Sermon for 9/11/16 Luke 15:1-10

It was one of those uncommonly warm days in March. It was sunny, the temperatures were starting to rise, spring was teasing us. Being the optimist I am, I wore sandals that day to allow my toes to get some fresh air. I was in my last semester and returned home after a hard class and was looking forward to relaxing. I removed my sandals at the door (as we always did), answered the call of mother nature, washed my hands, and then collapsed on the couch. I started to wring my hands, which were sore from hours of typing important papers, and that’s when I felt it. My main diamond on my wedding band was no longer there. The entire diamond and setting (brackets and all) had broken off. I had just washed my hands. I pictured it floating, halfway to the Mississippi River by that point. I called out to Chris between hyperventilating. Logically, he assured me that it would be okay and that my diamond would be found. We got up and started looking for it all around. And then, bare feet and all, I stepped on it. I was so relieved. The tears started to flow.

I hope none of you have had to go through this, but I think we can all relate to that stomach churning, rug pulled out from underneath you feeling that comes with losing something priceless. It feels, at times, as if time stops and almost moves in slow motion as the disbelief threatens to envelop us. And so it may be easy for us to understand why our parables today have stood the test of time. The stories of the 1 lost sheep and 1 lost coin may have confused Jesus’ company of listeners. After all, who leaves 99 sheep to go look for 1? Who spends all night sweeping and cleaning the house just to look for one coin? For those of you that farm, would you spend hours on end looking for just 1 lost cow or 1 lost hog? How many of you would spend hours on end searching for a dollar bill? However, how many of you have ever felt lost and you wish, maybe even prayed for someone to “find” you?

Our place in these stories today isn’t as the one who finds things, that’s God’s job. Our place in these parables are the ones who are lost. You certainly don’t have to raise your hands or anything, but I wonder how many of us have felt lost in our faith life. You go through the routine of coming to church, but you’re a little unsure why. Being lost comes with denial, questioning,and doubt. The denial may sound something like self-justification. “I’m not lost, I’m exploring!” You may even insist that you want to be lost. We may deny the existence of God and even if we do acknowledge that there is a God, we might wonder if God even cares about little ol’ us. Denial also allows us to play a victim role. If we play the victim then we never have to take responsibility for anything that happens to us. It’s not my fault that I am separated from God. It’s not my fault that God doesn’t care about me. And denial may also mean denying that you’re lost at all; it’s everyone else that is lost. A crisis of faith can bring forth a lot of denial.

If you haven’t ever been in denial over a faith crisis, perhaps you’ve questioned your faith, or rather, God’s faithfulness to you. We may feel like God has forgotten about us. Does God even hear my prayers anymore? Our mind can play tricks on us and convince us that we’re not even worth finding; why would God look for me? Or we wonder if anyone even notices we’re missing. We are a community of faith, we are created to be in relationship with one another, when someone is missing, we notice. If you have noticed someone missing from worship or other church functions, don’t wait for me to reach out, call them yourself. Wrapped up in this doubt is our core identity. If God doesn’t find me then what does that say about me? Who am I, then? Sometimes that doubt comes from the darkness and depths of sin. Sin is a very real presence in our lives. If you cannot forgive yourselves for your transgressions,  you may wonder how God can. That sin causes us to be lost from God. We drift, further and further, yet never out of reach.

This questioning can also look a lot like guilt. We carry the guilt of broken relationships, sin, failure, and incomplete whatever’s with us at all times. Eventually, we might ask ourselves “how did I get here?” I don’t know if you’ve ever had (what I call) a “mirror” conversation. That moment when you look at yourself and you wonder “what happened to her/him?” There’s a lot of blame that you either place on yourself or others and once again, God feels far away, maybe even non-existent. These times of darkness, of wilderness and wandering, of doubting God and God’s love for you are terrible for our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I hope you’ve never had such a time, but I fear that this “lost-ness” is all too familiar to too many of us.

It is not lost on me that 15 years ago this day, our country experienced one of its greatest tragedies to date. Most of us remember where we were or what we were doing. I was at work at Harrah’s Casino in North Kansas City and the first person I called was my dad. I remember watching the news at night and hearing about the beacons that the firefighters wore. These were alarms that sent out occasional beeps to let rescuers know the location of a downed firefighter. I cannot imagine how eerie it must have been to be at ground zero, hearing all these beacons and nothing else. To know that the life attached to that beacon was gone. Whether you know it or not, you also have a beacon.

There is a story that is often heard about Father Mychal Judge who was a Roman Catholic chaplain for the FDNY. Father Judge rushed down to the World Trade Center that morning upon hearing the news. He stood in the lobby of the North Tower, blessing firefighters, hearing their last confession, and anointing them with holy water or oil. Whether it is true or not, I don’t know. But there are stories that those firefighters that had been anointed were easily spotted in the rubble because the light reflected off the cross that had been placed on their foreheads by Father Judge. I’d like to believe this story is true.

We all have that same beacon: the cross on our forehead. This is what allows God to find us. And when we are found, we also find redemption, peace, affirmation of our worth and identity, peace, and comfort. When we are found, we are fed and washed. When we are fed, we are brought back into community and back into right relationship with God. And here’s the thing: no matter how lost you are, God will find you. You are worth finding. To God, you’re not just another person. To God, you are beloved. Remember that on the third day what was presumed lost was raised again. When we are in a dark place, the light of Christ that shines through us is what allows us to be found.

My friends, if you are feeling a little lost, a little forgotten, a little like you’re wandering with no direction, or like God maybe doesn’t care about you, take heart. You are the one coin. You are the one sheep. You are worth finding. You are God’s, God will find you, claim you, love you, redeem you, and once again declare you as beloved. So peace, my fellow lost ones, peace and comfort in knowing that help in the form of grace and God’s love is coming. To you. To me. To all of us.  

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