Sermon for Proper 19C Luke 15:1-10
Personally, I never lose things – ahem. Well not often.
In the weeks prior to my ordination earlier this year, I needed to prove I was a Christian. To do this I needed to produce my baptism certificate – somewhat late in the process I thought but the Church works in mysterious ways. Anyway I was sure that my parents must have it – as I knew I did not.
A lengthy discussion ensued with my mother saying very forcefully that I was baptised on Lady Day 25th March, 1968 – but she did not have the certificate and so she must have given it to me with other important papers at some time in the past.
However, I could not find it. I turned the house upside down, discovering all sorts of interesting and forgotten documents – ‘O’-Level and ‘A’-Level certificates, Grade 4 bassoon exam. (Result: Merit). Grade 5 bassoon exam (Result: Fail). My cycling proficiency certificate, my Puffin club badge!
I did not remember ever having seen this baptism certificate and I became increasingly suspicious when, after a little research, I found that Lady Day in 1968 was a Monday. Surely I was not Christened on a Monday?
I called the parish where I was baptised and – sure enough – they found the entry in their registers – Sunday 24th March, 1968. A certified copy was duly produced and here I am today.
Parents of Jaime and Wilfred take note – perhaps one day your sons will be called to be ordained – don’t lose the certificate that you will receive later this morning!
Why do I say all of this?
Well – I suppose this draws together several of the kinds of loss which are explored in our Gospel reading this morning
There is the loss of an object – the certificate – and the turmoil which ensued in looking for it
There is also a loss of truth – resulting in a loss of identity – a fact about myself was now wrong (it was not quite Justin Welby finding he was the son of a different father but I felt a small tremor as I had been filling in ecclesiastical forms incorrectly for years)
There is no such thing as a simple parable and like the parable of the prodigal son which follows, these apparently simple parables explore the complex questions of what it is to be lost – to lose oneself or to be lost to others.
We can be lost like a sheep because we have strayed we have been in error – made a mistake – as we say in the Prayer Book act of confession ‘we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’
Or we can be lost like a coin because we have got mislaid, disconnected from where we should be – we have lost our bearings and forgotten who we are – we can get lost in the woods – we can be lost in life – we can get the date of our baptism wrong or we can forget that we have even been baptised at all.
These parables also explore response to loss:
It is dislocating – emotional – we search – turning a house upside down to find a lost coin [or indeed a baptism certificate] or we leave home and livelihood behind in or to go in search for a lost sheep.
I lost a child once – in a department store in America …
This was my first child and I had no experience of toddlers – of their speed of movement and spirit of adventure.
I was in a changing room trying on different pairs of trousers
My young son, William, was with me – in my care. ‘Keep your eye on him!’, my wife had warned me, sternly.
Well no sooner had I removed my trousers when little William crawled under the partition wall to enter the next cubicle – so I quickly put my trousers back on and went to get him – but he wasn’t there!
I left the changing room and instead of William, I found my wife.
‘William is with you?’ I said in a hopeful tone?
I shall never forget the look she gave me.
‘You have lost our son?’
So we searched the store high and low – in a state of complete panic – imagine trying to find a runaway 2-year old in a forest of clothes racks
Well I am here today to tell the story so you know that we found him
But I have never forgotten this – because my wife has never let me
In fact, I was in good company – because not only did David and Samantha Cameron leave their child behind in a pub, but Jesus own parents lost him in Jerusalem, on the way back from the Passover (Luke 2)
Where did they find him?
In the temple – in church – in fact he had never left – they had moved on but he had remained constant – there may be lesson for us in this – in particular for those of us who may feel that they have lost Jesus and keep on looking for Jesus in new places – but perhaps he never left the place where we first found him – ‘Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?’
Some of us know the experience of finding God again after a period of distance, of dislocation, of loss
When you find something you think you have lost it is like receiving something for the first time – like receiving a gift – and the Greek word for joy which is used repeatedly in our Gospel reading – Chara – is from the same root as Charis or gift from which we get Eucharist – that perfect symbol of the gift we have of union with God and with all of God’s creation
A gift we shall receive afresh in a short while this morning
So there is joy in the shepherd in finding and in the sheep in being found
There is joy in finding God and Luke tells us that God also rejoices in finding us
There is a harmony in this reciprocity, a resonance which speaks of the warm feeling we have when we feel that we are known, loved, found, understood.
A feeling I find each time I receive the Eucharist – when we deliberately remember our relationship with all creation, with God and with Christ – as we do this ‘in remembrance of Him’.
So what then might be the messages for us?
We should clearly keep a close eye on those for whom we care – putting them before ourselves and not just before our modesty in changing rooms in foreign countries!
But also to look out for the lost that may be in no-one’s care – those who have strayed themselves or been mislaid, perhaps those who have been left behind by change thinking they must move but needing to be brought back to where they began
We should rejoice too in those who are found – as we rejoice today in Jamie and Wilfred who are about to become the newest Christians in the world
In particular, we should rejoice here in Church
For this may be where we ourselves find God – where we find ourselves and where Christ finds us.
It is so much easier to find God if we are finding Him every week – so much easier to remember where He is. I hope parents and Godparents you will hear this and bring Jamie and Wilfred in time to confirm their relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to join us in sharing this gift.
So, in conclusion, I pray that we will all keep coming here and keep finding Jesus as He promised us:
‘For when two or three are gathered together in my name – there I will be in the midst of them.
Sermon delivered by Rev Christopher Hancock, St Martin’s Epsom, 11th September, 2016.
 Luke 2:41-52
 Mat 18:20