Reflections on the God of lost causes and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(Edited from Sept 15, 2013 sermon)
I would suggest that the God Jesus reveals to us through his teachings and life is ‘the God of lost causes’. It shows up in the people that Jesus associates with and gives his life to: the poorest and lowest of society. It shows up in the way that Jesus snubs those in authority and power over him, challenging and cajoling them for losing sight of God’s intentions. It shows up in the way that Jesus speaks about how the reign of God is going to break into the world, through the meek inheriting the earth and giving up all you have in order to receive it. All of these strike me as having the appearance of lost causes.
Luke offers us a trio of stories that reflect this in Luke 15 as we hear about the lost sheep, the lost coin and finally the lost son. A shepherd has a hundred sheep and as he rounds them all up at the end of the day and brings them together in the safety of his enclosure he notices that one is missing – how long and where it went missing isn’t known but he knows that it is a wild, rugged terrain with lots of predators looking for an easy catch. The odds are poor that anything good can come out of this. But against all the odds the shepherd does go out, leaving all the rest of his flock potentially in a precarious situation, and sets off looking for that one that has more than likely already been made a meal of. It’s a lost cause looking for that little one. And yet that is what the good shepherd does. Or the woman looking for the money she has lost; who knows where she dropped it. Odds are that if someone else found it, it’s gone for good – a lost cause – and yet she perseveres.
And finally, the ‘hope against hope’ foolish father waiting expectantly and naïvely for his wayward son to come back. It’s just not going to happen, he’s too far-gone and everyone knows, including his older brother, that this fellow is a lost cause. And yet, Jesus tells us that even in the midst of these lost situations, the God who is continues to long for and to look for and to hope that the lost will be found. Despite all the evidence and the way the world is, Jesus tells us that God never gives up even on all these lost causes because that is the nature of God.
We see it as well in those who are most attracted to these stories. The crowd is made up of ‘tax collectors and sinners’. For Jesus audience there were clear ethical and societal categories that these words described. Tax collectors were traitors, collaborators, ones who were taking advantage of their own people and aligned themselves with the enemy occupying forces of Rome. And ‘sinner’s could also be a technical term that included specific categories of people we would call sex trade workers and street people. Lost causes, these people.
But there were also others who came pressing in around him looking for healing: the blind beggars, the ones who had serious injuries or birth defects and couldn’t walk or work and those with horrible diseases. These were ones who had done nothing to deserve their situations and yet lived lives without any expectation that things would ever be different. It was a lost cause to except that the person with leprosy would ever be able to live with his family again, hold his children and live in his community. His life was over: a hopeless situation, a lost cause.
And then there were the methods that Jesus used. The God whose power comes through weakness, whose authority comes by loving all those who are longing for something more. It doesn’t come through manipulation or asserting authority but rather comes as a servant. And then there is the ultimate lost cause – the crucifixion. Jesus offering up his life. The ultimate hopeless situation, or so it seems.
On the surface the way God breaks into the world look to be ineffectual against the powers of destruction and suffering, of pain and lostness. The God of lost causes is the one who comes to our side, who comes looking for us when we are lost and can’t find our way back and who finds us and continues to woo us and invite us, and even when we make other choices. Through Jesus we learn that it is the lost that are the highest priority whatever their lostness may be: whether it is sheep or coins or prodigal sons; or tax collectors and sinners. Whether it is victims of the misuse of power who have been overwhelmed and trampled on or whether it is the ones who have done the trampling and abusing – all that are lost are being looked for.
During my Sabbatical at the end of April I attended some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events in Montreal and again was able to attend the TRC events in Vancouver last week. And I got to thinking that twenty-five years ago, or fifty, and never mind a hundred years ago, the whole residential school situation was normal and the native children who went through this system just had to live with it. Their parents and grandparents simply had to obey the laws and let their children be taken away from them, loaded onto cattle trucks and sent off to boarding schools. This was the way the world was. Being Indian was something that needed to be dealt with and rectified.
Who would have thought that anything like the a commission working on Truth and Reconciliation would ever come to pass never mind the implications of taking responsibility for the abuses and the cultural genocide that was the foundation on which the schools were built? Who would ever have thought that all of this would ever be questioned, never mind challenged, never mind be overturned and recognized for the violence and abuse that it brought. It was a ‘lost cause’. There was no way that this would ever turn around. But now there is a whole movement to find reconciliation and hope. There is acknowledgement of the pain and violence that was the norm. Things that were done in the dark are being brought to the light. And those who were lost in the system, who were buried by it, are being found and are finding their way back.
God is the God of lost causes and what seemed impossible is now coming to pass. We have seen it in other situations as well such as the overturning of apartheid in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States. The God we worship and follow is one who is on the side of ‘lost sheep, lost coins, lost people and lost causes’.
Our invitation is to join together with God who brings healing and hope even to the most impossible of situations. And although this comes very late for some and too late for others, nevertheless there is a movement at work that is bringing light to what once was only darkness. As one of the characters in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says ‘everything works out in the end and if it hasn’t worked out yet, it isn’t the end’. This is the message we get from the God of lost causes. This is why we are supporting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We believe that God is always on the side of those who have been violated and hurt and despite all the times when we feel it’s hopeless, we trust that the God we worship is the one who is there in those seemingly hopeless situations finding and redeeming all that has been lost.
Read about Isador Charter’s residential school story here.