Proper 19 Pentecost Year C Episcopal Church at Yale
The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. September 15, 2019
Lost and Found
Exodus 3: 2-7,14; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-10
One of my greatest childhood memories was my parents taking me and my four brothers away from the sweltering streets of Manhattan to the pure oasis of the Bronx Zoo. It was incredibly crowded and while my parents frantically tried to keep track of us, my 4 year old eyes were like silver dollars, taking it all in. The high point was the bear pen. I was completely mesmerized by these huge lumbering animals, until after an eternity, I turned and saw that… my family had completely vanished. To my child’s mind, I would never see them again.
I don’t think I was ever so scared in my whole life. Bawling, I was inconsolable. That’s when this huge police officer arrived. He just swept me up in his arms, held me close, and whispered, “Don’t worry; you’re not lost anymore.” Carrying me toward the police station, between sobs, he eased my parents’ names out, to announce on the PA system. Then we sat down at his desk, and once I was settled, he brought me the largest ice cream cone I’d ever seen. When my frantic parents finally burst through the door, I saw their terror give way to relief at the huge grin on my face.
To this day, I can’t watch a movie or read a novel where someone is lost, and then found again – especially a child – without tearing up, and remembering that day it was me.
Doesn’t today’s gospel sound just like that? Jesus starts with the question, “Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that’s lost until he finds it?” Raise your hands if you’d go after the lost sheep. It’s a no-brainer, right?
Wrong. Those ninety-nine sheep were all you had between you and starvation. Plus, where you’re tending them is the wilderness, a very dangerous place where all kinds of predators waited to have each one of them for dinner. So to Jesus’ listeners, the idea of a God who was so reckless, so foolish, as to abandon the ninety-nine who you had securely situated, for the one dumb sheep who’d wandered off and gotten himself lost, was unthinkable. Yet that’s exactly the God that Jesus knew firsthand.
St. Augustine once said that the hardest truth for Christians to accept is that “God loves each one of us, as if there’s only one of us in the world.” I don’t know about you, but when I look at all the suffering in the world, and compare that with the “first world problems” many of us struggle with day to day, it’s hard to imagine God having time for our worries and concerns.
But that’s simply God’s nature – to love. Or as my friend Jen once explained to her middle school child, “God’s love is like the entire Amazon River flowing down to water a single flower.”
“God loves each one of us as if there’s only one of us in the world.” How would your life be changed if you really believed that God loves you that much? Would it give you the courage to take that love in, to let it heal you, so that you actually began to believe that you’re so much more loveable than you ever imagined? Would it give you the strength to see others differently – the ones you like and the ones you can’t stand – knowing how much God loves each one of them?
Let’s face it, it’s so easy to get lost. We love, and we hurt those we love. We get hurt and instead of forgiving, we close our heart and say, “Get lost.” We judge each other and give up on each other, we talk smack about each other, and in the end, not only are we lost, but we do our best to help others become lost.
Being lost is another word for “sin.” In the Anglican tradition, sin is defined as becoming alienated from our true selves, from God, from each other, and from creation – becoming lost, by choosing our own egos, our own will, rather than God’s. Lost to ourselves – made in God’s image, born with a seed of divinity. Lost to God – the source of all love. Lost to others and to creation – both essential to our survival… to say nothing of our flourishing.
Take a moment and think. Where are the places you get lost – the rabbit holes where you’re driven by fear, or greed, or lust? What are the times and places you need God most to come and find you?
Paul’s epistle makes it clear God knows we’re clueless when we make choices that get us lost. And God’s response? Paul’s experience is that it’s mercy. Mercy – God’s willingness to enter into the chaos and muck of our lives, over and over, tilling the soil of our hearts, and planting the seeds of mercy. Finding us. Why? Because that’s God’s job. And our job? Simply to muster up the courage to open the doors of our hearts just a crack, and start to let the amazing grace of God’s healing love inside.
The 13th century Suni mystic Rumi puts it perfectly:
“The clearest sign of grace,” Rumi writes,
“Is that dung becomes flowers.
The ground’s generosity takes in our compost and returns beauty.
The world is saturated, wet with love.
So that you will grow wildflowers where you are.
You have been too strong for too long.
Try something different,