Luke 15:1-10 ‘God is loving, forgiving, and living’

Reflection by Anne Stewart

How many times have you lost something?  I struggle to imagine there is anyone, anywhere who hasn’t lost something at some point.  Some of us do it more than others though, it’s fair to say!  Some of us are finders too, and dare I say it, there is a possibility that there might be a gender thing going on there too, when I think of my household…or is that just another unfounded generalisation, perhaps!

I have quite a few lost and found stories, maybe more than I should have, and I am going to share a couple with you now.  Just last week our Josh borrowed one of our eftpos cards to do a wee job for us and then later quietly revealed to me that it must have slipped out of his pocket somewhere during the day.  I popped into the place where he thought it could mostly likely be, but it wasn’t there, so I tried blocking the card on the banking app on my phone.  Then the learning began!  First up, I learned that all of our cards are linked.  This discovery came about when we tried to pay for our groceries later on that evening – things became a little awkward when we found that all of our cards were blocked!  The next morning, I rang the bank and went through the process, you know how it is, it takes longer to identify that you are who you say you are, than to actually get the job done, and when you have joint accounts you need the other part of the joint bit nearby, to say the right things at the right time, (never a guaranteed thing with Mart, who sees occasions like these as new opportunities for play)!  Anyway, we got through it and they eventually declared, to our great relief, that we are who we think we are.   As I put the phone down, having jumped through all the hoops, I said to Mart, you know what will happen now don’t you, Josh will ring from Wanaka to say he’s found the card.  And right on cue the phone rang and yes Josh had found the card! 

Not all of my lost and found stories involve Josh, but interestingly, quite a number do!  A few weeks prior to the first lockdown in March 2020, Josh returned to live with us and brought with him two fairly young kittens.  Nancy and Glen are brother and sister and lockdown proved to be a great asset for the task of homing new kittens.  We got to know them quite well because neither we nor they could go anywhere.  By the time that we were emerging from lockdown they were about six months old.  A week or so after this they completely disappeared.  It seemed strange because they hadn’t shown any signs of leaving or wanting to explore beyond our place before this.  Josh got onto social media and put photos up around the area and a week later someone down Ilam Rd, toward Memorial Ave, made contact to say they had found Glen.  He returned, hungry and a bit scruffy, but otherwise intact.  But there was no sign of Nancy.  Four weeks later we had given up and resigned ourselves to the loss of her.  The following Sunday morning we walked out of the house to come to church and there on the doorstep was Nancy, very skinny and trailing one back leg at an odd angle.  Undeterred, and glad to be home, she bounded upstairs to find Josh.  In the end, we concluded that they may have fallen asleep in the sun, under the canopy on the back of the truck, which I took down to the Fendalton Road corner for about an hour, around the time they went missing.  So how do cats do that?  How do they get taken several blocks from home and still find their way back?  It’s not as though she walked away and so was able to retrace her steps.  When I told that story at mid-week worship on Thursday almost everyone there had a lost and found cat story – so chances are that you may have one too.  It was a very exciting moment finding Nancy on the doorstep.  Of course, that leg had been broken far too long for it to mend and it had to be removed.  The vet said she might be a sedentary cat after that, but she didn’t hear that bit, and she climbs trees and leaps off things without a second thought.  She’s the cheeky character out of the two of them and we doubt she even remembers now that she used to have four legs!

I think I might have talked about this story before, but it can probably take another telling.  When we were on the Camino, over three years ago now, early one particular afternoon we found ourselves wandering into a small village.  On this occasion there was no one to be seen but there were a couple of dogs chasing one another around the place having a great time together, until someone opened a door and called one of them inside, leaving the other one a bit lost.  Then it noticed us and decided we could be its newfound friends and it wandered off with us as we walked away from the village.  We worried that we were inadvertently drawing it away from its home, and we tried everything we could do to encourage it to ‘go home’.  But we didn’t speak Spanish, and it didn’t understand English, or what a firm raised voice meant, so it continued on with the task of guiding us.  For hours it ran alongside us, occasionally running ahead but always looking back to check we were ok and still on track.  Sometimes it ducked off into a field and we thought we were alone again, but then up ahead we would see the tail wagging as it ran ahead making the way safe. 

It really did become a friend for the day and kept us entertained with its uniquely doggy way of encouraging us.  As the day was drawing in, we could see in the distance that we were approaching the town where we hoped to find a bed for the night.  We hadn’t seen another human, or a car, or anything but the dog for the whole afternoon.  Then, out of nowhere, a car appeared.  It stopped in the middle of the road, the driver got out, went to the rear of the car, opened the boot, and the dog jumped in and the car drove off.  Clearly this had happened before.  The routine looked well-rehearsed and neither the dog nor the man seemed surprised at what happened.  What we thought was a lost dog was actually one just, expecting, and trusting that it would be found.  Here’s a poem about lost things. 

On Searching for a Book of Stamps

BRIAN BILSTON

check in wallet

check once more

hunt through bag

look in drawer

feel coat pockets

peer in pot

rifle desk

find them not

shake out shoes

lift up hat

inspect fridge

ask the cat

scour the shelves

peek in purse

turn out cupboards

swear and curse

go to shop

buy new stamps

put in wallet

next to stamps

So, what do the eftpos card, Nancy the cat, the stamps and the Camino dog all have in common? They were all lost.  But what was it that made them lost?  What were they lost from?  What is it that stops us feeling lost?  What does it mean to be found?  I wonder if some people remain in that lost state because they can’t recognise the state of being home.  You might know people that seem to always be searching because the comfort of ‘home’ seems to elude them.  What makes home, ‘home’, or found, ‘found’?

Chances are that the lost sheep that Jesus spoke of, was having a good time eating all that lovely grass before he discovered that he was alone.  And Nancy too was probably having a high old adventure until she got broken and it dawned on her that she was on her own, perhaps hungry and missing her brother and her humans.  Being lost can sneak up on you.  I wonder how she felt when she realised, she was lost.  She’s a plucky wee thing but it must have mattered to her that she was out of her familiar world and that she needed to find her way home again.  She could surely have found food or a new home, new humans, somewhere else.  She was lost because she was out of touch with the group that sustained her, the group that fed her, that gave her a sense that she counted.  In her brokenness, did Nancy sense that she needed her team, where she counted and where she felt connected and valued?  She had lost her community and some sense within her, told her she needed to find it again.  I’m glad she did, her community was missing her too.   We were all doing what we could to find her; much like the shepherd searching for that one sheep that had become lost, the widow searching for the lost coin.  These stories that Jesus tells, about things being lost and found, show us that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community, and when they have found it, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning.  Of course, in the next few weeks Glen and Nancy will be moving to the country and we face the task of connecting them into a new world there.  If anyone spots a three-legged feisty tabby and white cat back around here, give us a yell!   

One thing that I noticed in all of these stories of lost and found is that the joy that is experienced in finding, or, in being found, almost always outweighs the pain felt in being lost or losing something, or someone precious to the community.  How quickly we recover when we find what was lost and bring it back where it belongs!  That feeling of ‘coming home’ to whatever it is that holds meaning for us taps into something very deep and primal within us.

It seems very clear that we need community, we need one another, whether we always like it or not.  In community we can flourish; outside of it we might survive, but God’s intention for us is not survival it’s abundant living!  That’s why God’s love’, God’s sheepfold, is so big, and God’s arms are very wide to enable all who are lost to be found and welcomed back into God’s embrace.  And that’s the work we, the church, do with and for God, finding and welcoming the lost back into community.  We can’t do that if we are judging them, or thinking ourselves superior to them, or blocking ourselves off from them because they are different from us, or they are uncomfortable for us to be around.  If we want to live well and want others to live well, we have to be loving, and forgiving shepherds like the one Jesus spoke of in the parable we heard earlier. 

This week, The Village Community Centre celebrated 25 years of reaching out into the community in a wide variety of ways, so that others may experience the deep sense of community we are so fortunate to know in The Village.  We do this because we want others to come to know the shepherd who looks out for the sheep, even the ones who wander off and get lost.  Over the years the Community Centre has given the church a significant means to be able to stretch beyond these walls and make God’s welcoming embrace known to those who sense deep within, that very human need to be counted and valued.  May this work continue to flourish so that through it, people may come to know who they are in the embrace of God.

Lost

DAVID WAGONER

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.