God’s Lost and Found

October 14, 2007

Speaker

Summary

GOD’S LOST AND FOUND

© Rev. Dr. Gary Blaine

University Congregational Church

October 14, 2007

Reading: Luke 15: 8-10

“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.”

Cheryl came to see me because she was having difficulty sleeping through the night. Indeed, she would wake up at three or four in the morning weeping. She could not understand why. When I asked her if there were any difficult issues in her life she mentioned that she had contracted a liver disorder that was potentially life threatening. Her doctor was treating her aggressively, even as Cheryl was tending to her husband and two elementary aged children. She was working on a master’s degree and had a full time job as a librarian. She believed that she had too much to do to think very much about the possibility of death. “Anyway,” she said, “I don’t want my children to worry about any of this. And it shouldn’t get in the way of my marriage.” So we spent a few weeks talking about the fact that anxiety and fear had to have some way to express them selves. If waking her up at three o’clock in the morning was effective then she would need to plan on losing two or three hours of sleep at night. Cheryl decided that talking with her husband and me might be a little more effective.

After a couple of months she told me about a dream she had had since our last visit. In the dream Cheryl was putting on a pearl necklace that had been given to her by her great grandmother. The necklace was a cherished family treasure. Cheryl wore it with pride. But as she was putting it on the necklace broke. Pearls dropped to the floor. Some rolled under the bed and dresser. Others broke on impact. And some rolled into cracks and crevices, even the heater vent in the wood floor. They were lost and even though Cheryl searched for them she could not find them all. She thought she saw one glistening in the ductwork where she had shined her flashlight but it was too far out of reach.

I asked Cheryl what she thought the dream was teaching her. What did it mean? She replied that first of all she would gather up all the pearls she could find. She would then need to restring the pearls with something stronger than cotton string. The pearls that were broken would have to be swept up and thrown away. The lost pearls – well, they were just lost and she would have to accept that fact. To be perfectly honest, she was not sure which pearls were lost or broken. That would take some time. When I asked her what she thought one of those might be she replied, “One of the pearls that is broken is the idea that life is always safe and secure. I know now that it is not true and I can never take it for granted.”

A few weeks later Cheryl called to tell me that her disease was in remission and her life was no longer threatened.

When we hear stories about what is lost and found we are very quick to rush to the “found” column and celebrate the return and the reward. And when the Christian tradition engages this theme we are quick to praise the recovery or salvation of the lost lamb, child, or sinner. The most recognized hymn, “Amazing Grace,” declares, “I once was lost but now am found.” The assumption is that the “saved” are now fully recovered and restored and we need not dwell on the past. You know the old saw, “Once saved, and always saved.” We could also quip, “Once found, and always found.” It is human nature to avoid the dark and chaotic. We prefer the warmth and light of home and hearth. We would appreciate it very much if the minister would remind us regularly of that which is secure and certain.

The Christian tradition has taken the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son – known to us as the prodigal – and assumed that Christ is the good shepherd who seeks lost souls and that the ministry of the church is the same. I wonder if the Jesus tradition has less to do with saving lost souls, and more to do with embracing the lost and all of the conditions that disorient, distract, and mislead us. I would like to propose to you this morning that the Kingdom of God is always set in the context of the lost, the fragmented, the uncertain, the insecure, the dark and shady side of life. Yes, there are times when the halls are decorated, the lights are bright, the singing is robust, the tables are laden with food, and the spirits flow. But outside heavy clouds darken the sky, the roads are impassible, the winds howl, and sinister shadows stalk the forest. At some time we must leave the celebration and return to the world of disease, death, violence, and terror. And most frightening of all, at least to me, we reenter umbrageous and skulking boredom. The truth of the matter is that some will get lost on their way home. Some will be killed. Like my friend, some of the pearls are lost and some are broken and we are never sure which is which.

Let me put it another way. If you are looking for the Kingdom of God it is not very likely that you are going to find it in a chapel, church, or cathedral. It is just as likely that you will find it in the emergency room, classroom, soup kitchen, or shelter. The attending clergy are not likely to be priests or ministers but nurses, social workers, teachers, volunteers, and firefighters.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love to be in this beautiful, noble sanctuary. I love the pipe organ and the melody of our choir. I love the glow of candles and your faces. But I am here to be reminded of what nobility is and take that nobility into an inglorious world. I am here to be reminded to seek and sing harmony into a world that is so discordant. I am here to be reminded to take my light into a darkened world. Believe it or not I do not expect to find God in church very often. I expect the church to equip me in my search for God in the world. I do not expect Christ to be spending much time with the found. I expect to find Christ amongst the lost.

The parable of the lost coin that I read to you is one such example. A lot of people, including the ones in Jesus’ audience, might expect to find the kingdom of God in the midst of national or international power. We are prone to think that something as magnificent as God’s kingdom would entail thrones, crowned jewels, heralds, armies, and navies. Wouldn’t a kingdom of ultimate power be so impressive that every other leader in the world would bow before the throne? Wouldn’t ministers, rabbis, priests, and imams bend their knees before such triumphant omnipotence?

Oh, no, suggests Jesus. The kingdom of God is not like that at all. It’s really a very simple matter. The kingdom of God is as impressive as a woman who lost a coin. She spent the rest of the day looking for the coin. And when she found it she invited her neighbors over to celebrate. Some think that this coin was part of her dowry. Without a full dowry she would not be able to meet the demands of a suitor. The coin might have come from a bridal tiara. Some scholars think that it was worth about a day’s wage. Most of us would not think too much about losing a day’s wage. Our budget would hardly know the difference. But for a first century woman in Palestine that meant she would not be able to feed her family for a day.

And by the way, did you notice that the heroine in this story is a nameless, powerless, peasant woman. This is not the stuff of heroic kingdoms that we imagined.

And let me tell you something else. Luke does not mention it, but I assure you it is true. Before that woman’s life would end, she would lose all kinds of things – recipes, lambs, children, husbands, her glasses, her sense humor, hope, health, conscience and many more. Some she would find again. She is like my grandfather who spent a whole day looking for his glasses. When my mother came home from school she found them. They were on top of his head.

Be assured that this woman was responsible. We know that because she knew that the coin was lost. The household inventory was etched in her mind and a lost coin set off all kinds of alarms. We also know that she spent the whole day looking for the coin. She swept the floor hoping to hear the tinkle of the medal in places where the light was dim. This woman was a frugal steward of her resources. Prodigality was not her nature. She would not wander off like a silly sheep. She was faithful to the resources that had been given to her.

Like many such women and men, the woman often lost things. Indeed, if nothing was lost there would be no story. I’ll be honest with you; my household is not so neat and clean as the woman in the parable. In the process of moving from Ohio to Kansas we found things we forgot we had or thought we had lost years ago. I cannot tell you how many projects I have started and cannot find the parts I need or the tools I need. Of course, when the project is over the original parts or tools will be discovered. I cannot tell you the numbers of times that I lost children. One hid in the cabinet of a clothing display at J.C. Penny’s. She closed the door. We were frantic. Announcements were made over the public address system. The police were alerted. We felt inadequate, stupid, and humiliated. But the child got bored and after a half hour she re-emerged from her hiding place. Then we had to endure the rolling eyes of store clerks and security people. I lost, for a time, a child to drugs. I worried for 385 days that I would lose a child in Afghanistan. In all of these situations we were trying to be responsible. We were faithful in our roles as parents.

I submit to you that the household of God is a constant process of losing and finding. The house of faith is a community where valuable things, traditions, and people are lost and found. As responsible as we try to be some things fall through the cracks, needs are not understood, practices weaken, motives are misconstrued, people get mad and quit, and we lose our direction. The life of faith is lived in the midst of God’s lost and found. I do not know where the kingdom of God would be if it is not in the pendulum of the misplaced and the discovered, the forgotten and the remembered, the abandoned and the recovered, the derelict and the responsible.

Maybe there are people who are better Christians than I am. They get it right the first time. The hit a homerun every time they are at bat. They are self-actualized models of fidelity. Their marriages are without conflict; their children are without flaw. They are the leading sales representative of their company and employee of the year – after year, after year. Their bodies are in top physical condition. Their spiritual lives are centered and they radiate a constant glow of benevolence. They have found God, despite the fact that God was never missing.

I hope that is not the kind of person that you think you have called to this pulpit. And if there is such a person in this house I would gladly yield the pulpit to them. No, my life is a life of faith in the midst of joy and sorrow. I have made and will make mistakes. Garrison Keillor described it so aptly:

“I turned 65 last month, which is about as festive as walking into a brick wall, but I’m OK now. And when I look back on my messy life with all the wrong turns and failures and days I wish I could rewrite, and then I think of the shining child whose picture is on my cell phone, the door to the past closes. You cannot possibly regret anything in a chain of events that led to her existence. So you turn to the future.”[1]

And the truth of the matter is that the future will hold its share of messes, wrong turns, and days we wish we could rewrite. But the future will also disclose new possibilities, fresh life, and unexpected love. I would hate to think that the parable of the lost coin means that we only have one great day of discovery in our lives. I hope there are more opportunities to find valuable things, valuable people, and valuable truths in the days ahead. I hope there are days when the things that I have found reveal a meaning or value that I had not known at the time I found them. I would rather not be found if faith is the dull contempt of familiarity.

I think that the kingdom of God is the discovery of life in this world. Perhaps when I die I will discover some other dimension of God’s presence. But the present is where I dwell today and is the only universe where discovery is possible for me. As a man of faith it is my task to be mindful of that which is lost and what we are losing. It is my task to seek and sometimes find. Maybe my children will take up my work and the clues that I leave behind will help them discover things I had only longed for. Mary Oliver’s poem, “Messenger,” shares my perspective.

“My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work.

Which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.”[2]

Now, if you will excuse me. I seem to have lost something and need to go find it. Finis

[1] Garrison Keillor, “Don’t be a morose teenager,” Salon.Com, at http://www.salon.com/opinion/keilloer/2007/09/19; downloaded 10/10/2007.

[2] Mary Oliver, “Messenger,” Thirst (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), p. 1.

UA-64457033-1