Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lost and Found

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 15, 2013

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

Lost and Found
            How many of you remember a store called Two Guys?
            Here in Jersey City there was a Two Guys store down on Route 440 and Communipaw, where later there was a Shop Rite. And when I was growing up here in the 1970s, Two Guys was one of the places where I think pretty much everybody went to shop.
            Two Guys was kind of like the Target or Wal-Mart of its day.
            It was a big store that sold pretty much everything from clothes to sporting goods to furniture. It had an arcade that was popular with the kids. It had a cafeteria. It also had a supermarket. So, at Two Guys you could buy everything from a gallon of milk to a winter coat.
            Except on Sundays because back then the Blue Laws were still in effect. I can remember going to Two Guys and seeing the thin chain closing off the whole store except for the supermarket.
            On Sundays you could buy a gallon of milk but not a winter coat.
            Well, anyway, when I was growing up we went to Two Guys a lot.
            And I remember often getting bored when my mother’s shopping would take longer than I thought necessary. And sometimes I would wander off and explore a little on my own.
            Well, one time, I wandered off – probably just a few aisles away – and then when I came back to where my mother had been, she was gone. 
            I couldn’t find my mother.
            And my mother couldn’t find me.
            Now, this was a more innocent time, so I’m not sure my mother immediately jumped to the frightening conclusion that something terrible had happened to me – that maybe I had been abducted.
            But, I’m sure that she was worried.
            Well, after searching for a while, I had the presence of mind to go to the courtesy counter at the front of the store. After I told my story, one of the employees made an announcement over the PA system, booming across the store: “Mrs. Murphy your son is waiting for you at the courtesy counter.”
            So embarrassing.
            A few moments later my mother arrived.
            I can’t remember her reaction, which leads me to think I’ve blocked that out of my mind. I’m sure she was irritated, maybe even angry.
            But, I’m sure she was also relieved that I was OK and that we were reunited.
            I’m sure many, if not all of us, have had similar experiences of getting lost and then being found.
            And, in a very real way, “Lost and Found” pretty much sums up the story of human beings and God.
            Over and over, both as individuals and as a species, we wander away from God and become lost.
            Often we get lost by accident, making a wrong turn, allowing ourselves to grow apart from God. Suddenly, like me at Two Guys all those years ago, we realize that we don’t know the way back – it’s been so long and we’ve traveled so far that we don’t know where to begin - we can’t seem to find God. Maybe we ask others for help. Maybe we don’t.
            Other times, though, we become lost on purpose – we try to hide from God because we are ashamed of something - or some things - we have done that we know are wrong.
            Think of that story near the start of the Bible when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. Suddenly they realize their nakedness. Suddenly they are ashamed. And what do the first man and woman do?
            In the story we’re told that God walks through the garden, looking for his creation, looking for man and woman.
            God calls out, “Where are you?”
            And the man and woman hide from the God who created them and loved them because they are ashamed.
            Well, the Good News for Adam and Eve and the Good News for all of us is that no matter how or why we have become lost, God never stops looking for us.
            God never stops offering us another chance to repent, to change our ways.
            God never stops calling out to us, “Where are you?”
            In fact, God is so determined to find us that God came and lived among us so we could really know God in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
            Lost and found.
            And that’s what today’s two parables are all about.
            We’re told that the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling because Jesus was hanging out with the wrong people, with the lost people – Jesus was welcoming, maybe even hosting, sinners - and eating with them.
            And so, in reply to their grumbling, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
            He begins the parable of the lost sheep with a question that we can easily miss: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine of them in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”
            Um, actually, Jesus, I’d definitely spend a lot of time looking for the lost coin but no way would I leave the 99 in the wilderness and go looking for the lost sheep.
            Think about it. If we lost one sheep wouldn’t we all cut our losses and protect the 99 sheep that we still have? Of course. Makes total sense, right?
            But, that’s not how God operates. God never gives up. God never stops offering us another chance to repent, to change our ways.
            God never stops calling out to us, “Where are you?”
            And, notice that both parables end with a big party.
            The shepherd comes home, calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
            And the woman calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that was lost.”
            And, really, that’s what we’re about here each Sunday.
            All of us get at least little lost pretty much all the time. We wander away from God. We forget about God. We do things that we know we shouldn’t. We fail to love God and fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. We choose not to respect the dignity of every human being. We break our baptismal promises.
            All of us get at least a little lost pretty much all the time.
            And, someday, young Jeremiah will wander away from God and get at least a little lost, too.
            Yet, the Good News is that God will never give up on Jeremiah or any of us. God never stops calling out to us, “Where are you?”
            And what do we do when we hear God’s call, when we allow God to find us?
            Well, we gather here on Duncan Avenue! We have a big party to which everyone is invited – a big party with music and singing, with hugs and laughter, with bread and wine.
            Right here and now at St. Paul’s, God says to us – God shouts with joy to all of us – “Rejoice with me for I have found those who were lost.”
            Lost and found.