam in the garden, “where are you?”, and the search goes on to recover what rightly belongs to Him. Christ came to seek and to save what was lost, and it is only through Him that our relationship with our heavenly Father can be restored. By His cross Jesus bridged the great gulf that separated God from His lost property, and only through that route can we pass from one side to the other, from death to life, from darkness to light, from hell to heaven, from lost to found. Jesus the great Shepherd, looks for the lost sheep. For those who have been found by Him, the Apostle Peter says – “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”. All those thus found are the Church, the body of Christ, and it is through the Church that God works to proclaim the good news, the way of salvation and reconciliation to those who are still lost. We are aware that the Church is an imperfect instrument, but it is where the kingdom of God is meant to be seen to be evident, in a loving, self-giving, compassionate community of Christians. Our Lord Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Religion is often seen as a prop for weak-minded people, but it is in fact money and material possessions, and even relationships, that are props which can prevent people from recognizing their true condition. It is often in times of crisis, when these props are taken away, business failures, bereavements, and the like, that people begin to turn to God. This is where the Church must be ready and available to provide the comfort and material and spiritual support that is needed, and by which the lost can be found.

Derek Burton.


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