Lost and Found

+ A sermon for Pentecost +15C/Lectionary 24C[1] at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 15, 2019 +

Text: Luke 15:1-10

Audio: LINK

“Lost in the City” by Love2foto@ (https://www.flickr.com/photos/love2photo/3574657042/), used with permission through CC License 2.0

When I go on vacation, the last thing I want to do is look like a tourist.
I never want to be that guy standing on the sidewalk gawking at the city around me with a large foldout map trying to navigate and clogging the walkways.
I always want to do my best to blend in and pass as a local.
So when we arrived in London a couple weeks ago and we stepped out of the Underground station definitely turned around and with no real semblance of where I was, I started walking confidently in the direction I thought we needed to go.
Ryan, to his credit, wanted to stop and consult with the map, but stubborn me went boldly in the way I knew was right.
Until it wasn’t.
Suddenly we were turned around in a massive and unfamiliar city trying to figure out where we were.
So with my pride slightly bruised, we stopped and consulted the map and found the bridge we were supposed to cross.
And then it happened again.
We missed a turn and I wasn’t quite sure where we were.
Now maybe it was the fatigue of travel or just my own stiff-necked-ness, but rather than admitting I had made yet another navigational error, I confidently led us on a little scenic detour before we finally found our way to the hotel.

Now, there are surely some jokes to be made here, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in this room in not wanting to admit it when I’m lost.
I think a lot of us like to look confident even when we’re not, put on the façade of certainty even when we are lost.
We may not want to pull over and ask for directions any more than we want to admit that we need help.
Because while we have all surely experienced being navigationally lost, there are so many other was that we get lost too.

“contemplando” by Agustín Ruiz (https://www.flickr.com/photos/a6u571n/2919420574), used with permission through CC License 2.0

There are those times where our lostness is less physical, less tangible, and can’t be easily remedied by a map.
Those times we feel cut off from the world, isolated from our family and friends, maybe even abandoned by our God.
Maybe it’s the loss of a job or a long time of unemployment.
Maybe it’s some pointed criticism we feel is unjust or mean spirited.
Maybe it’s the end of a relationship or a difficult marriage.
Maybe it’s when we’ve been rejected or shunned because of who we are or who we love.
Maybe it’s the shock of a diagnosis or the death of a loved one.
Maybe it’s when we can’t seem to find a way out other than through another pill or at the bottom of a bottle.
Whatever it may be, I imagine we’ve each had a time in our lives when we have felt lost, alone, abandoned.

And when we feel that way, a strange thing tends to happen.
All too often, we start to blame ourselves for being lost, to beat ourselves up for getting disconnected.
And just as much as we don’t like to admit it that we’re lost, we don’t like to admit that we need help getting found again.
And sure, sometimes we can find our own way back and finally reach our destination, but so often we look around have no idea where we are or how we got there; desperately hoping someone will find us, will help us, but also desperately afraid to ask.
Maybe we’re afraid others will blame us too, tell us it’s our fault.
So we put up that façade to show to the world that everything is ok, hide our lostness from our family, our friends, our church.
Because if we’re honest, the church can be especially good at casting the blame back on us.
Pastors and religious leaders can be especially skilled at faulting us for sinning or doubting or wandering and ending up lost.
Remember it’s the religious leaders who grumble that Jesus is spending time with those who are lost, welcoming sinners and eating with them.

61d2saplatlIn her memoir entitled One Coin Found, ELCA Pastor Emmy Kegler narrates how the parables we heard today from Luke, along with the more famous Prodigal Son, describe how she felt lost and excluded from the faith community that raised her and rejected her because she was gay, and then how God found her, brought her back, and celebrated as she was ordained into Christ’s holy church.
And really, please read this book, because she does such a beautiful job writing about not only these parables but the surprising and scandalous way that God reaches out to the lost and lonely and outcast to bring them into the love of God that knows no limits.
So rather than try to adapt her beautiful words, I’m going to let Pastor Emmy preach for a bit this morning.

She writes:

“We know this story, don’t we? … Those of us who have walked away from abusive homes and abusive churches, who have turned our backs on the places that turned their backs on us…My queer family knows this story all too well. When we name our sexuality or our gender identity… we hear this story. We’ve been told, so many of us in so many ways, that we’re just like that [prodigal] son, turning our back on everything good because we want to have the world our way…

[And] we’re also the lost sheep. We went wandering. We put the whole heard in danger, you know, because we followed our stubborn sheep nose and the shepherd had to leave the ninety-nine and chase us down.

You know what’s funny about sheep? They wander. That’s what they do; it’s in their nature. Most herd animals do. That’s why, when humans domesticated cattle and goats and yes, sheep, there arose a new role: the shepherd, the rancher, the cowboy. Someone’s got to keep the herd together, because otherwise they’ll go wandering off. It isn’t some rebellion against intrinsic sheep-ness; it’s not malicious or sinful or particularly stubborn, really. Sheep wander, it’s what they do.

And sheep wander for good reasons. They wander because they’re hungry. The shepherd didn’t bring them to a fertile enough field, and they’re fighting with each other for good grass or sweet water…If the shepherd isn’t careful, the sheep end up starving.

Sometimes the sheep are sick, or injured, or old. They’re exhausted from the heat or tired from the walk. They drop to the back of the herd, lie down somewhere to rest. If the shepherd isn’t watching for those on the edges, the group might move on without them. You’ve got to have a good shepherd, someone who’s watching for the sheep that are hurting.

And sometimes sheep run. A hundred sheep are a hundred potential meals for the wolves that wander that same wilderness…So the sheep run, fleeing as fast as their hooves can take them, getting them lost but keeping them alive. If you don’t have a shepherd watching for the wolves, the sheep can end up missing—or a meal.

We’ve all known shepherds like that. Shepherds unable to see that we’re hungry or hurting or hounded by wolves that seek to tear us apart. Leaders and friends who, through passive or active indifference, see our hunger and our hurts and write them off as inconsequential. We’ve known this too well…
And if the analogy holds…we too are the lost coin. A manmade symbol of worth and value, part of a decorative collection or simply the money needed to buy that day’s bread. We’re that lost coin, precious and yet hidden, rolled under a cabinet or hidden in an unswept bit of dust.

The funny thing about coins is that they can’t get lost by themselves. They can’t roll away on their own. Coins get lost because their owners aren’t careful; whoever was in charge was wasteful with them. Coins get lost because they lose their shine, because dirt and rust cling to them, and without careful attention, they turn a color indistinguishable from dust and mess…a shiny penny so covered in years of grit that it falls easily to the floor of a car or the sand of a sidewalk, dropped and forgotten.

We’ve known leaders like that, too. There were leaders who saw our value as something to be squandered, something they could be careless with. They saw the beauty of our bodies as something to be used, but our wounds and trauma as something to be whitewashed over. They saw our hope and devotion as a way to build their own platform, but our questions and concerns to be shoved aside. They saw the richness of racial diversity as a way to prove their own skill but refused to face the systems that perpetuated division and oppression. And for nearly every member of my queer family, there were friends who watched without interfering when accusations of abomination and sinfulness battered us until our shine was hidden beneath layers of other people’s hatred.

The trouble with this metaphor is that God is the shepherd and the woman, and if God was careless with sheep and coin that would mean God was careless with us. Metaphors, in Scripture and elsewhere, do not encompass the whole of reality, God has never been careless with us, but those who claim to speak for God have…And too often—because really, even once is too often—those leaders look at us, we precious hungry sheep and dusty dropped coins, the very thing that God-as-shepherd and God-as-woman is straining with all her might to keep safe, and they don’t see us in our beautiful bodies as made in the image of God…

This story is for us…we are lost and hungry sheep. We have gone unfed, walked without rest, been chased by wolves, and our friends and leaders did not see our pain. But God, in big and little ways, has donned a shepherd’s cloak and come running after us. God, in big and little ways, has clambered over rocks and climbed down cliffs. God has found us, hungrier and more hurt and terrified, and cradled us close to say: No matter why you left or where you went, you are mine.

We too are lost and dusty coins. We have gone unnoticed, rusted from others’ indifference, misspent and misused, and our friends and leaders did not see our neglect. But God, in big and little ways, has picked up a woman’s broom and swept every corner of creation. God in big and little ways, has tucked up her skirts and flattened herself on the floor, dug through dust bunnies and checked every dress pocket. God has found us, dustier and rustier and without any luster, and held us up to the light to say: No matter how you rolled away or what corner you were dropped in, you are mine.[2]

lost-lamb.jpgMy friends, I imagine that each of us has been in the place of the lost sheep or the lost coin at some point—wandering off to find safety or security or sustenance and realizing you’re off by yourself or feeling neglected and discarded and covered in the grime of guilt or shame or harmful theologies.
But I hope that we have also each experienced being found by the God who sees through our façade and has been searching high and low, in every nook and cranny to find you and bring you back into the love that will envelope you again.
The love that proclaims you as beautiful and precious.

Unidentified. Jesus as shepherd with the lost sheep, from Art in the Christian Tradition http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55688

The love that reconnects you with God and each other.
The love that brings hope that those things that make us lost will never have the last word.
The love that triumphs over fear and hate and lostness.
The love that finds you and brings you home again.

Or maybe you felt found before, felt certain once, but now realize that you are lost again.
These stories are for you, too, and remind you that God isn’t done with you.
God hasn’t abandoned you in your lostness but is scouring the wilderness, sweeping every corner, digging deep in your lostness just to find you and bring you back into that love, to reclaim you as God’s own, to bring you safely home.

That’s what I love about these parables: they tell us about who God is and where God is.
God is where the lost things are, the places where lostness reigns.[3]
God is in those parts of our lives where we feel lost: cut off, isolated, and abandoned.
God isn’t just with those who seem to have it together and God isn’t with those who demean those who are lost and work to tarnish their humanity.
No, God is out there searching, in here sweeping, incessantly looking for the lost, the lonely, the rejected, the marginalized until every sheep is brought back and every coin is found.

“The Good Shepherd” by Sieger Köder (1925-2015)

And then God rejoices—God loves you so much that God throws a party when you’re back in the fold and able to experience the fullness of love that God has for you, for me, for each and every one of us.

And for those of us who know what it’s like to be found, to be embraced by the love that never stopped searching for us, we get a pretty good idea of where we can partner with God to expand the search party.
We know those places where we can join with God in seeking those who are lost and feel alone, rejected, neglected, overlooked.
We get to go with God into the wilderness and in the dust and in the streets and within ourselves.
We get to bring the joy and love of God into the places longing for connection with their creator until all the sheep are found and all the coins are accounted for.

Tissot, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902. “Lost Drachma”, from Art in the Christian Tradition. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54791

And then we get to welcome all people to this feast of love, this heavenly celebration rejoicing that what was lost has been found and reunited with a God whose love knows no end.

So come, you who were lost and have been found.
Come, you who wandered and have been brought home.
Come, you who were rejected and have been restored.
Come and feast on the one who never stopped searching for you, come feast on the love that is for you.
Because this party, this banquet, this bread and wine is for you.

[1] Using Lectionary 24C the week after its assigned Sunday due to Holy Cross Sunday

[2] Kegler, Emmy, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 2-6, 8.

[3] Debbie Thomas, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2356-on-lostness

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