There’s a great old story about a little boy who answers the telephone one day. The phone rings, the boy picks it up and whispers: “Hello?” The caller says: “Hello young fella, is your Mommy home?”
“Yes!” He responds, still whispering.
“Can I talk to her?”
“What about your Daddy, can I talk to him?”
“No! He’s busy.”
“Well, is there anyone else there?”
“My little sister.”
“Is there anyone else there? Another adult?”
“Uh, huh. The police.”
“Can I talk to one of them?”
“No, they’re busy.”
“Is there anyone else there?”
“Uh, huh. The firemen.”
“Can I talk to one of them?”
“No, they’re busy, too.”
“Good heavens,” the caller says, “your whole family is busy. The police and fire department are there and they’re busy! What’s everybody doing?”
The little boy giggles and says: “They’re looking for me.”
Today’s gospel is all about being lost and being found. It’s about a God who goes looking for the lost, not to condemn them but to bring them home. In the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin Jesus reveals to us a God who is willing to go to extreme lengths to find and save God’s children. In short, it’s a lesson about grace.
Some of you know, I’ve talked about it before, that I have absolutely no innate sense of direction. I’m good with a map, but left to my own devices I get lost easily. I’m usually o.k. if I’ve been to a place before. If I’ve been some place once I can usually find my way back again. But put me in a new place where I have to figure out where I’m going and I’m somewhat handicapped. Friends like to joke with me that I’m the kind of guy who gets lost just trying to find the bathroom. Well, one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received was the GPS unit Melissa gave me for my car a few years ago. I love that thing. It’s a Garmin and when I have it attached to the windshield I feel like I can go anywhere, without anxiety, and more importantly – I know I can get home again. What’s even more helpful is that if I get caught in the wrong lane and take a wrong turn, or if I miss my exit, or if traffic gets rerouted, the Garmin knows it and adjusts my route. That automated female voice comes on and says, “recalculating.” Within seconds she has created a new route that automatically corrects my mistake and gets me back on the right path. Amazing.
As strange as it might sound, I want you to think of St. James’s as your spiritual GPS. This church is your Garmin and you need this community and the God we proclaim to keep you from getting lost and to help you “recalculate” your way back when you do. I know I’m preaching to the choir this morning, but coming to church isn’t something you should do once a month or every so often. It is something you should do every week! We need to gather here and worship God. We need to listen to God’s word. We need to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We need to strengthen one another with God’s love and forgiveness if we are ever going to find our way in this life. We are all sinful and we need one another if we are going to keep ourselves from getting really lost. I know I’m biased, but I don’t think being a part of a faith community is an “option,” I think it is an essential part of the fulfilled life.
It’s easy to point to someone who’s having an especially hard time and think, “I’m glad I’m not like that guy. He really is a lost soul.” It’s easy to place people into simplistic categories – “she’s lost her way” or “he’s got it all together.” When the truth of the matter is all of us are actually a curious combination of the lost and the found. Rarely are we completely lost. And rarely are we completely found. There is always a part of us that needs to be dragged and cajoled into the light, and there is always a part of us that is already there in the light. For some it is more and for some it is less, but each of us is a lost sheep or a lost coin in one way or another. Each of us needs some help to find our way home, some help to get back on the right road. That’s what our church is here for. It’s why our steeple rises so high and can be seen from such a distance. St. James’s is meant to be a lighthouse, a homing beacon, an oasis in the midst of our hectic and difficult world. It’s the place where we can find ourselves again, the place where we can find God, the place where we can find love, forgiveness, and welcome.
Why do we worship, sing, and pray? Why do we gather to study scripture or volunteer our time to serve others? Part of the reason is because it centers us, it recalculates our position in life and reminds us of what is most important. It raises our sights beyond the day-to-day tasks that take up most of our time so that we can focus on the God who gives us everything and who only wants the best for us. We need this
place. Our children need this place. We need to know that when we are lost we don’t have to stay that way. We need to know that we can find some peace, that we can be forgiven, that we are deeply loved especially when we feel most unlovable. Sure this church, like every other church, is a very imperfect place. Why wouldn’t it be, it’s full of very imperfect people. But together, through God’s grace, we can lift each other up to be better people, better disciples.
Let’s face it, we all get lost. We get mixed up and turned around. We despair, we make mistakes, we do evil to each other. We wander away from God, away from the lives God wants us to lead and we do some pretty terrible things to ourselves and other people. More than likely there are many times when we deserve to be punished and that was the position the Pharisees who criticized Jesus maintained. Why would Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? They don’t deserve a nice meal. They deserved to be punished for their sins. But Jesus understood differently. He knew God as a shepherd in search of the one lost sheep. He knew God as a woman searching in the dark, in the crevasses, for that valuable coin. The Pharisees proclaimed a God who punishes the lost. Jesus proclaimed a God who would do anything to find them and bring them home again.
There is a wonderful story about a five-year-old who approached her mother one day and asked, “Mom, is God a grown-up or a parent?” Her mother was a little puzzled by the question. “I’m not sure what you mean,” she said. “Is there a difference between a grown-up and a parent?” “Oh yes,” the girl replied. “Grown-ups love you when you are good and parents love you anyway.” I know this sounds simplistic to some of you, but have you ever really come to appreciate the wonder of God’s unconditional love? I imagine there are some people in this room who don’t really believe in unconditional love. You have never received it, and you have never given it. Some of you are still trying to earn it. And you are expecting others to earn it too. Relax, my friend, and let God love you. You’re home now. You, me and all the other misfits in this place, we’re home. Amen.