Sunday, September 12, 2010

God's Search

Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
September 12, 2010

Year C, Proper 19: The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

God’s Search

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s a pretty big city – with about twice the population of Gainesville. And like a lot of cities during that time much of Jersey City was pretty rough place. Poverty and crime were big problems. Fortunately, my family lived in a pretty safe area, but, still, we had to be careful.

For kindergarten, I went to the nearest public school, which was maybe a mile away from our house. Not too far, but the school was on the other side of a very busy four-lane street called Kennedy Boulevard. The boulevard was the unofficial dividing line between the relatively safe area where we lived and a part of town that was considered more dangerous.

Anyway, my mother and the mother of a kid who lived across the street, Michael, would take turns bringing us to school and picking us up at the end of the day.

Everything went very smoothly until one day Michael and I came out of school and I didn’t see my mother. As I remember it, I said to Michael something like, “Oh, I guess my mom forgot to pick us up. But, it’s OK, I know the way home, so let’s just walk home on our own.”

Michael stupidly went along with this great idea of mine. So, Michael and I, two little boys carrying lunch boxes, made our way home. We successfully crossed the four lanes of Kennedy Boulevard. We made all the correct choices at each intersection and got home safely.

Now, why did I do this? It was a long time ago so it’s hard to recreate my thinking. But, it seems to me now that there are a couple of possibilities. Maybe I really believed that my mom forgot to pick us up. But, I don’t think that’s it.

Probably I wanted to show off to Michael and maybe to my parents that I was smart enough and brave enough to get home on my own. You think I’m just a little kid, but, look, I don’t really need you! I can do it myself!
Probably I was just being selfish. Probably I was just thinking of myself and not giving a second thought to the fact that my mother would be frantically looking for me - and for her neighbor’s son.

While Michael and I were making our way through the streets of Jersey City, my mother was in a panic. I can imagine the increasingly scary thoughts that were racing through her mind as she searched for Michael and me.

The rest of my memory is a little fuzzy. I can’t remember my mother’s reaction when she got home and found us safely waiting. I probably can’t remember because it was painful to see how upset she was because she loved me so much.

A mother’s love for her child is profoundly strong. But, even a mother’s love is still only a pale reflection of God’s love for all of us.

One of the themes that runs throughout the Bible is the fact that God is always searching for us, always reaching out to us, always wanting to be close to us, always wanting to be friends. For me, one of the most powerful examples of that theme is in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, eaten the forbidden fruit, and are now ashamed of their nakedness. God comes searching for them in the garden. And Adam and Eve hide from God.

God is still searching for us.

Today’s gospel is about God’s search for us. In fact, the whole Gospel is about God’s search for us. In Jesus, we see most clearly God’s search for us – God’s search for all of us.

So, in today’s gospel we find Jesus as usual hanging out with the “wrong” people. And, as usual, the “right” people, the religious people, tsk-tsk their disapproval. They say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

It’s in that eating and drinking with the “wrong” people that Jesus embodies God’s search for all of us. And, Jesus tells these parables – about the lost sheep and the lost coin – to make the same point:

God is searching for us.

God is relentless in searching for us. God is like that shepherd, risking everything to find that one lost sheep. God is like that woman, searching and searching for her coin. God is searching for us.

After finding what’s lost, both the shepherd and the woman get their friends together and have a party.

And when God finds us and we return to God there is great rejoicing. When God finds us and we return, God wants to have a tailgate party much bigger and better than anything Gainesville has ever seen!

God is searching for us, but of course, God knows exactly where we are. God doesn’t need GPS. God knows where we are, but

God is searching for our hearts. And God finds us when we open our hearts to God.

God finds us when we spend even just a minute or two in prayer. God finds us when we reach out to a friend or a classmate who is in trouble. God finds us when we offer service to our community. God finds us when we sacrifice. God finds us when it’s not all about us. God finds us when it’s not all about what we can do on our own – when it’s not all about how we don’t need other people.

And God finds us when we gather right here in this chapel. God finds us when we listen to God’s Word, sing our hymns, and most of all when we open our hands and our mouths and our hearts and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

A long time ago my mother’s search ended when she found Michael and me safe and sound after our little adventure on the streets of Jersey City. But, God’s search for me and for all of us continues.

God is still searching for us. And God finds us each time we open our hearts to God and to one another. And when God finds us there is much rejoicing and God invites everyone to tailgate.