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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Allow yourself to be found by God

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

As a seven year old I got lost on a very busy bank holiday in the Parade Gardens in Bath. The Parade Gardens are popular pleasure grounds which overlook the River Avon and the weir by Robert Adams’ Pulteney Bridge.

So, for my panicked parents as they searched for me, there was not only the fear that I might have been taken but also the fear that I might have gone in the water. As it was, while they were combing the whole area looking for me, I was happily enjoying an ice cream at the local Police Station where I had been taken by those who realised that I was lost. Eventually, my parents also came to the Police Station and we were reunited.

Their searching for me was a sign of their love. Understandably, because of the love that they had as parents for their children they would not stop searching until I had been found. The shepherd and woman in these two stories are exactly the same. Because of their concern for the sheep and coin which are lost, they will not give up searching until they have been found. The sheep and the coin are loved and this love is revealed or proved through the search.

The point of these parables then is for us to know that we are similarly loved by God because he also searches for us until we are found. This search is the story of the Gospels:

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2. 6 – 8)

Christ went on this search to seek and save those who are lost. That is why these parables are told in the context of the welcome Jesus gave to sinners. As a result, we find Paul saying, in 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

John Newton was another who came to regard himself as the foremost among sinners and who wrote: “Amazing Grace, how sweet, the sound. That saved, a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found.”

Christ’s search for us, his journey of salvation, shows how much we are loved by him. He gives up all he has in order to seek us out and rescue us. This is love, we read in 1 John 3, “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

How much are you loved by God? So much that his Son left all he had in heaven to become a human being and die to rescue you for God. Imagine how I felt as a child to be found by my parents, imagine how the sheep in the story felt to be found by the Shepherd. That is what it means to be loved by God, to be found by God.

Do you know that kind of love? Have you been sought and found? The Good Shepherd searches for the lost with God’s attentive love, looking and listening, finding and carrying; carrying us home, like a sheep on the shoulders, from the cliff edges of our lives.

The lost almost universally consider themselves worthless but these parables specifically deny that assumption. What is lost is the most precious thing or person of all; the person or thing for which everything else will be given up or set aside. What is lost and found is us. We are the ones for whom Christ searches at the expense of all that he has, including, in the end, his own life. We are the most precious lost person for whom he searches. We are precious, we are loved. Do you know that love? Have you received that love?

The Revd Richard Carter says:

“Christ is saying forgiveness is not about our punishment, it’s not even about our repentance, it’s about being found, being found by God, and allowing ourselves to be found. That’s all you have to do. You have to allow yourself, allow yourself to be found by God, and it is the greatest gift you will ever receive; a free and undeserved gift. The extent of it is astonishing, it takes your breath away.”

“Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me.”


And Can It Be.

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