Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Lost and Found”
Rev. Art Ritter
September 15, 2019
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one 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 is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Marty Raths tells a wonderful story about one of life’s universal experiences- being lost. There was a man who had gotten lost in part of the country that was unfamiliar to him. And after driving around for a while he finally came upon a run-down old gas station in a worn out looking little town. As he pulled into the station, a young man came out and asked, “Can I help you sir? Raths is quick to point out that this was in the days of full service stations. “Yes, the lost man said, “I’m wondering if you could tell me how to get to Livingston?” The young man thought for a bit, then shook his head and said, “No, sir, I can’t. I’ve never heard of that town.” The lost man persisted, “Do you know someone who might be able to tell me how to get there?” The station attendant replied, “No, sir, I don’t.” By this time it was getting very late in the day and that man was getting more exhausted. So he asked, “Well, would you know of a motel where I could stay and then I can figure out where I need to go in the morning?” The young attendant replied, “I’m afraid not, sir. I don’t know of any motels around here.” With a great deal of frustration the lost man said, “You sure don’t know much of anything, do you?” The young man replied, “No, sir, I don’t. But at least I ain’t lost!”
I wonder if we can get lost anymore. With all of the navigation devices at our disposal, with apps like Google Maps and Waze in our cellphones, can we ever not know how to get to places like Livingston? In his book Where You Are, James Bridle writes, “The GPS system is a monumental network that provides a permanent You Are Here sign hanging in the sky, its signal a constant, synchronized time code. It suggests the possibility that one need never be lost again; that future generations will grow up not knowing what it means to be truly lost.” In an article February 2018 The Atlantic. Lauren Elkin laments the loss of the value of being lost. If we know where we are going, we will never be on the road less traveled. Being lost can be a good thing when it promotes “discovery, imagination, and self-reliance.”
In the same article, Elkin writes about the feeling that comes over you when you are lost. There is a distinct embarrassment that you either admit or try to hide. We drive on just a little further, thinking we can find a familiar landmark. Men are notorious for not stopping and asking for directions, as such a questions would be an admission of their failure as men.
Not being able to find your way triggers an onslaught of emotions ranging from alarm to abandonment. It activates memories of shame and despair. I have been lost more than a few times in my life but I will always recall the time I got separated from my parents at a Meijer store in Ionia. I must have been around six or seven years old. My parents were filling the cart with boring groceries and I was more interested in the baseball gloves a few aisles away. In a much more trusting day that our own, they gave me permission to visit the sporting goods department. It was wonderful. They even had a left-handed first basemen’s mitt- I remember that. As I was exploring, I lost track of time and purpose and I began to wander to other displays, checking out toys and records and bicycles. When I went back to find my parents, I could not locate them. I ran breathlessly from grocery aisle to grocery aisle but they were nowhere to be seen. I will never forget that feeling of fear and alarm which came over me. Had I been abandoned? What was I going to do? I was certain that my parents wouldn’t leave me, almost certain that they were looking for me, but I also wondered if perhaps my brother or sister hadn’t convinced them to leave me behind. After what seemed like an hour but was probably only minutes, I heard a reassuring voice on the store intercom, asking me to report to the Courtesy Desk at the front of the store. There stood my equally frightened and a bit perturbed parents.
Laura Elkins points out that these intense feeling of being lost have not gone away since she got a smartphone. Her family and friends remind her, even reprimand her that it is no longer possible to get lost. Yet unable to read or understand anything from Google Maps, she says that the experience of being lost has quickly inflated from a problem of orientation to a general feeling of technological failure. Now when she is lost she feels worse that incompetent. She also feels illiterate.
Yes, we can still get lost these days. Perhaps there are ways that we don’t even realize. Perhaps we are lost and we don’t even know it. There is a physical experience of being lost. There are psychological experiences. There is a spiritual experience that can come from sorrow or greed or anger or regret. Being lost can separate us from those we love and from that which is important in our lives. It can take us away from our hopes and our dreams. Yet recognizing that you are lost can also be the realization that leads us to redemption, to returning home, to yielding to a higher power for direction and navigation.
The 15th chapter of Luke is one of the more notable chapters in all of Scripture. In the chapter, Jesus tells three of his better parables. All of them are about things that are lost. A sheep. A coin. A young son. We heard about the first two earlier in our Scripture lesson. Jesus tells these parables to his listeners, the Pharisees and the scribes, because they are grumbling about the fact that Jesus is spending time with losers- with women and tax collectors and sinners. He not only engages in conversation with them. He eats meals with them. In those days eating was as mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship.
And so Jesus tells these parables about things that are lost, and about a shepherd who risks everything to go look for the lost sheep, and about a woman who sweeps her home all night long to find one single coin. These stories are about a God who will always go looking for God’s lost children, even more fervently that our earthly parents would look for us. And after what is lost is found, they are drawn back into relationship with God. God helps them again find their potential and God celebrates with joy.
The Pharisees and scribes don’t understand Jesus’ stories. They see Jesus welcoming the untouchable and the undeserving and they were concerned. They don’t understand that their judgment and their self-righteousness make them just as lost as the worst of the sinners. They don’t get that God is primarily about love, rather than rules, about joy rather than anger or fear. They don’t understand the righteousness is not about being perfect or living up to the standard of the law rather it is about recognizing your separation from God and understanding that God is seeking you out and calling for you to return home.
We are all lost from time to time. Sometimes it is because of some obvious sin or behavior that is just plain wrong. But sometimes we are lost because there is something we have done or something we are not doing that separates us from God. We have wrapped our lives around the wrong priorities. We have pursued goals that have no lasting meaning. We have worked hard and followed all the rules yet have not scratched the surface of our true needs and our fondest hopes. We might appear to have it all together yet deep down inside we still don’t know where we are going. The problem may be that like the Pharisees and the scribes, we define ourselves by what we have done or what we are doing, rather than who we really are. Perhaps we are not a sinner, but we still are lost. It is God who grants us an identity beyond what we have done or what we are doing. And it is God who celebrates and throws one heck of a party when we admit to our being lost and turn back for what is real and lasting.
George Orwell once graphically described a cruel trick he played on a wasp. While he was eating breakfast, the wasp landed on his plate and started sucking on the jam on Orwell’s toast. Orwell cut the wasp in half. The wasp paid no attention, going on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. Orwell said, “It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period ….in which he did not notice it.”
We have all been lost from time to time. We all still get lost. By God’s grace and gifts of mercy we are found over and over again. God does not leave us for lost. God is always trying to find us. Our experience of being lost is not a waste of time but redeemable