Religion Magazine

Luke 15:1-11 The God Who Searches for Us

By Malcolmdrogers

Luke 15:1-11
This is a passage for meI lose everything.If it was possible to lose your head, I would lose my head.
You could reword the second of these stories: not ‘there was a widow who lost a coin’, but there was a chaplain who lost his passport ..
I think I get it from my mother. She told me that on one occasion she left me in the pram outside a shop in the village where we lived She came out of the shop and walked home. It was only when she got home that she realised something was missing. There is a verse where God asks, ‘Can a woman forget her child’, to which the answer in my mother’s case is very definitely yes! The good news for all of us forgotten babies is that the verse continues: “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
So what does this passage tell us about God?
1. We belong to God and he misses us.
You know that you belong, someone said, when they miss you if you are not there.
The sheep belongs to the shepherd, and the shepherd notices that he has gone
Luke 15:1-11 The God who searches for usThat is quite something. I mean to me all sheep look the same.But the shepherd knew one was missing. Maybe he counts … Somebody is missing. It is Cecil. Cecil has gone AWOL.
When you go to theological college and they teach you how to become a vicar or pastor, they tell you that a person can usually be a pastor for up to 40 people. They can get to know 40 people, care for 40 people, and they will notice if one of those 40 is missing. But when a congregation grows to about 100 or 120, it then becomes very difficult to notice if someone is missing - short of taking a register and calling out people’s names. That is one of the reasons why churches tend to grow – as we have – to about 100 or 120, and then stop growing. It is harder to feel that you belong if someone does not miss you. That is why, if churches are to grow beyond that number, they need to either have a second congregation (emerging on a Wednesday), or you have small groups. So that even if the pastor doesn’t miss you, there are people who see if you are not there.
The good news is that mothers may forget their babies, pastors will forget their people, but God will not forget you. And he is not limited to 40 people. God is God of the universe, of all creation – of all people, who lived then, who live now, and who will live then – and yet he knows you personally. He created each of us to be in communion, to have intimacy with him. And when you are not in communion with him, when you are alienated from him, cut off from him, he misses you.
2. God searches for you
It is not God who has mislaid us, but we who have wandered away from God.
That is clear in the first of the two stories Jesus tells here. The sheep has clearly wandered off.
Luke 15:1-11 The God who searches for usIt is also true of the third story in Luke 15: which we haven’t read today.That it is about two sons. The first rejects his father and goes to a far away place; The second stays at home but – at the end of the story – refuses to go in to be with his father.
We have rejected God and walked away from God. We have rejected God and refuse ‘to go in’ to be with him.
In other words, God created us to be in a relationship with God; he created us to become like God. But we have chosen to walk away from God, to turn our back on God
We chose to live for the visible.Augustine tells the story of the lover who gives to his beloved a ring. It is a beautiful necklace. It was made for her. And it is exquisite, and of astonishing value. £57m. When she wears the necklace other people look at her, and admire her and respect her. And the beloved falls in love with the ring, but she turns her back on the lover. I don’t think that I really need to explain that parable – but I’m going to!The God who loves us has given us this amazing creation. He has given us life and beauty and creativity and truth and each other. But instead of desiring the one who has given us life and beauty and creativity and truth, we have chosen instead to desire what he has given us. We have fallen in love with the gift and we have turned our back on the giver.
And because we have turned our back on God, we are – whether we think it or not – lost.
We are rootless – because if you take God out of the picture there can be no ultimate value and no ultimate morality. If you take God out of the picture, then a mosquito has the same value as you. And the only reason we think that we are better is because we can squash a mosquito, and a mosquito cannot squash us. We try to live as little kings and queens – each with our own empire. We play the game of thrones. In the book of Judges in the bible, we are told of the early days of Israel, when the people of God had settled in the land. And there is chaos. It ends with mass rape and genocide: with the strongest imposing their will on the weakest. And there is a recurring refrain throughout the book of Judges: in those days there was no king in Israel and each person did what seemed fit.And if you take God out of the picture, then it really is the survival of the fittest: the will to power wins. And if we try to live without God, we lose hope. For if there is no God, then this universe is not ‘creation’ but ‘happenation’. It was not created; it happened. There is no reason for anything. Things just are – things that we call good and the bad. And how can we dare to call something good and something bad? We are beyond good and evil. And certainly there is no destiny – apart from the fate of the universe: which is either to end in a massive explosion, the big bang that will end all bangs; or which will end in the big freeze – everything drifting away from everything else and becoming colder and colder. At the heart of Dante’s hell there is not fire, but a frozen wasteland of ice tombs.Whatever, without God, the only hope that we have is the hope of death.
There may be times when we feel lost, and other times when we don’t feel lost. But by turning our back on God we are lost.
Jesus looked on the crowds coming to him for healing, and we are told that he has compassion on them, because they are lost and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
And so God comes searching for us.Like the shepherd looking for his sheepLike the woman looking for her coinLike the chaplain looking for his passportLike the lover looking for the beloved
He searches for us.He spoke to us. He gave us his promises and he taught us his ways. He spoke of his love and he called us back to himAnd when we rejected his promises, his law and his prophets, God gave us himself.
Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human being. He is the shepherd seeking his sheepIt cost him everything: he emptied himself for us; he is the king who knelt down and washed the feet of his subjectsHe spoke of God and of the Kingdom of God. He called, invited us to come back to God, to live for the Kingdom and to receive the power of God to come into our lives. He call us to look at the giver and not the giftAnd this is the shepherd who gave his life for us.
And God continues to seek us. Alexander Men talks of a poem by Lermontov, ‘The Angel’. It speaks of the soul being brought by angels to earth to be born. And even though we forget our origin, and turn our back on the invisible, yet there remains within us echoes of the singing of the angels. And sometimes, just sometimes, we allow ourselves to hear that voice, the voice of the shepherd calling us.
We are told in the bible that God has set eternity in the hearts of men and women. There are those moments when something breaks in, something bigger than us, something from outside of us, and we are touched by the desire to know the lover who gave us this world and who gave us himself.
I urge you that if you hear that voice, don’t squash it. Listen to him. The shepherd is seeking you. Repent. Turn back to him. Allow yourself to be found.
3. God delights when we turn back to him. Luke 15:1-11 The God who searches for us
This is the main reason that Jesus told these stories. The religious leaders were grumbling, muttering because Jesus was eating with people who were sinners and tax collectors: They say of Jesus, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’ (Luke 15:2)
And so Jesus tells them of the joy of God when sinners turn back to him in repentance. 'The shepherd places the sheep over his shoulders and rejoices'V7: ‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’V10: ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’.
When a person, when you, stop running – and listen to the voice of the shepherd who is calling you: you know when that is happening – it is when the outer voice (from here, the bible) and the inner voice are saying the same thing – and when we turn back to God, there is a party in heaven!
Maybe it is the first time that you have repented: you have chosen to come to God, to say sorry for your sins, to live for him and for his kingdom and to ask him to come into your life. That is a great thing, a momentous event. It is a new birth. People speak of being born again – not physically but spiritually. You have come spiritually alive. Or maybe you are spiritually alive, but you’ve been living as someone who is dead. And you hear again the call of God. And you repent, turn back to God.
When we do that, there is joy in heaven. ‘I’ve found my passport’‘I’ve found the lost coin’‘I’ve found my precious precious sheep’

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