Last Wednesday was the twelfth anniversary of destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, but since that time there have been many more scenes of horror. Many Australians still grieve for relatives and friends killed in the Bali bombings eleven years ago. After that there was the invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, revolutions in Libya and Egypt, and now there are more families in mourning. Even people with no direct involvement are affected.
Sue’s nephew has been in Palestine and this is what he put on Facebook. Had an eye opening day in Palestine today seeing first-hand what Israel is doing to the people. It's shocking! Free Palestine! Amazing place amazing people. In amongst the conflict they still manage to smile and joke. We are so lucky to have the life we have others are not so fortunate.
How can we respond? What will we do, here and now?
For me, as a Christian, the first thing is to see how wrong these things are. Killing and murder are not the way to solve the problems of the world. The third of the Ten Commandments is “Do not commit murder.” It is one of the shortest of the Commandments and its meaning is very plain, no one can fail to understand it. When we see it happen we are horrified. And yet how often the response by the leaders of the nations is violence, so that there is more killing, more murder and more terror.
When I read the words of the prophet Jeremiah I thought, how appropriate! “My people are foolish,” says the Lord, “they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
And what does Jeremiah see as the result of this foolishness? This is what Jeremiah saw, “The fruitful land has become a desert and all its cities were laid in ruins.” Jeremiah sees the hand of God in this, but the destruction is caused not by the Lord, but by human foolishness, stupidity and disobedience.
The psalm takes up the same theme. The foolish people turn their back on God, ignoring God’s wisdom and following their own corrupt ways. “They have all become vile and abominable in their doings,” says the Lord, “there is not one that does any good.”
How wonderful it is that God answers human stupidity with love.
In the two parables we heard for the Gospel, Jesus is telling the Scribes and Pharisees how God loves sinners. The Pharisees and Scribes were quite ready to abandon the sinners completely. God abandons no one. God is like a shepherd with a hundred sheep. When one is lost, God leaves the others and searches for the lost sheep. We would say, “Well, we’ve still got 99 sheep; let’s look after these and keep them safe.” God is prepared to risk everything to find the stupid sheep that got itself lost.
And God is like the woman who lost a silver coin. Her whole life came to a standstill while she searched. For her, nothing was as important as finding that coin. Jesus wants us to understand that nothing is as important to God as finding God’s lost people. John the Evangelist put it this way, he said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that every one who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
St Paul, in his letter to Timothy, gives this testimony, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I was the foremost.” Now Paul, on his own admission was an anti-Christian terrorist – a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. But God came looking for him, not to kill him or to condemn him to hell, but to offer reconciliation and a new life.
The vicious acts of terrorism we have seen, and the violent response made to them, show how we, as humans, have failed. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see how God offers success for failure and life for death, and we, who claim to be Christians, have been entrusted with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and God’s message of reconciliation.
And it is here, in these gifts of God, that we find our response.
These are wonderful gifts God has given us, gifts not only for us and our own salvation, but for the salvation of the whole world. St Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, reminded him to “stir up the gift of God that is within you… for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-discipline.”
For the very same reason I would like to see us stir up the gifts God has given us in this parish. The message of this sermon is much the same as last week’s sermon. Last week we were asked, “Are we prepared to pay the cost of being a follower of the gospel?” Today the question is “Are we really prepared to drop everything, or anything, to look for those who are lost?”