What does Lost mean?

Posted: September 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

What does Lost mean?

Oh, dear here we go again! A sermon on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin? Isn’t the story so clear that there is no need to preach on it? Doesn’t everyone already know the message here? Isn’t the message clear that the love of God is amazing? It is inclusive of all, aware of the persecuted, the outcast, the lost one among millions?

I remember when one of my daughters went missing at the shopping mall. I was devastated thinking that I had lost her. Where had she got to? How could I have lost her? Would I find her again? What would I say to her when I found her? Why had she wondered off? Was it her intention? What would her mom say to me?

Maybe that would be my introduction to the sermon about the two parables we have this morning as text. The story highlights how serious the lostness is and so gives rise to the emotions one might find in the text of how important to lost one is be it a sheep or a coin in our monetarist society of today. Maybe the rest would be about how I tie the story to the text? Maybe I could tie the parable of the lost sheep to the idea that people are truly saved from eternal torment, or separation from God for time-everlasting. Maybe the lost one sets the value of the stories for us? Maybe the lost sheep is the daughter from my story and maybe Jesus is the searching father, but the trouble is then who is God the Father, is God the abductor? And yes, I could be literalizing the text but how else am I supposed to understand the story? It is for sure not an analogy, so much because it is a parable. It is a distinct literary creation and is always contextual. The trouble is I don’t know enough about the context let alone the culture, the mores, the situation?

And, after all what other interpretation can I have if I want to affirm a substitutionary atonement theory? The trouble is I have to believe that Jesus is God but because he is man also the God bit has to step aside for a while so that we can see how the God bit sacrifices his human bit to save the human bits. Oh Well!!!!! Moving on . . .

Now, if you thought that part was difficult wait for the next part. As one story goes there are many reasons when one can agree that eternal hell exists. One of those is to say that it doesn’t make logical sense Not to believe in eternal hell and here is the gist of that one: if there is north/south, and west/east, then there must be heaven/hell (hell as eternal torment). Make sense?  Well, it might help if we believe heaven is “up there” and hell is “down there,” then perhaps a north/south analogy would be a decent one. But who believes that today? It also means we would be dealing with like things, locales or directions in this instance. When discussing any notion of heaven and hell though, north and south analogies don’t seem to work, as heaven and hell are not simply different and opposite locales, or something remotely similar even, but are so weighted, that they carry with them ethical, theological, philosophical, Christological, soteriological, eschatological, anthropological, and psychological ramifications. So, this subject simply cannot be properly analogized by opposite directions. And even if we wanted to, in this model, it seems to be a glaring non-sequitur or illogical response, to suggest that because the opposite direction of north is south, then the opposite of everlasting life in heaven is everlasting life in spiritual and/or physical torment. That is to say, we would be making an illogical jump from one thing to the other, and thus our analogy falls apart. Why is the opposite of everlasting life in heaven not simply death? It seems that would be a closer and more fitting comparison to make. The other problem I have with that particular worldview that it’s a highly dualistic way of thinking about things! And again, this ads complexity because life is not black and white, it is not just certainty and uncertainty, it is rather shades of grey or more complex than just being dualistic. Sure, we know that a crucial way of measuring and authenticating and discussing and in fact making sense of reality is to reduce things to their parts and having two clear parts is required it is always only among many other parts, here’s what I mean by this. First concede and say that we indeed use our dualistic mind to traverse the world around us. For example, in order to make it safely to my friend’s house for our Thursday night chats, I need to make the correct combination of left and right turns, and in order for my child to understand what tall is she needs to conceptualize what short is. But when we start getting dualistic about our ultimate destinations, things start making very little sense because we know that that is an illogical reduction of options.

First, how does this even work? If God is One and holds the universe together, uni meaning one? How can one be eternally separated from God in the way most Christians contend? We are talking about God as that which holds all of creation together, aren’t we? And not God as a deity like Zeus or Odin even. So how does the true God, in order for people to live in perpetual torment, separate God’s self from them? What, then, holds this space together if not the One God? Could this not be considered, then, polytheism, as hell would either have to hold itself together, and thus be in and of itself a god, or be held together by yet another god. I suppose that God himself could hold hell together but aren’t we then at a different definition for hell, since it is no longer eternal separation from God?

Second, where does this belief in hell as eternal separation come from? Certainly not Judaism! We read of the psalmist of Psalm 139:7–12, who writes: Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

It seems that for the psalmist there is no “eternal separation from God.” Not even Sheol, or, the “abode of the dead,” could separate a person from God. Now, Sheolcould be thought of as a place where people do in fact receive punishment, but to suggest one can either remove himself or be removed by God from God’s presence, doesn’t seem to be an option according to this passage. And if we take a look at when Jesus talks about “hell,” or Gehenna, we would be hard pressed to make the case that he even hints at the fact that all those who are there are metaphysically removed from God’s presence, yet still continue to exist. But this seems to be what many of us followers of Jesus believe about hell.

Now, the last thing that I’ll say about this particular response to the meaning of the parables of the lost is about how this “justification by contract,” if you will I will approach attributed to God or even barter is in fact “good news.” Frankly, I’m not sure how the news that Jesus saves us from a place God designed—or, didn’t design since it exists apart from him? — can be called “good news/gospel.” The first problem is that it doesn’t actually sound like good news. The better news is that Jesus the Christ supernatural or not saved us by example, not that we have to enter into an economy of exchange model of soteriology so that we don’t go to a place of metaphysical separation from an “omnipresent” God. That sounds a bit absurd!

Anyway, this has already raised too many questions for one sermon and it is very short on answers to even consider it as a sermon. It makes no claim to be other than a beginning of the challenge to a literalism that has taken years to develop and will not change overnight, in fact some suggest that only with the death of a Christianity based on such a developed myth will there be change. The primary failure of this treatise is not a call to go out and preach a Gospel that encourages people to become lost so that they can be saved. Sorry, but again, that doesn’t seem Christocentric enough for my liking. I think I am suggesting we go preach the Gospel that Jesus the Christ saved us and that we are free from ourselves and our death-dealing self-created power systems.

Have peace!

Or better still

Shalom and Salaam.

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