September 11, 2016
I am directionally challenged on a good day. I am easily turned around and struggle to find my bearings. I love to hike but I often discover that the trail isn’t as clear as I expect and I stand there trying to figure out which direction to go. Luckily, my dog has a great sense of direction and she runs ahead rather than waiting on me to show her the way. Four years ago, I did a vision fast during a yearlong intensive Soulcraft program. For four days, I went without food and three of those I camped alone. I was with a group and we created a system for safety. We each had a buddy and we were to check in each day with a signal to let the other know we were ok. My buddy and I had a meeting point halfway between our solo campsites. In the morning, she would go to the cairn we built and remove a rock. In the afternoon, I would go and put the rock back so she would find it the next morning. On the last day, I went to the cairn and headed right back to camp, or so I thought. At some point, I realized I was in an area that was unlike anything I had seen during my stay on the mountain. I knew I was a little off the path, but I assumed if I kept walking, I would soon see my beloved campsite. The more I walked, the more lost I became. I didn’t want to panic. Certainly my group would come to my rescue if I blew my whistle, but they were having their own solo experiences and I didn’t want to disturb them because I couldn’t find my campsite. I walked and watched the light change overhead. I found the skull and bones of an animal long gone. While I was lost, I was sure that I was not alone. Even though we were in a very remote area, I was also aware that many others had traveled here. My ten-minute trip to the cairn turned into several hours and finally; I came over a ridge and saw my campsite below.
I was so relieved and grateful to be found. Later that evening, I heard the powerful sound of a drumbeat elsewhere on that mountain. Somehow that drum sounded the beautiful heartbeat of a God who had walked with me. I am blown away by this God who has lovingly sustained me throughout the journey I call my life.
Nadia Bolz-Weber came to Albuquerque three years ago. Nadia is not a typical Lutheran pastor. Her path to ministry was far from conventional. She has one of the most powerful theologies of incarnation that I have ever experienced. Nadia is so clear about her own humanness. She does not flee or deny it. She owns it and everything she is grows out of it. She knows what it is to be lost and I’m guessing if asked, she would respond that there is no shame in being lost. I hear these stories from Luke and I wonder how many of us would ever think to identify with a coin or a sheep. Wouldn’t we like to be the shepherd who bravely saves the sheep or the woman who diligently searches for the coin? Don’t we want to be the hero?
Jesus turns things upside down for us over and over again. He experienced the fullness of humanity and understood how messy it can be. He wasn’t afraid of humanity, but he didn’t allow those around him to hide behind the illusion of being more than they were. While we prefer to be heroes rather than those who need to be saved, Jesus meets us in our weakness then shows us a God who waits to gather us up and welcome us home. *Nadia Bolz-Weber says that we often talk about the strength and might of God. But she wonders about a vulnerable God who creates us and then gives us freedom. This God risked everything for us by allowing us to be fully human and is left wide-open waiting for a potential broken heart. We are not puppets. We have this amazing opportunity to live as compassionate people who are generous and loving. We also have the opportunity to be selfish and uncaring. More realistically, we are a combination of both. Every morning, we wake to navigate through another day. In any given moment, we may find ourselves lost.
This happens to us as individuals when we lose our way. There may be times when we lose our faith. We may lose our dreams. We will lose those that we love. At some point, we may lose our trust in others or in institutions. We will likely lose our dignity. When we have lost our way, we may find ourselves lying awake at night wondering if there is any way home again.
It isn’t just individuals that get lost. Our world is lost when we choose to express ourselves with violence. Today marks the horror of 9/11. Many of us remember watching the twin towers collapse on TV fifteen years ago today. I felt lost as I watched the destruction and I numbly made my way to the church I served in Oregon. People began to gather at church. None of us knew what to do, but we knew where to gather as we waited to be found. We knew that God would hold us in that sanctuary as we tried to process the news and pray for some direction.
In all the death and destruction, I wonder about our vulnerable God whose heart breaks when we kill one another. I wonder about a God who loves us and waits for us to figure out that we really are loved. Period. This God walks with us when we are lost. This God never gives up on us. This God not only looks for us when we think we are hopelessly lost; but also throws an over the top party to celebrate when we return. It’s rather embarrassing when you think about it. One little coin and the woman is throwing a party that probably cost more than the lost coin. One sheep is found and the shepherd doesn’t go back to life as usual, but invites everyone to join the celebration.
Do you remember how the story began? The Pharisees are grousing because Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Clearly they are not worth his, or their, time. And then Jesus tells these stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin being worth the party of the century to God. Really? The God we hear about wants to throw a party for us? Not just the collective, beautiful us, but the individual who wanders off completely ignoring everyone else. God throws a party for the judgmental, crabby, uncaring us. It is never about who deserves a party and who doesn’t. There is simply a celebration – no questions asked.
One of our favorite family songs is “You Cannot Lose My Love” by Sara Groves. It is written for her children and some of the lyrics are:
You will lose your baby teeth.
At times, you'll lose your faith in me.
You will lose a lot of things,
But you cannot lose my love.
You will lose your confidence.
In times of trial, your common sense.
You may lose your innocence,
But you cannot lose my love.
Can you hear God saying, “I know you will wander off. You will lose your way. You will act like you don’t care. You will make many bad decisions. You will disappoint those around you. But you cannot lose my love. I will come looking for you. I will not stop until I find you. When I find you, I will celebrate and invite the whole world to join with me.”
That is the God we worship. It is astonishing to realize that God will travel to the end of the earth to find us and bring us home. We are never so lost that this relentless God cannot find us. This extravagant God throws the party of the century when we are found. Live your life. If you are lost, don’t be afraid. God will find you and bring you home.
*God’s vulnerability taken from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermon: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/03/sermon-the-parable-of-the-prodigal-father/