This morning in church, it all came together.
There are some Sundays when the Lessons and the sermon are connected, but not overly so, and there are some Sundays when the material provided by Scripture “just won’t preach,” and you can tell that the priest would rather be fishing. [This is especially true when the lectionary gets to Matthew 19, the admonition against divorce.] This morning was one of those lovely Sundays when it all worked, and the clergy of my church made the children’s lesson, the reading from Jeremiah, the gospel reading from Luke, the sermon, and all of the hymns mesh seamlessly.
Jeremiah is a ‘major’ prophet (a qualification based on the quantity of his work) from the late 600s-early 500s BCE. As so often happened in the OT, God was unhappy with the Israelites, because they just couldn’t stay faithful to him (they kept veering off to worship those beautiful, sexy Baals), and so he charged Jeremiah with prophesying their destruction.
So that was the crux of the OT reading, that God was going to destroy his chosen people. But then, there’s an opening, and a possibility: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. (Jer 4:27) Hmm…so even in the face of all of this wanton idolatry and misbehavior, God still offered an out (in keeping with his promise to Noah to never again flood the Earth and destroy all of mankind) and left the door open: God wouldn’t make a ‘full end’ because he was willing to seek out those who wanted to return to living within the covenant.
After the reading from Jeremiah came the children’s lesson. The associate rector had asked an older gentleman in the church to be her sheep, and he donned a sheep hat and bleated pitifully, wandering around the church to great comic effect, as she told the kids the story of the shepherd who has 100 sheep, but loses one. This was the same parable in the Gospel reading from Luke, which tells the story of the lost sheep, as well as the lost coin.
In both cases, of course, a search ensues: the shepherd leaves the 99 other sheep in order to recover the lost one; the woman who has 9 other silver coins lights a lamp and sweeps her home to find the one coin she has lost. The point, as the sermon made so beautifully, is that what is lost must be found.
But here is where the sermon went that I found so interesting: speaking of the parable of the shepherd, my priest said, “Now, a good business plan would allow for the loss of one sheep out of one hundred. And morally, we could argue that one could be sacrificed for the safety of the majority. But for God, neither scenario is acceptable….the shepherd searches until the lost sheep is found, and the woman searches until the lost coin is recovered. The story is never over until what is lost has been found.”
I started thinking about the kids hearing this lesson, and how easy it is to believe, when you’re young and shiny and new and full of promise, that you are worth being sought, worth being searched for and recovered. And then I got to thinking about how very easy it is to believe, when you’re not quite so shiny and new, that you’ve depreciated over time, that your sins have compounded, and that the investment God made in you at the moment of your birth has given him back a really shitty return.
If you got lost today, would God even bother to look for you? Or would he kick back in his celestial easy chair and turn on Sunday Night Football instead?
From everything that Scripture tells us, the answer is that God wouldn’t stop searching until he’d found you and brought you home. And if you think about that — that whatever you’ve done in your past and whatever you are doing now and whatever you will do in the future, God still thinks you are worth his time and consideration — you can barely take it in. That’s unconditional love. That’s chesed — the amazing, relentless loyal love that God had for the Israelites, and that he has for us.
Somedays, the threads of our lives are so knotted that it seems like they’ll never weave together in a way that makes sense. And some days, everything seems to be working in harmony to craft a beautiful tapestry. Most days, though, the tapestry of our lives is a mixed bag: beautiful, but with some holes. Some frayed spots. Some colors that don’t match…. But every day, God believes that the tapestry of our lives is richly beautiful, a work of art, and worthy of being treasured.
If only we valued ourselves, and each other, as much as God values us…if only we could wrap ourselves in the knowledge that the tapestry of our lives, despite its flaws and weaknesses, is a divine work of art…
….what a wonderful life it would be!