Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.
Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.
You’ve lost something. And when I mean lost, I mean it’s not anywhere. That book you’ve been reading. Your keys, when you need to get in the car and really get going, to catch that flight. Your wedding ring. Your passport. A receipt that the Canada Revenue Agency needs to complete the review of your taxes.
You look for it everywhere. When it isn’t in the obvious spots, you look in the less obvious ones. You try to reconstruct the last time you saw it. It still isn’t being found. Was it stolen? Did you absentmindedly put it in an odd place? Did it get lost outside? You really, really need it. You’re not OCD, but you’re acting like it – nothing else is important. You’re getting anxious? What if you don’t find it? You’ll miss that plane, you’ll let down some other person important to you, you’ll face unimaginable consequences involving time and money and loss of face. You’re desperate.
And then you find it! And there is joy. You tell people how happy you are, how relieved, how life can now go on. Night has turned to day, order is brought out of chaos, and you are back to yourself.
A Desperate God
This is how God is described in the parable of the lost coin and in the parable of the lost sheep. Self-centred beings that we are, we sometimes want to describe ourselves as lost sheep, but the parables are really about the Kingdom of God, and the stories are offered in response to Jesus being criticized for eating and drinking with sinners and outcasts.
Several emotions here are ascribed to God through these two parables. The first set is a combination of desperation, anxiety, and desire.
- Desire, to find that which has been lost.
- Anxiety, that it may never be found, concern over the fate of it.
- Desperation as the search wears on.
We are not used to thinking of God as being having these kinds of emotions. Desirous, desperate, and anxious? The God most of us think of is perhaps a calm loving God, of the impassible (i.e. not capable of feeling pain or suffering) “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise”, but that’s not the sense given here in the parables. God is compared to a shepherd searching and a woman hunting, and there is an extreme and painful quality to what is being described here. It suggests a God that is going to go to great lengths, that will try anything.
We are used to a God who is passing judgment, that will use a goad, work through a prophet like Jeremiah to challenge those who exploit the poor, to call out those who are arrogant and oblivious to God’s ways. It’s a God who will bring the consequences of peoples action to bear upon them, in the hope that they will acknowledge their evil ways and repent, and change. And there is a time and a place for a God like that.
But Jesus’s life and his stories suggest that our God knows that such a course has limited success, that it only goes so far. Maybe something even more extreme is needed, that God suspends judgment and instead simply welcomes the sinner with love and food, as Jesus did. Maybe it’s a God who has an overwhelming desire for reconciliation, who is anxious over human suffering, and who is desperate for a solution. And the course of action is one in which the deity sacrifices all that seems to be part of divinity, and becomes vulnerable, and becomes human, and shares with us in the awfulness of life.
This is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. This is the God who may be immortal, invisible, God only wise, but who comes to us as Jesus, all too mortal, all too tangible and visible, and following a course of action that is foolishness and scandalous. Paradoxical, but speaking to us of a deep truth as to what divinity is truly about. It’s an uncomfortable God, because it doesn’t fit into the rational categories created by the philosophers and theologians. How can God have such emotions? What does this say about the personal nature of God? Are these just metaphors? How do these parables and stories relate to the “true being” of God? But these questions are not the concern of Jesus.
The flip side of these deep, dark emotions is the simple, bright emotion of joy. Remember that each us in turning to God in all of our imperfect ways brings joy to God. And that joy builds as the Spirit within us dwells, growing into peace, love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And this joy is made to be shared. The woman who found her coin, the shepherd who found his sheep, both call their friends together to celebrate and rejoice. And so we celebrate. We gather as an assembly, an ecclesia, a church.
There’s a lot of darkness in this world. On this fifteenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 in the United States, we remember the pain and sorrow of those days. We see warfare in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib in Syria, we hear of nations seeking to arm themselves with nuclear weapons rather than seeking peaceful relations, and we listen to the reports of the consequences of climate change. In the midst of all of this, let us remember that God is not indifferent, but is as anxious, desirous, and desperate as we are, and that there is light, and that in Christ all things are being made new.
So have concern. Own your desires and hopes, your anxieties and concerns, and it’s OK to be desperate and overwhelmed, because in doing so you are actually Godlike and Christ-like. But be move on to be thankful and joyful as well, and celebrate, for we know that the darkness has not and will not overcome the light, and that all shall be well, and all manners of things shall be well.