Picture Lost property collection, Cathedral vestry
Choral Evensong for the First Sunday of Lent, 1st March 2020
Preacher: Canon Robert Titley, Treasurer
Reading Luke 15:1-10
Follow me, if you will, through the stages of a thought experiment.
You came into the cathedral with things on your mind; things to be thankful for, I hope, but also – I suspect – things to trouble you, some of them private, some very public: more extreme weather and what it might be a sign of; the coronavirus and its threat to our personal health but now also to our economic health; the unprecedented resignation of one of our most senior civil servants.
Imagine now, though, that you slide your hand into your pocket, or to a compartment of your handbag, and discover that your front-door keys are not there.
A cold fist twists your stomach, and questions assault your mind. Where could I have dropped them? Could anyone have seen? Why didn’t I leave a spare with the neighbours? How much does a locksmith cost on a Sunday? You pass the next few minutes of the service in suppressed, fidgeting panic as your fingers urgently pat and probe other pockets, other compartments, the area round the back of your seat, and perhaps around your feet. Some of this probing is actually quite hard to do while you are sitting in a church pew.
All those other things that were on your mind – most of them (if you're honest) more important than your domestic security – are quickly eclipsed by the bulk of your anxiety about that lost bunch of metal. And, despite the twisting and the assaulting and the fidgety panicking, you still have a little space in your mind to look back wistfully to earlier this afternoon when – despite the perils besetting your world – you were blessed, because you belonged to that happy band of people who know where the front door keys are. So it is that deep, basic instincts have shaped our minds to place the immediate and the personal ahead of all else, even if that ‘else’ is very big.
But now – a change. An unthinking hand goes into a pocket or obscure handbag compartment – the one you’re sure you had already checked even though you never put your keys there – and there they are.
Suppressed panic gives way to suppressed euphoria and a stifled sigh of utter relief. You are, as the Prayer Book’s General Thanksgiving puts it, ‘unfeignedly thankful’. In fact, you can’t remember when, at least in the recent past, life felt this good. You might even go so far as to say that the losing, the panic and the dread, are things that you would not now be without. It was somehow worth it, to look into the keyless abyss and then draw back. You might even find renewed energy to face the really big stuff that was on your mind before. Gratitude does that.
It is one of the riddles of life that sometimes it is better to have lost and found than never lost at all. And when Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin he suggest that the way we feel when that happens gives us a tiny taste of how God feels when you are lost but God finds you.
Being lost and found can happen in many ways. It can be when you realise that a certain way of living has no future and you are ready to change course. It can be when you have nursed anger against someone for a long time, then you discover that the nursing has given way to healing, and you can forgive.
God's delight at such moments is huge, for God is the shepherd who searches out the stray in storm and wind, God is the woman who sifts the dirt on her knees to find the precious coin. Who could believe that the lostness, once recovered, could give birth to such joy in heaven?
We see the face of God's joy in Jesus. He goes among the lost people and they find themselves again as they are found by him. And he is glad to sit and talk and laugh with them, these 'sinners'; rather as he waits to do with you and me, who ‘have erred and strayed…like lost sheep’.