One of my earliest memories is of getting lost, aged about four, on a family shopping expedition in Lewisham.
I remember suddenly realising I was on my own.
And then desperately scanning around me - through a forest of moving legs and bodies - for the familiar forms of my mum and dad and sister. The tears pouring down my cheeks and the panic rising in my chest.
I’m told I was noticed by a middle-aged woman who took me to the police station. And then I remember the joy of my mum arriving, getting down on her knees, hugging me and telling me off for ‘wandering away.’
One of the most important images of Jesus in the Bible is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The one who risks his life to care for and protect his sheep. The one who risks his life to search out and bring home those that wander away. The one who rejoices when the lost are found. The one who never gives up hope that, even those who have gone very far astray will come home. And then the one who will run out to meet and greet them. And not tell them off. But throw a lavish party. And welcome them with open arms. With total forgiveness. Even if they – unlike me – had wilfully gone astray.
Today, of course, there are few shepherds. And certainly none in the capital city where I live. So I was wondering what images Jesus might use today, if his earthly ministry were here in 2017.
Maybe he would describe himself as the Good Lost Property officer. Caring for lost things and patiently waiting for their owners to come looking for them. Or the Good Metal Detector. Scouring a beach for a lost and much treasured wedding ring. And then rejoicing with the couple when it is found.
But I think I prefer the image of the Good Search and Rescue Pilot. Because Jesus doesn’t sit in a warm cosy office waiting passively for lost things to be found. He doesn’t use an instrument to detect lost things. He puts his life on the line to search us out and rescue us.
There are some wonderful stories about the amazing and dangerous missions that search and rescue crews have undertaken. I was reading one recently about a pilot in the US coast guard who winched a sick man off a cruise ship near Miami and delivered him to the helipad of the nearest hospital arriving at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Just as he was lifting the man out of the helicopter, he says that fireworks started going off all over south Florida. He said it felt like the heavens were celebrating the rescue.
What a wonderful image. That I’m sure Jesus would enjoy.
Because every time someone who was lost is found, some one who was in danger is rescued – then the whole of heaven rejoices.
In my mid thirties I had strayed away from God and felt I had no need of him. I didn't realise at the time how lost I was getting in life – how selfish and self-focussed I’d become. But thankfully God never once gave up on me. He knew the danger I was in. The danger of a small, meaningless life – a life that would ultimately bring pain to others and to myself.
And He searched me out and rescued me.
He brought me home. And threw his arms around me – without a word of recrimination.
Did I deserve all this?
Of course not.
But because God loves us the way He does. Because God loves us as a parent loves his or her child, then He never gives up on us. He always forgives us – not even waiting for us to turn back, to realise the errors of our ways and say sorry.
He pours out his love and blessings on us – even when we are still a long way off, when we are still saying no to him.
This is what Christians call ‘grace.’ Amazing grace. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me – I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
This is the grace of the Good Shepherd and the Good Search and Rescue Pilot. And the same grace that God has been pouring out on us forever.
So, if you hear God calling your name, if you hear the helicopter blades whirring above you – then may I encourage you to call out. To say, Here I am. To recognise your lostness. To allow yourself to be found, to be rescued, to be brought home to a place of safety. A place of relationship with God.
Then the whole of heaven will rejoice. And you can expect the most wonderful celebration. Because you – who are so precious to God – have been found. Have come back to life – the abundant life that God wants for you.
If you live or work near Chiswick in West London, join us for a Vegan Alpha course on Tuesday evenings starting soon. The first ‘taster’ evening is Tuesday 26 September at St Michael’s Church Elmwood Road. More information here.
Posted by Martine Oborne