Lost and Found
September 15, 2013 – The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Roy W. Howard
Who is in? Who is out? It’s such an elementary question in every human community especially it seems in religious communities. At a personal level the question arises as early as the playground and as late as the nursing home. Am I welcome here, among these people? Sitting at the table or wandering the hallway, the aching question is hidden there though rarely spoken. Am I lost, or am I home?
Who is in? Who is out? Wars are fought over this question. Families are divided and friendships strained. Do I belong? You can spend a lifetime asking that question, or worse still, not asking the question but feeling the pain of it carried in our hearts and bones. Do I belong, just as I am, without one plea? The question is not always spoken; sometimes it takes a poet or hymn writer to say it. It’s an not exaggeration to say that this is the essential question underlying all the others questions of our lives: am I lost or am I found; am I home or a wayfaring stranger traveling through this weary land?
Who is in? Who is out? Jesus takes up the question and stretches it as far as possible until those who have ears to hear break out in joy with the angels singing in their ears. Jesus goes to the places where the left out hang out. He doesn’t stand at a distance allowing the left out to find him if they can; Jesus actually goes to them, shares a meal with them, welcomes them as his companions. He does all of this to the chagrin and anger of his religious critics who take his hanging out with the left out as a reason for them to pout! It’s a familiar sad scene. The religious ones whose devotion is obvious to anyone (especially themselves) precisely draw the line marking who is in and who is out. When someone dares to blur that line, as Jesus does, mixing the out with the in until in the end one can’t tell who is out because everyone is in, they get very angry. You can hear teeth grinding and tongues wagging in disapproval.
Ever since a friend asked me I’ve been trying to imagine the sound of the religious muttering among themselves. Is it a sharp caw, caw like a chorus of crows? The squawking of blue jays? The buzz of cicadas? You want to close your ears at the harsh sounds of such muttering; such grumbling that the unwashed, unclean, unworthy, unlovable, unwelcome, down and out left out, are sitting at the table of the Lord. What kind of spirituality is this, they ask, that sinners sit with the saints? The grumbling grates on the ears. It is a buzz kill.
That is until your ears are tuned to hear the counter point to all the religious’ squawking. I think if you listen carefully, shutting down the distractions of mind, centering your breathing and resting quietly for a moment in time, you might be able to hear another sound. If you quiet your mind, let go of your worries, you can hear the most beautiful song of the entire universe. It rises alongside the harsh cawing and squawking of those who bitterly complain that the lines are blurred, that the out are in, the sinners all coming home. It’s counter point melody will lift your spirit if you allow yourself to hear the song that God is relentlessly singing over the human race, every single one of us.
Will you listen? It’s the song of angles rejoicing over every lost, weary one who has been found. This song of the angels is the song of love, God’s eternal love, embodied in Jesus searching without end for every one until all are home in the embrace of God. Jesus, the living Christ, is searching for the worried one who no longer knows she has a place now that she is known as the divorced one. He is searching for the strong one whose strength masks the insecurity he feels every time his company cuts the payroll. He is searching for the bewildered one whose scars are invisible who thinks her failures and secret sins leave her forever alone. There is no bleach that can wash away her stained soul. That is what you think. Only that is not true. The song of the angels is the song that tells us that Jesus is relentless searching for each of us, even when the ears of our heart appear hopelessly stuffed beyond all hearing other than the shaming sounds of our own worst critics.
Listen. This is the song of the gospel. It’s the song of love; God’s love bringing everyone home. One can only hear this song of love who knows what it is to be lost. Not physically, although that experience may be a help to name the deeper experience of being estranged from God at precisely the same time that you can pretend everything is normal. But that only works for so long, until the ache becomes too great. That is when the song of the angels begins to remind us of the great rejoicing that is occurring in the heart of God when you are found.
Sometimes I think the story of Bill Wilson is the story of all of us. Bill Wilson would certainly not claim that to be true. Nor would many people who are not alcoholics or addicted to something (which actually is a very small group) say this is true. But I think it is. Bill Wilson was a very successful human being as success goes. He worked hard and reaped the benefits. Then he began to drink … and drink … and drink. Until he could do nothing else, including stop himself from drinking. He could no longer find his way home. Try and try again, he could find his way home. It was then that he said I am lost. That admission was when the angles began to sing and he began to make his way home. The first three steps of AA describe that movement of his life. I think it is the movement of the gospel, too.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
I don’t for a moment think your story or mine has to match in every detail Bill Wilson’s story. That would miss the point.
I do think knowing that knowing you are found in the eternal love of God is the key to life. And that it is nearly impossible to know you are found until you know you are lost. That experience however painfully it comes to you is the cue for the angels to strike up the band and begin the chorus! For those who have ears to hear, no religious squawking can ever overcome the songs of angels rejoicing.