THEME: Jesus has a heart for the LOST
Joyful – relationships are being restored. God encounters great joy in seeing the human family flourish.
The Gospel reading this week speaks of the joy when lost things are found.
Jesus used the image of a lost sheep and a lost coin to describe the joy in God’s Reign when people turn from sin to Jesus’ way.
There are two important truths that must be remembered as we read these parables.
The first is that what Jesus means by “being found” is not primarily about accepting certain intellectual ideas and being assured of heaven when we die.
For Jesus, a person is found when they recognise that the values of this world do not bring life, and they turn to embrace the values of God’s Reign and live a life of love and justice here and now.
The second truth to remember is that for us to know we have been found, we need to repent – that is, we need to change our values, actions and, yes, our thoughts, to align with those of God’s Reign.
This act of repentance is not a once-off experience. Rather, it is a choice we must make every day as our hearts are captured more and more by the vision of God’s Reign.
We remember – as individual parts of the body of Christ when we gather in community we re-member. We remember God’s saving acts in Jesus.
The concept and use of our conversations around repentance is a tad unfashionable these days, but justice cannot be achieved without it, and worship becomes shallow for lack of it. It’s easy to denounce the “godless” as “foolish” and to point fingers at those who bring injustice and suffering into the world, but if we’re honest, we are them – the same darkness in them dwells in us.
This means we have at least two responses to make:
- We must face our own “lostness” and repent, opening ourselves to God’s transforming grace and
- We must offer grace and transformation to those with whom we disagree and even those we find shocking, wrong or evil. This work of justice and worship is not for the faint-hearted!
Much of the destruction and evil in our world is the result of ignorance and the failure to recognise God’s presence and purpose – so say the Lectionary readings this week.
The suffering and injustice that this causes is an offense to God that arouses God’s anger but, God is gracious, seeking out what is lost – as in Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel – and healing, restoring and forgiving those who have done wrong (as in Paul’s letter to Timothy).
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
There is no way to read this passage from Jeremiah and not compare it in some way to all the news that we hear each day from around the globe. It does indeed seem that there is a hot wind blowing fiercely at us, the foolish people, the stupid children. From record-breaking heat, fire, and floods right in our backyards to Saharan dust clouds high in the atmosphere, it is not hard to imagine that our fruitful land will be a desert and that the cities will be laid in ruins. Yet verse 27 of Jeremiah’s lament reminds us that the Lord is not going to end it here; there is something on the other side of this desolation.
Jeremiah’s prophecy is not exactly hopeful, but it also does not allow us to simply give up and pack it in. Things are going to be bad, “the earth shall mourn,” but we remain God’s people, we have no choice but to remain steadfast in our faith as we move through what might be our own dark night of the soul.
Do you think that God has given up on us, or is there a chance for redemption?
What in this passage might give you insight into a way through these dark days?
Psalm 14 maintains the same theme that was articulated in the reading from Jeremiah. In fact, it provides some more details that can help us see exactly how we ended up in this dismal state. We are the fools who have lost our faith and have committed “abominable acts,” and there is not a single one of us who has proved faithful.
What the psalm also provides is a glimmer of hope about the restoration of Israel. It certainly won’t be by our own doing, however, but by the Grace of God.
Do you feel singled out as the fool in this psalm, or are you tempted to think that it applies to other people in another time?
Do you find hope in verse 7? How might we show that our faith has been restored?
1 Timothy 1:12-17
This reading doesn’t let us off the hook in terms of our sinfulness, but it provides a valuable opportunity for us to make essential connections between our own sinfulness, that of Paul, and the sinfulness of all who have gone before us. We need to draw on that Scripture to see and understand how Christ has worked and will continue to work in our lives.
What do you think is the one thing necessary to receive God’s mercy? How might you build your life around that?
In what ways does this passage connect to the Old Testament readings we just studied?
It is never comfortable to see oneself as a Pharisee or a scribe; they are the “bad guys” after all, but that is precisely what we must do if we are to glean all that we can from this passage. We need to see ourselves as those types of hypocrites and sinners to understand that Jesus is not worried so much about the lost sheep as he is about the unity and solidarity of the community. We all need to repent, for we all are sinners, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the better.
This reminds me of the story that is often told at summer camp about “going on a bear hunt” where we come across all kinds of obstacles while going on our bear hunt, and at each one, the refrain is “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, have to go through it.” The sooner we accept our sinful natures and repent, the sooner there will be “joy in the presence of the angels of God.”
We must also remember that our acts of repentance must include mercy and forgiveness to those who may have acted against us.
Where do you see yourself in this reading?
What steps might you take to “welcome sinners” and unite your community?
How can your attitude of forgiveness and mercy fit into this context?
May our worship lead us into true repentance – the starting place of justice in our own hearts – this week.