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Luke 15.1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

 

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

 

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

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It is one of those readings which you sit there and think, ’you know that came to me earlier in the week, but I could not think in what context. Then it came to me in an ocean of thoughts, like a single, tiny boat between the waves. I recall spending some time training for ministry with the Royal Navy at the Portland naval airbase, close to Weymouth. I had always dreamed of flying, so the CO arranged for me to be taken up in a lynx navy helicopter. For most of the time the vast skies seemed empty, but from time to time, the pilot would point out a tiny dot in the sky that I could barely see. He would then tell me exactly what kind of helicopter it was, and where it had probably come from as well.

 

My particular skills (though Liz would say they can be flaws) is my ability to focus on a single heartbeat in a room, and at that point I know exactly where I need to be. It can be a flaw because in this I can so easily lose sight of the moment. Lots of people I perhaps should be responding to, then somebody familiar stops to talk. Have of your brain gets embroiled in a conversation with her (or him) about holidays or the price of fish, but your senses are aware of somebody else who is  just about to walk out of the door, ‘I am sorry to be rude, but I just need to catch somebody before they go!’ A little bit of me thinks, ‘I wonder if I have let such-and-such down for not staying to talk. I feel that kind of responsibility as a priest, but equally it means that most of the time I feel fairly fragile, constantly running the past through my mind in case I have said or done the right thing. 

 

'You should not be spending so much time with that person,’ Liz tells me, ‘or that group of people, that is not your job.’ Quite right in one sense, but who or what is my job? 

 

Did you know that priests have virtually no specific job description. Some would think one should have the unerring obligation to immediately answer their email on parish finances at 2.30am. Of course that person is immensely wealthy, and in their spare time, rather than sitting with their grandchildren, they prefer to play golf or chair the local branch of the charity spinners club. In these clubs it is fundamentally money that is the god, and never work of the charities themselves. These organisations are so important but the Greek word charis, which means more ore less the same as grace,  is a macro affair. You don”t just fire long range cheques at an organisation which supports lepers, you visit the leper, learn her name, listen to her heart, feel her pain. You focus, again on the individual in a crowded room. Charity, or grace, or love, call it what you will, is rarely done through charitable structures unless trustees have the emotional intelligence to see through the bureaucracy at the heart that lies beneath. 

 

So Jesus talks about grace as the stupidity of leaving ninety nine sheep to find the lost one. He talks about isolating ourselves from the rest of the community to search for the lost, the lonely and the abandoned, leaving the lynch mob to stand on the side of the victim, abandoning the democratic majority, to stand on the side of the minority, to be rejected by the mob in order to hang next to those who are crucified, and to be lost in order to find the lost. See where I am going with this?

 

So Jesus is walking alongside the crowd, because all, including him want to save the life of a little girl. She is at the point of being an adult, and because of her womb, she has the potential to carry the hope of Israel (The girl is twelve, and at that age in ancient Jewish culture she begins the process of becoming of child-bearing age). For Jesus to abandon that mission to her would be a religious crime. An unclean, hopeless, worthless, haemorrhaging woman brushes past him, and the heart of grace detects a heart of need. Jesus stops, and puts the woman of least religious worth as his highest priority. Does that give me an indication of what my ministry is, and what our ministry is?

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