The DisEase of the soul

What Christ does is to restore us to right community – the community of angels singing with such joy. Through grace, our whole lives become a restoration project – restoring our broken and damaged hearts to wholeness as individuals and as a community.

It was a bit of a family joke, that my mum was a collector of stuff, and not the tidiest collector of stuff at that. When she died, we took lots of bags to charity shops, and the dump, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that my aunt, her sister in law, rang up and asked if we’d found the ring mum had lost. Apparently, my mum had confessed to my aunt, but no one else, that she had lost a rather expensive diamond ring that my Dad had bought her for their anniversary. She’d wrapped it up and tucked it away for safekeeping …

We searched for the ring, high and low throughout the house – in drawers, bags, even in the line of ornamental jugs on the shelf. And I am always reminded of it when I read the parable of the ten silver coins, because it makes me reflect on what it means to be lost, what value we place on things, and what value God places on us.

The earlier part of the reading describes the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost. In our culture, we talk about lost sheep in a fairly pejorative way – often those who have ‘gone astray’, or misbehaved in some kind of way. They have usually behaved in some way outside of the expectations of our society, and so much so that they have been outcast. It’s interesting that the Church of England lectionary places this gospel with the reading from Timothy, in which the writer describes himself as formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. This very much fits in with our image of ‘sinfulness’, with a sheep that had gone astray and behaved in a way that is outside the bounds of conventional society.

I wonder, however, if there are other ways of looking at lost? On Friday it was the feast day of St John Chrysostom, who was Bishop of Constantinople in the year 398. He, incidentally, was given the name Chrysostom because of his excellent preaching skills – it means ‘golden mouthed’, which makes me think he was probably the third century equivalent of David Beckham. However, I digress …

John Chrysostom was given the unenviable task of sorting out the Constantinople clergy, who were particularly corrupt, and reforming the church. Bishops who had bribed their way into office were deposed. He stated rather beautifully that ‘the road to hell was littered with the bones of clergy, and the skulls of bishops were lamps that lit the road’. Many of his sermons called for a redistribution of wealth to the poor, ‘mules bear fortunes and Christ dies of hunger at your gate’, he says.

So who were the lost sheep of Constantinople? I don’t suppose the corrupt Bishops thought they were lost, and the rich society who surrounded them and funded their corruption didn’t think so either. John Chrysostom was fighting against a whole society and culture, a society that eventually banished him. The Empress Eudoxia sent him into exile and he died of exhaustion and starvation on the way.

There are many different ways of being lost. We might think of it as being separated from our community, but what happens when a whole community is lost? Being lost is about being separated from the community of God, and is a sickness that can effect individuals, and nations. John Chrysostom described sin as a sickness, for which Christ is the remedy.

It puts a whole different light on things if we think about sinfulness as sickness or disease – the dis-ease of the soul. Every single one of us then become that lost sheep. The circumstances of life, or perhaps unwise choices we have made, have damaged us, creating a crack in our psyche that separates us from true goodness, light and love that is God. Being lost then becomes about the need to be restored – like a piece of damaged furniture, we need the carpenter’s skills to restore us to wholeness, the shepherd’s skills to restore the scattered flock into one.

What Christ does is to restore us to right community – the community of angels singing with such joy. The community that lives in the light and the grace of God. Through grace, our whole lives become a restoration project – restoring our broken and damaged hearts to wholeness as individuals and as a community.

We never did find Mum’s expensive diamond ring. But actually, what we found was much more precious. We found that it didn’t actually matter, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t really important. Diamond rings weren’t where our values lay. I prayed that it would be found by someone who needed it or would put it to good use. Dad shrugged his shoulders, and got on with being my Dad.

John Chrysostom worked always to demonstrate that wholeness of community, restoring the lost through Christ to a community of grace. ‘We may be separated by space,’ he said, ‘but we will always be united by love. You are my Fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my children, my limbs, my body, my light, and yes, dearer to me than light. For what can the rays of the sun give me when compared with the gift of your love? Its rays are useful to me in this present life, but your love is weaving for me a crown for the life that is to come.’

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