I am not a patient man. I should be I guess, after all patience is a spiritual discipline and I try to be a spiritual person. But patience is not something that comes easily for me. Melissa and the kids will vouch for that. Anyone who has sat in traffic with me for any length of time will certainly vouch for that. In fact, while Melissa has the personalized license plate that says “two revs,” I avoid any kind of identification on my car – I don’t want people to be able to spot me as I zip around town frustrated by my own sense of impatience.
See, I understand those Israelites waiting for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai . Their leader has gone up to speak with God but he has not come back. He has been gone a long time and there is no sign of him. The Israelites, they need Moses and they need Moses’ God. They are impatient because they have been kept waiting, they feel vulnerable and alone and if Moses won’t come down the mountain and help them out then they will help themselves. If God won’t show himself then they will build their own god. I understand their reluctance, their impatience. If God won’t take care of them then they will take care of themselves. And so they turn their attention from Moses and the mountain and build their own god, their golden calf, so they can feel safe once again, so they can feel secure.
Have you ever been lost? Most of us have at one time or another. You are driving around a strange town and before you know it you have totally lost your bearings. We don’t set out to get lost do we? No, no one sets out to get lost. We just take a wrong turn thinking it is the right turn and before we know it we are lost. Often we compound it when one wrong turn leads to another wrong turn, which leads to another wrong turn, until we are totally confused. In the same way, no one plans to become the lost sheep or the lost coin from our lesson for today. No one plans to screw their life up so badly, get so far off track that they find themselves lost. It usually happens slowly, subtly, one wrong turn leading to another wrong turn – one poor choice followed by another poor choice until we are completely out of whack with where we should be in life.
When I was a junior in college I backpacked through Europe for six weeks with my best friend. One night somewhere in Germany while staying in this huge old hotel, I got up in the middle of the night and went down the hall to use the bathroom. I was half asleep and I wasn’t paying attention and on the way back I couldn’t find our room. I didn’t remember the number, I couldn’t remember how many turns I had taken – I was lost. Standing there in the middle of the hall at 3:00 in the morning in my boxers I was incredibly embarrassed. What was I going to do, knock on all the doors until I found the right one, go downstairs in my underwear and ask someone at the desk? Literally for about thirty minutes I wandered the halls looking for some clue that would help me to get my bearings. Finally, I heard a door open behind me and turning around I saw my friend Peter standing there laughing – “Randy,” he said, “what the hell are you doing?”
Like the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai , we sometimes feel deserted, left behind, lonely. We get impatient and so we grab onto some false god, some golden idol, some artificial hope that leads us off track, down the wrong trail until we are totally lost and we wonder how our lives got to this point. The guy who cheats on his wife, the woman who embezzles from her company, the teenager who can’t seem to stop smoking pot or pounding beer, none of them set out to do these things, not usually, they just want life to be different, better, easier, and in their impatience they grab the golden calf of sex, money, drugs – you name it – and that false god heads them down the wrong road until they are lost. It is so easy. After 15 years of meeting with couples in crisis I know that it only takes a few cruel words, a few selfish choices, a few thoughtless acts to lead a marriage astray to the point that one day you wake up and wonder what happened to the two of you? How did you go so wrong?
When I got lost in that hotel in Germany all those years ago the problem wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find my way, the problem was admitting it. I was so embarrassed I didn’t even want to acknowledge to myself that I was lost, much less tell anyone else. I had made some wrong turns, some bad choices, and there I was half naked standing in a hotel hallway in a foreign country. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; I simply wanted to figure it out on my own, get back to my room and go to sleep before anyone was the wiser. You know the old saying that guys will never ask for directions because they don’t ever want to admit that they are lost. It’s stereotypical but it’s true.
In life when we lose our way, when we get off track, when our bad choices get us into bad situations how many of us are too embarrassed to admit the truth, too ashamed to ask for help. We have so much pride and that pride compounds our problems. We have gone astray and we know it but we think it would be far worse if others knew it. Maybe those pesky Israelites built that golden calf, that false god, because they were too embarrassed to admit that they were lost without Yahweh – weak, afraid and on their own in the desert. They didn’t want to admit it even to themselves. It was easier just to build another god and go on as they had before.
But there is good news, there is always good news. For all of us sinful, prideful, lost souls (and I assume in one way or another that is most of us) there is a God whose greatest joy is scooping us up like lost sheep and bringing us home. A God, our parables tell us, who is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to find us and restore us to the place we ought to be. Jesus tells us that God never gives up on us no matter how far we stray or how hard we fall. In fact, Jesus went looking for the tax collectors and the sinners not the Pharisees and the scribes. He broke bread with a strange crowd and it got him into trouble – but he taught us about God. In this 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel Jesus uses three parables to reveal something about the nature of God. When we are lost like the Prodigal Son, God waits for us, mourns for us and then runs to embrace us when we finally turn around and start to head home. When we are lost like the stray sheep, God drops everything to come after us wanting nothing more than to bring us back to the family. And when we are lost like the woman’s coin God will go to great lengths to find us.
The problem isn’t being lost, all of us can find our way again. The problem is being humble enough to admit we are lost, humble enough to ask for help. We just have to remember that there is no place we can go where God won’t try and find us; nothing we can do that God can’t forgive. Amen