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Tuesday, September 13, 2016
May we see ourselves for who we truly are… lost and in need of being found. And may we experience again the joy of being found by a God who loves nothing more than the celebration of finding those God loves the very most. May we be found by the wild one who will always be looking to lead us home.
Lost and Found
A Sermon on Luke 15:1-10 and Psalm 51
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Seventeenth Sunday Following Pentecost
A few weeks ago I was in Washington DC for about 36 hours for a two days conference with the think tank Faith and Public Life. A group of CBF baptist pastors flew up to talk about this current election and the issue of the loss of civility in politics. We talked about how this current election is like if you fall and hurt your wrist and head to the Emergency Room only to have the x-ray technician tell you that that the x-ray did not show a break but it did reveal some dark spots that look like cancer. This current election has been an x-ray on the soul of our country and it has revealed how truly sick and broken we are, despite our long ignoring it.
We talked about how the truth is that our reckoning as a country will not happen on Election Day (Tuesday November 8) but is going to happen on Wednesday November 9, when all the racism and sexism and all the other ism’s that have been unleashed in this election can’t be put back in the box and we have to deal with what is the real issue and this goes way beyond a Republican vs. Democrat presidential election. Wednesday November 9 is where the real work of the church this political season will begin and we better be ready because it’s going to be difficult work when we see how incredibly lost we really are at this point.
So it was 36 hours of some pretty intense meetings… so when Tuesday noon came and the meetings ended and we had a few hours before we headed to catch our flights, some of us decided that we deserved a chance to be tourist in our nations capital. We wanted to see the White House, we tried to hide it in saying we wanted to take a picture of the White House to show our kids, but the truth is we wanted to see it.
Stephen Reeves told us that the White House was only a few blocks away and pointed in it’s general direction. He promised it was a simple trip. A block later we were already lost and pulled out our iphones and started looking for directions. A group of baptist pastors- most of which were wearing the unofficial uniform of baptist pastors- blazers and blue jeans- it’s the mullet of our faith- trying to look both business and party ready. So you have these baptist pastors with their rolling suitcases and baggage, lost on their iphones, trying to figure out where they are headed at the moment, totally blocking the flow of traffic, with way too many opinions on which way to go…. Which is not a bad picture of clergy as a whole at this moment.
So there we are, “I think it’s a few blocks this way” or “I think it’s just to our right” or “I think we have gone too far.” Until finally someone looked up away from their phone and laughed and said, “there it is right there across the street and park”… it was within eyesight but not on our mobile screens yet. Standing almost right in front of it but looking down at our phones trying to figure out how to get there, forgetting to look up… again not a bad metaphor for faith today, that is not a bad parable.
Which brings me to these two parables that Jesus shares with us this morning and its should be pretty easy to hear them as a religious community because it was to the religious community that Jesus addressed these parables and that is an important note: these are not Billy Graham Evangelism crusade parables, these are to the religious community, to those who thought they had it all together. Which raises the question for us: how are we supposed to hear these stories when we have forgotten how to get lost and we consider ourselves found.
Your see on of the problems today: being lost is becoming the new lost art.
And a great deal of it does have to do with our phones, those small computers we all carry in our pockets. You do realize that your iphone, even if it is not the latest and greatest model, it still has more computer power and abilities than the entire NASA system had when they landed a man on the moon? And we use all that power for selfies… which just might mean we have reached the tipping point of evolution.
Our iphones keep us from getting lost. If we do get lost, we are always findable. There are countless apps that will locate us and get us where we need to be and they do so by making us the very center of our world. We are the first generation of humans who will no longer use maps or compasses because we have computers which make us the center of the world. Who needs true north when you have an app that makes you true north.
We don’t get physically lost anymore and I am not so sure about spiritual lostness either.
We have made lost and found categories and not the very journey of our faith.
Lost has become those other folks, you know the one’s who need Jesus, the one’s who we talk about in prayer request and gossipy whispers, the one’s we don’t want our kids hanging out with, the one’s who are the “before” pictures of faith. These are the wretches from Amazing Grace, “were once lost but now are found.”
And we are the found, we are the redeemed, we are the “after” picture. In Amazing Grace terms, we feel like we have been found for 10,000 years.
The lost are the “Others” and the Found are us.
And you see what that does… it’s that whole iPhone center of the world in spiritual terms… it puts us as the center, it puts us as the Finder and the story suddenly rotates around us. And we could not be further from the truth. Because the parables about being lost are given to the religious community who think they are the found group.
Because Jesus knows that lost and found is a process and they are not categories because our God does not think in terms of categories but in terms of process… a process of slow and continual redemption. And we don’t get to be the one doing the finding, the center of the story, because thank God that role is already taken. And God plays that role perfectly, which is really good news because we are really good at the lost role.
We are stubborn and choose our own way. We are fearful and run towards safety and comfort. We have short and limited visions and we seek temporary relief and pleasures. We have spiritual ADD and we are constantly looking for things to distract us. We plan things out perfectly and then they don’t work and we look up and don’t know where we are anymore. We mess things up. We break things.
We are really good at being lost and getting lost, what we are not good at is admitting it, confessing our lostness. We do everything we can to avoid knowing the lostness of our lives.
For me one of my spiritual gauges is always my to do list. When my to do list is obscenely long, it means that something is off in my spiritual life, more often than not it means that I am lost. However instead of admitting and confessing that, I instead start trying to fix everyone and everything around me. I make lists of all that is broken and what I need to do about that brokenness, because it’s easier to do that than it is admit that I am a little bit broken…. lost and I need some help.
I don’t know how to admit my lostness. And we all have different ways to cope- stay busy, get involved in other issues, shut down and take a nap, just ignore it and hope it goes away, be blind to it…. When the truth is all God needs is us to confess, “I’m lost…. Help me home.”
Which is why our Psalm for today is so important. It’s Psalm 51 which is labeled “a Psalm of David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”
This is a Psalm of being lost. David has done everything wrong he could. He’s been in the wrong places. He’s issued the wrong commands. He’s been with the wrong woman. He’s lied. He’s cheated. He has abused his own power to have sex with a woman, which means that he has assaulted her (and we need to name that, naming things is so important to being found). He’s murdered her husband. He’s tried to get out of it. He’s tried to play the hero and he’s tried to play the victim. He’s so lost.
And the prophet Nathan comes to him and he tells him this story… There were two neighbors and one of them had a whole bunch of sheep and lambs and the other only had one and he loved and treated that lamb like his only child. One night the neighbor with all the sheep had unexpected company, so he greeted them and welcomed them into his home and realized that he was going to need to get a meal ready for them. So he ran outside and after looking at his own lambs decided his neighbors looked better, so he jumped over the fence and grabbed his neighbors sheep, slaughtered it and prepared it for dinner. What do you think about that King David?
And David replies that the man who did that should be killed (and that is the perfect picture for us to see how lostness can blind you). And Nathan with great fear and trembling points his finger at David and says “You are that man.”
You are that man. You are so lost. And out of that comes one of the most honest prayers we have in Scripture, a prayer declaring, “I am lost- find me God- bring me home.”
All David needed was a story.
And maybe that’s all we need this morning as well…. We need some stories to remind us of who we are.
A story of a foolish shepherd who has 100 sheep, which is a pretty big flock of sheep. And at the end of the day the shepherd gathers his flock and he begins to count them and after three counts he realizes that he has 99 sheep, there is one missing, which really does not seem like that big of deal. 99 out of 100 is a pretty good deal, however that shepherd can’t stand the thought of one lost sheep. So out he goes in the middle of the night, leaving the 99 and looking for the 1, which he finds and carries home. And not only that when he gets home he throws a huge celebration because the one who was lost is now found. The flock is complete.
Or the story of a widow and her coin… this widow how had 10 silver coins, that was all she had to her name and she was really frugal and tight with her coins until one day she goes over to the mantle to count them and there are only nine, one of the coins is missing. She begins to turn the house over and over again. She looks behind the couch, under the couch and in every nook and cranny she can find. She even lights a flashlight and heads up to the attic to find out if the coin has somehow made it’s way up there, but it hasn’t. However when she gets down she remembers one place she has not looked, in the back of the pantry and somehow there it is, the coin is found. She is ecstatic, in fact she is so excited that she calls her neighbors over and tells them the story because obviously none of them have lost any sleep over the lost coin and she throws a party to celebrate it’s return. Things are complete.
And maybe Jesus tells us these parables to remind us of the joy of being found, to help us to own our lostness because its when we know we are lost, it’s then we can be found. And note neither the sheep or the coin repent or even do anything right, the only thing they do is get found. They are lost and then they are found and that is Gospel.
Since we have forgotten about being lost, maybe it’s time we remind ourselves of the rules of the US Forest and National Parks for what to do when we get lost:
1) Stop, sit down and try to figure out where you are. Use your head not your legs to find you.
2) If caught in a storm, stop and make camp, Build a fire in a safe place. Gather supplies.
3) Don’t wander about. Travel only down hill.
4) If injured, make a fire and send out big smoke signals.
5) Don’t yell, don’t run, don’t worry and don’t quit.
It sounds like Gospel to me: when you are lost- go slower, not faster, in fact stop and simply wait to be found because someone is going to be looking for you. Someone is looking for us to save us and that salvation is not about rescue as much as it is an invitation to an eternal celebration of love, which is not complete until all are in attendance.
You see in these stories, we can’t be one who is doing the Finding because that is God’s role. God is the one who finds in the constant game of Lost and Found that we are playing. And finding and restoring the lost according to Jesus is God’s deepest joy.
And maybe that is why the Greek concept of salvation is so hard for us to truly understand- you see it transcends all understanding of verbs and tenses that we have. Somehow this one word means all three tenses. It’s not I was saved… it’s always “I was saved, I am currently being saved and I will be saved.”
Saved is a process not an event. Just like being lost and found and lost and found and lost and found.
May we understand the stories for what they truly are… an invitation to be found.
May we see ourselves for who we truly are… lost and in need of being found.
And may we experience again the joy of being found by a God who loves nothing more than the celebration of finding those God loves the very most.
May we be found by the wild one who will always be looking to lead us home.