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Lost and Found

By Charles Rush

June 27, 1999

Genesis 45:1-9; Luke 15:1-7

are called by God to be involved in the lives of others as Christians. As messy and difficult as that is, it is better than the alternative. I read this week about research commissioned by the Weather Channel. Did you know that one in five viewers of the Weather Channel watches for at least three hours at a sitting. The company calls these people "weather-involved." My teenagers call them "people who desperately need to get a life". Can you imagine three hours?

       Or maybe you saw the piece in the New York Times magazine a couple months ago of a new tape entitled "Video Baby". It is designed for consumers who are devoted to family values but can't seen to find the time to start a family. This 30-minute tape shows two infants doing what babies tend to do, like crawl around the house, play with a rattle, take a bubble bath and turn lunch into a complete mess. There's nothing to come between the baby and the viewer but the off button. Of course, some things are left out, like crying and spitting up, and a full, ripe diaper. The package says, "Enjoy bath time without being splashed, mealtime without wearing the food." You can't make this stuff up. Life without the stink of living.

       Our parable today has three main players-scribes and Pharisees, the lost sheep and the shepherd. Who is it that you identify with? Those in control and fitting in, those who are lost, or those who seek the lost?

       In a primordial way, it is easiest for most of us to identify with the lost sheep. We have probably all had the experience of being lost sometime, somewhere. In the movie, On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda plays a man who is getting on in years. He takes his customary stroll into familiar woods but this time he suddenly becomes disoriented and does not know where he is. He becomes terrified by the experience.

       That ever happen to you? I went fishing in the Long Island Sound with a couple buddies in high school. It is near sunset and we start to head home. Pull the rope on the motor, nothing. Pull it again, nothing. Open the top, look around. Pull it again, nothing. No tools, one oar. We look around for someone to yell at. No one is close enough to hear us. Sun is going down. Pull again, nothing. As the dark begins to settle in around you, this huge ocean all around, it is really dangerous. It is also scary. I get this sinking feeling that we are lulled into not being prepared in our suburban life because everything around us just works. Then we find ourselves, rather suddenly, unprepared, just one paddle in the twilight of dusk.

       I think of a woman who had lost her husband of 45 years. Some months after his death, I asked her how she was doing, and she said "I lived so much of my life through him that, honestly, I don't know who I am anymore. I find myself driving sometimes and I have no earthly idea where I've been or where I'm going."

       I think of a man that I heard of who found out that his wife had been systematically lying to him for a decade, that she was not who he thought she was, that his life had not been what he thought it was, and he finds himself suddenly thrown into this strange trajectory of the absurd, asking himself some fundamental questions about what is real, what makes for happiness. "Who am I? What am I doing? It is a very unsettling experience at mid-life to be shaken to your very core.

       In terms of our parable, we are probably meant to identify ourselves with the lost sheep. We are the sinners who have gone astray, and God is the compassionate shepherd who seeks us out and finds us. Every Christian should be able to identify with the lost sheep, and every Christian has some sense of being restored to the shepherd of our souls. The experience of feeling lost in a world of sin and woe and then being discovered by a loving shepherd is central to the Christian experience. The line in Amazing Grace says "I once was lost but now am found".

       Truth be told, we have more in common with the Pharisees and Scribes than we would like to admit. They represent the people who think that they need no help. In the New Testament, the Pharisees and Scribes come off as the bad guys. Clearly Jesus' parable is a jab at their complacency. They complained that Jesus hung around with sinners, and by implication is you live with that sort of company you must be one of them or be unduly influenced by them. That is what we teach our children after all. How many times have you said something to your teenagers like "Show me your friends, and I will tell you what you are." Or, "Birds of a feather flock together."

       We teach them to be accepting of all people, but we also teach them that they need to go to this school, get this kind of career, take these kinds of vacations, live in this town. Little surprise that we raise junior elitists because, in the words of another aphorism, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

       It is hard for us to admit the dark side of ourselves that finds expression in the subtle ways that we distance ourselves from others and put other people down. But who among us has not heard someone share a very difficult story about how they were downsized or fired, and in the midst of our concern, we think to ourselves, "Sorry about old George but I'm glad that's not happening to me." It is almost personally reassuring to know that, despite the dangerous career terrain, we are carefully negotiating all the pit falls. We will finish on top. We are not lost. We don't get lost. Other people have major health crises. Other people's kids have problems. Other people haven't planned. But we have.

       Indeed, part of becoming a seeker of the lost is acknowledging that there is a self-righteousness in ourselves. That is why we have prayers of Confession, to remind ourselves that the spirit of self-righteousness lives on in us and has to be dealt with daily. I read a quote recently from a psychotherapist who said "to be self-accepting of one's own wretchedness is one of the hardest tasks of all, and one which is almost impossible to fulfill. How can I help others if I am a fugitive?"

       We will not be tender shepherds seeking others for the kingdom until we can see ourselves as people in need. We have to have some cleansing in our own hearts as well.

       God wants us to become shepherding disciples. The Christ wants us to be restored to fellowship with god and then to become shepherds toward others. To simply be a lost sheep and then a found sheep is much too passive a role for the church.

       In point of fact, much of the time we are actually finding ourselves with someone else who is also finding themselves. Together, we are growing towards maturity and struggling to overcome our mutual lostness. We are shepherds to each other, both feeling pretty much like lost sheep.

       We need to let go of the videotape of fake living that only highlights the cheery side of existence and get involved in sharing real life with others. Robert Fulguhm tells a story about a kid in his neighborhood that was so good at playing hide and seek that the other kids in his neighborhood could never find him. Sooner or later they would give up, and the kid would come back mad because people didn't keep looking for him. He'd say the game was called hide-and-seek not hide-and-give-up. Then all the kids would yell about who made up the rules, who cared about who, who needed him anyhow, etc. One day Fulghum is writing his sermon, looks out his window, and sees this kid hide under a big pile of leaves. Ten minutes goes by, no one finds him, another ten minutes, finally half an hour, the kid is still hiding. Fulghum opened his window, and just yelled "GET FOUND KID" Kid jumped up and ran home. Maybe that is a word we all need to hear "KID, GET FOUND".



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