In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus tells three stories of care, three lost and found stories - the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, which we sometimes call the story of the prodigal son. He tells these stories in the context of being criticised by the Jewish leaders for sharing table fellowship with 'tax collectors and sinners'. In each of the stories Jesus gives a picture of what God is like, and how God cares for us, which is why some scholars have suggested that the last of the three should properly be called the story of the generous Father. Likewise these two earlier stories could be renamed the story of the dedicated shepherd and the story of the careful housewife.
Now we are quite used to thinking of God as being like a dedicated shepherd. It is an image all through scriptures and many of us have grown up with picture books and stained glass windows depicting Jesus in particular as the good shepherd. It is less familiar, but just as fruitful to think of God as like the careful housewife in this story, who searches carefully for the missing coin.
Picture the scene if you will. This is an ordinary middle Eastern house of the time. The floor is dirt and there are probably no windows. Light comes in through an open doorway. The woman has ten coins, worth about a year's wages. This was not a cash culture. Most things were grown and husbanded in the household, with a little bartering. The money that she has is quite possibly her dowry, stitched into her clothing as was common in those times. At any rate somehow one coin has been lost in the house. It is as if instead of $1000, she now has $900. A considerable loss, even if no emotional value attached to the coin. So she lights the lamp - in itself an indication of the importance of the lost item, for oil is expensive and to be kept for nighttime. She sweeps into every nook and cranny with great care until the coin is found. And when she finds it she tells everyone - she brings the whole community together to rejoice with her.
This struck me forcibly. When we do something carefully, with God, in the way that God does things, we inevitably end up building community, bringing people together. This has implications for us as church, in how we are to do worship - with care and attention; in how we are to care for one another - listening deeply to each others needs; in how we are to act in the world on behalf of the God who cares - with courage and wisdom. We do things carefully, because they are precious and entrusted to us by God.
The God who is portrayed in these stories that Jesus told, is a God who does not discriminate. This God regards all one hundred sheep, all ten coins, both sons as equally precious, regardless of what they have done to deserve that regard. A more commercial model of being in the world might say, 'well I've ninety nine in the paddock, let's not worry too much about the one that got away.' This is not the Christ like view. Every individual, regardless of merit, is equally precious.
God takes infinite care with us. Hence we are to care for eachother in the same way and not to judge - which is Jesus's response to those complaining about the suitability of his table companions. And we are also to care, like the shepherd for the sheep, for all the creatures, plants and animals that fill our world with such diversity and abundant beauty.
We are to be careful, which means we are to pay close attention. When we hear for example that the number of varieties of apples on sale in our supermarkets is steeply declining, we have a responsibility to ask questions about the trading practices that are influencing that change. When we hear of the loss of fish species, or varieties of lichen, we need to take notice, and where we can, act to protect and care for each and every creature that God has given into our charge.
So on this Flora and Fauna Sunday, let us take time to give thanks for the wonder of the creation of which we are a part. Let us appreciate the care of God that supports us and the whole of creation. And let us seek in our own way to care for this beautiful planet Earth and all its creatures. Amen
by Penny Jones for Flora & Fauna Sunday in the Season of Creation, Pentecost 17 Year c, 11 September 2016