“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
I was a bit of a devil growing up. I had more than my fair-share of wanderlust. I think a little bit of me must be aboriginal, for I often, to the consternation and worry of my parents, would go walkabout, even as a toddler. I think the most dramatic example of this would be my adventure when I was four years old. My mother had to take my brother for a check-up at the doctor for his asthma. Since I was so young, I had to accompany them. I refused to go into the doctor’s room with my mother and brother, and so my mother left me in the waiting room with a strict instruction not to move a muscle. Before you think she was a bad mother for leaving me alone, she should have had no worry or fear, for the waiting room was full of adults, including a secretary at the desk who was told to keep an eye on me. Once left alone, and cunning as a fox, however, I waited until no-one was looking and bolted. I seem to remember just wanting to explore the hospital a bit. I wandered a little bit, then returned to the door of the waiting room. I then wandered a little further, and returned again to the door of the waiting room. And so on, until one time I wandered so far that I couldn’t find my way back. So I did what any four-year old with a sense of adventure would do: I decided I would just walk home. It was winter, snow was falling, and I was maybe two miles from home, but I set out resolutely. No-one on the way stopped me. No-one seemed to find it strange to see this little boy trudging up the snowy Whitby hills. But credit where credit is due: I made it home. There was a little flaw in my cunning plan, however. As I was only four, I didn’t have a key to get in. Not to be foiled, I went into the garden shed, closed the door, and waited.
And I waited. And waited. And waited, for the rest of the morning, getting colder and colder. Eventually the garden shed door opened. It was my mother and brother. I can’t recall which came first, the kiss or the smack, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was just glad to be found. My mother tells me now that she has spent hours frantically searching around Whitby with the police to find me. When she eventually went home, she saw my little footprints going up the garden path and into the shed, and so guessed where I had been.
That experience colours how I see today’s parables – the one about the lost sheep and the lost coin. Of course, most of us can probably understand something of what it feels like to be lost and then found. Rejoicing is the right word. We rejoice along with those who have found us, not least Jesus as he rescues us from sin. But there’s another side to those two parables and my own story that is more pressing once we ourselves have been found. And that is – are we looking for the lost?
Looking back, I find it shocking that no-one stopped the four-year old, cold and shivering me. Not one person. Either no-one was paying attention, or they let fear of stopping a child get in the way. How true that may be for us Christians too. Do we really pay close attention to one another and those in our lives? Are we looking to see if they are lost? Are we really looking and trying to bring those who are lost back home? Or are we too self-occupied to look up, or too afraid to seem interfering busy-bodies?
The lost can be any number of people. Grief, depression, worry, and spiritual inertia are lands in which we get lost, even if we physically come to Church. We are lost then just as much as those who fall away from worship. But we have to talk, look, and listen in order to recognise these different kinds of lost people. And we are called to be like the shepherd or the widow and bring them back to God. It’s not someone else’s job – it’s our collective calling to find the treasure which each one of us represents to God.
What does searching mean for us? I'm not really a country person by background. My main experience of animals is on the shelves of Tesco. But I did watch the televised sheep dog trials. The way that the sheep dogs move is far removed from what I would expect. They didn't chase the sheep, barking like crazy. No, they sat quietly, watching the sheep intelligently, and when the sheep began to stray the dogs ran like hell and then lay down in front of the sheep. So, when the sheep came up to the dog, they were gently turned back to safety.
So I put before you the challenge for your mission to care for the lost. First, think and pray; second, run like hell; and third, be found lying about, gently moving people in the right direction. For the lost, it is a precious gift to be found at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. For when we find or are found, we can say with the widow of the parable, "Rejoice with me, for I have found . . . that which I had lost."