Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sermon: Lost-ness

Sermon Preached on
September 10th and 11th, 2016
5:30pm and 8:00am | Proper 19, Year C
If found return to The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse

Oh, God, take our minds and think through them,
take our lips and speak through them,
take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.[i]

Have you ever been lost? 
Of course, we all have at one point or another. 

I remember a time of being lost.
Having arrived by taxi
at my new apartment in Brussels,
met with my new boss and
gotten my company car,
I drove to the airport to pick up
my (ahem) lost luggage,
I faced the Belgian roads. 
All the signs helped me with the 20’ trip
– direction Airport. 

I got my things and headed back. 
Hey, where are the signs to say
“direction home”? 
Non existent. 
2½ hours I drove around Brussels.
Multi-lingual sign.
Confusing cobblestone streets.
Metric speed limits.   I was very lost. 
Until I stopped and
breathed into the cadence of the city. 
This experience that I reflect on,
26 years hence,
demonstrates not only
an outer lost-ness
but also inner lost-ness. 
And, because I still get
outwardly and inwardly lost sometimes,
the following poem by David Wagoner
holds deep meaning for me.[1]

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.
Lost-ness arises in our gospel today:
the lost sheep, the lost coin. 
These two parables seem to distinguish
between the sinner and the righteous. 
Perhaps there is more …
I wonder:
can you be righteous and also be lost?[3]

Jesus begins with “which of you…”
Projecting onto the listeners
an assumption –
“of course you will act this way.”

In the first parable,
the shepherd is supposed to find
the lost sheep.  But think about it –
the shepherd leaves 99 at risk,
in the wilderness, with no protection,
just to find the one that was lost. 
Then when finding the one,
the shepherd rushes the whole flock home
to have a celebration. 
Normal?  Hardly. 

In the second parable,
the woman loses a tenth of her value. 
She turns on all the lights,
she sweeps and mops, cleans and digs in. 
Then when she finds the lost coin,
she has a party with food, drink and celebration
that costs as much as she recovered.
Normal? I don’t think so.

The outrageous celebration that follows
reflects the character of God.
The ridiculously expansive generosity and joy
springs from God’s own heart and
spills out into creation in response to being found. 
Being found - choosing Love, aka "repenting." 

But what is repentance?
As we teach in the baptismal preparation,
repentance, or “metanoia,”
means “transformative change of heart.”
A turning around, a change in perspective.
Or as we say in 12-step groups:
A willingness to become willing
to see things differently.

But can you be righteous and still lost?
Yes, of course.  Yes, I think we are at times. 

We may have our issues, our mistakes,
but for the most part
we don’t really identify with
the “filthy sinners.”
Most of us simply are trying
to live into our baptismal covenant. 
And we can still be lost.  How?
Maybe we were at the peak of our career,
just hitting stride,
having spend 7 ½ years in Europe
building the business
and we get laid off.
Maybe we are parents who
desperately want our children to succeed,
so we schedule or over-plan
our whole lives around
hockey games and dance recitals.
Maybe we have worked all our life,
have a substantial and solid pension plan,
but have little sense of meaning
since our retirement.
Maybe … maybe we seem to have it all together
and we are just plain lost.

Being “righteous” only goes so far
in the “who we are” department…
being “righteous” connects our identity
to “what we have done.” 

And so today’s good news,
reflected in these parables,
is that God grants us a found identity
and locates us in a place way beyond
what we have done,
are doing –
may someday do. 

Although we may feel lost,
this church, this sacred community,
is a place that we can
admit our lost-ness, and
confide our hopes and fears to God. 

For when you turn (or re-turn) to God,
just willing to become willing to see things differently,
God extravagantly and joyously celebrates
with all the angels in heaven and on earth. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
shortly before his execution,
wrote a poem called “Who am I?”
The poem addresses
that existential question of lost-ness
that haunts our human condition:
Here is an excerpt[4]:

"Who am I?  …
… They [also] tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to winning.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick,
like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, …
thirsting for words of kindness,
for neighborliness,
…powerlessly trembling
for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying,
at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once?
A hypocrite before others…
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."

My sisters and brothers,
These parables are
partially about sinners & righteous folks.  
partially about being lost and then found. 
These parables are totally
about the character of God –
a God so crazy in love with God’s children
that this God will do anything to find them. 

To find us.
And in finding, to outlandishly celebrate
with festive joy
any teensy, tiny turn or re-turn toward Love. 

Jesus asked, “which of you…”
Truthfully, none of us would. 

But God would.  God does, even now.
God is recklessly searching and finding us
in the depths of our righteous lost-ness. 

And in that celebratory finding,
pours out mercy, grace and love.
Forever and to the end of the ages.

Thanks be to God. 

[1] Inspired by Parker Palmer’s blog at OnBeing, cited here on September 8, 2016
[2] Poem “Lost” by David Wagoner, from Collected Poems 1956-1976
[3] Inspired by David Lose at Working Preacher, cited here: on September 8, 2016
[4] Offered by Author Rev. Mark F. Sturgess Sr. Pastor, Riviera UMC Redondo Beach, CA on his blog at
and quoted in Douglas John Hall, Waiting for the Gospel: An Appeal to the Dispirited Remnants of Protestant "Establishment" (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2012), 94; translated by J.B. Leishman, and reproduced in G. Leibholz's 'Memoir' of Bonhoeffer, in Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 15.

No comments:

Post a Comment