Sunday, September 4, 2016

Getting Lost and Getting Found: Joy in the Presence of the Angels!

Luke 15:1-10

I hate getting lost. For others it may be an adventure, I know, but I am one who is thrown into a state of panic when I do not recognize my surroundings. Or when I recognize my surroundings but know they are not where I am supposed to be. Indeed, I am profoundly grateful for the gift of GPS on my phone which hardly ever lets me down --- although it is also so that from time to time the maps in cyber space have not yet caught up with reality on the ground and more than once this fool proof tool for preventing getting lost has also let me down.

There is getting lost and there is getting really lost, of course. I have been lost --- unable to find where I am going. And I have been 'lost,' all the while knowing exactly where I am. And yet, it is so that as often as not, the 'getting found again' is not always met with the kind of joy we hear about in the examples Jesus offers today. I would offer one such example now.

I was eight years old and in the third grade. It was a day in October. I was new enough to this classroom that the teacher did not really know me yet. I was not so new that I had not already learned the consequences for certain infractions.

We were outside for afternoon recess. My sister, Martha's, 2nd grade class also happened to be on the playground at the same time and I was playing with her. This is, by the way, the only time I can remember this being so. Perhaps because of what happened next.

And so it was that I was away from my classmates and I did not see my teacher standing at her designated spot on the playground with one hand raised to signal it was time to go back inside. I did not see the other eight year old's form a single file line and follow her up the fire escape stairs and back inside for a Social Studies lesson. (Yes, these 47 years later I still remember that.) For some reason, though, I quickly sensed something was wrong. I looked up from our play and scanned the children remaining on the playground and realized my class was gone. I scampered to the stairs and ran up them as quickly as I could and I found myself peering through the window of the fire door that locks when you go out and which will not open without a key and I saw my classmates taking off their jackets and hanging them on their designated hooks. My teacher saw me. And she told the other children not to let me in.

True story.

And so I sat at the top of those stairs and considered my options.
  • I could walk around to the front of the building and make may way inside the other way. However, just a week before two little boys had made the same mistake and when they tried that our teacher simply shooed them outside to wait until she was good and ready to let them in. 
  • I could certainly walk on home, but then I would have to explain to my mother how I had managed to get locked out. I knew it was my 'fault.' I felt foolish and ashamed. And I did not want her to know.
  • Or I could just sit and wait.
And so I did. Just sit and wait, that is. For a good long hour I sat and waited until the school day was done and finally the door was opened to me so that I could come back in where I was kept after school to complete the lesson I had missed.

It was a profoundly shaming experience for me. And while I shake my head at this teacher's methods, this is also so: I learned my lesson. I was never late again.

Now through it all, of course, I knew exactly where I was. I was perched at the top of the fire escape outside the third grade classroom at Lincoln School on South Main Street in Rochelle. Even so, I was "lost." I was away from where I belonged.  

My getting lost started with my getting separated from the flock --- from my fellow third graders. My attention got distracted a little bit at a time and pretty soon there was no getting back to where I belonged on my own. 

One might say I was something like the one sheep who slowly eats his way away from the rest of the flock. She is looking down --- only focused on the food that is before her. She doesn't mean to get separated, for sheep, in fact, are born with a 'herd' instinct and they will never do this on purpose. But all of a sudden, she looks up and all the rest are gone. And the only way she can get back to where she belongs is if the shepherd comes after her.

In the same way in the story I offer now, the only way I could get back to where I belonged was if someone else opened the door.

Here is what I love about the stories before us now: They speak the certain truth that it is God's action that saves us and not our own. Like the lost sheep and the lost coin you and I simply cannot 'get found' all on our own. We cannot open the door ourselves. They speak vividly to God's intent always to rescue the lost.  They offer a marvelous picture of heaven --- all those angels throwing a party when the one who was lost is found again. And yes, they stand in sharp relief to what we too often experience in this world now. Which is part of what may make such as this so very hard to imagine. It is also what makes us so very grateful for the amazing gifts of God.
  • We have all been lost from time to time. All of us. By God's grace and gift we are found over and over again. Too often our experiences in this life, in this world, are not grace filled. Too often they look too much like what I experienced in the third grade so long ago. What stories would you offer which are similar to mine? Do you have stories which stand in contrast to the one I offer today?
  • Can you recall being lost in such a way that the only way you could 'get found' was by someone else's action? How does your experience compare to the shepherd with the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin?
  • Who are the 'lost' among us who we are called to welcome and rejoice in like the shepherd, the woman, and the very angels of God?  How do the words of Jesus speak to you and/or to your context now?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this story Pastor Janet. I too have felt "lost" at times in my life. Maybe not in the same sense you describe in your story but the feeling of not knowing how to find my way back "in" does resonate for me. Trying to find my way has been a difficult journey some days. It just takes some of us a little longer to find our way. Peace be with you