Fourteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.15.19

“We’re here! We’re here!”

The four seamen had been tapping and tapping, trapped inside the cargo ship that had turned over on its side along the Georgia coast. We read about it and saw it on the news. The fright! We can’t even imagine. The drilling to get them out! And then. To be FOUND! The oxygen BURSTING into their stuffy chamber and then to be lifted out into safety!

Saved. Saved. The gratitude of the seamen! That the rescuers kept up the search.

That the rescuers didn’t give up. That they listened for their taps. Lives are PRECIOUS!

We know the rescuers would have put all their efforts into if it was just ONE trapped seaman. To be saved like the seamen is intoxicating! PURE joy for both the seamen who were rescued AND those who rescued them.

It reminds us of the times when WE’VE been lost and the GOOD Shepherd found US.

Our shepherd doesn’t give up on us, but keeps calling, and calling and then delivering us into safety.

Today’s gospel has two interesting parables. Have you noticed that the shepherd has to trust the ninety-nine sheep to not wander off when he goes looking for the one lost lamb?

Teachers! Do you ever LEAVE YOUR CLASSROOM to go look for a child? Of course not!

Can you TRUST those children to behave while you turn your back on them and go look?

With no other teacher to ask to watch the room? When you do find the child do you celebrate with those good children in the classroom? Probably not.

Then there’s the woman who lost her gold coin. She’s so happy to find it what does she do? She throws a party, probably spending that gold coin to throw a party that she had found her gold coin . . . wait – isn’t this a little odd?

The point is that God is just over the top with JOY when a sinner returns to the fold.

So much so, that God’s bounteous LOVE overflows in crazy ways.

The woman SPENDS money on a party to celebrate finding her money. She doesn’t seem to be a hoarder or a saver. She’s a CELEBRATER! That’s God’s image of God’s self.

God CELEBRATES like a crazy woman when someone repents wholeheartedly.

We may become a little jealous, ‘hey, maybe I have to be LOST and then found.

You may wonder, ‘do I have to be really bad in order to get God’s attention?’

We all know about the child who acts out in order to get the parent’s attention.

‘What’s a good person to do?’ Should we be bad to get God’s attention?

Never fear! The point of the parables may not be about righteous vs unrighteous people. The point may be about lost-ness. How a good person may be good AND also lost.

There are DEGREES of repentance. We know about the complete turnaround of the 100% sinner, but repentance is also a turning around, a change of direction that is directed by God.[2] This change of perspective leads to a new perspective of life lived in God’s grace.

When we get a change of perspective, it’s like we’re that lost lamb, and we get to sit on God’s shoulders, with a different, intoxicating VIEW of the world.

So, there is repentance even for the GOOD people. There are different ways of being lost. Good people can be lost and often are. When I reflect on my life, I place myself among the good people at the table in this parable. Let’s give the Pharisees some credit.

They are TRYING to do the right thing. We are often like them, trying our hardest, but we can get tangled up like a lost lamb in a briar bush, despite our best efforts.

When I was a Catholic I.E. one of the truly, good people, I was nonetheless unhappy with my church. I thought that unremarkable since all my thoughtful, Catholic friends were also unhappy, and we would complain together. On one hand, I spent a LOT of TIME helping out at the church I loved, yet I had to be untangled from Catholicism.

Thank you, Holy Spirit! Christ lifted me up and put me on his shoulders like any lamb, and the view from the Good Shepherd’s shoulders is magnificent! Christ showed me the church is a lot bigger than I thought. I saw that there’s a WIDENESS to God’s mercy, NOT a narrowness.

There are other ways for good people to be lost.

Is it possible for good, Christian people to be among the lost when we are too controlling? Here’s another way to be lost. Can teens and young people, be over-scheduled, resulting in them feeling lost? They get the message they are only as good as their last achievement. They may feel they are never good enough, and the stakes get higher when they start college. Can we help untie them from the bramble bushes where they are stuck and let’s trust that Christ the Good Shepherd will lead them AND us?

Is it possible there are good people among us who feel lost because they work jobs they hate or have outgrown and only stay because they’ve bought into a certain identity?

Could they be among the lost?

My friend Caroline, who has since passed away, had quite a story to tell when I first met her. She told me she had first gone to medical school and became a doctor. She didn’t practice long before she realized she hated medicine. I think most people would have stuck it out. It takes courage to make a change, but she did. She left medicine and got accepted into law school. That should be the happy ending. Law school and working at a law firm.

It wasn’t a good fit. It didn’t satisfy her. It didn’t feel right. It took more courage to leave and find where she belonged. She applied to a doctoral program. No happy ending. It wasn’t a good fit either.

Caroline wasn’t going to accept a state of lost-ness for herself. She didn’t want to be another unhappy, stressed out lawyer. She didn’t want to be another bitter academic.

This was her one, precious life. By this point, she told me, she was VERY depressed.

She sat on the couch, not moving, close to being catatonic (her words). Her husband was frantic, and intuitively bought her paint and brushes and canvas. She picked them up and as she began to paint, she slowly came back to life. Caroline who had been lost was found.

She was an artist. Never had an art class. No interest in art until then.

She had been profoundly lost among the academic paths that she was very competent to follow, yet none of them satisfied her HUNGRY, hungry heart. She began a series of paintings, The Secret Lives of Animals, and she never stopped painting.

She said that some of her former colleagues would come up to her quietly and ask how she was doing. The subtext was – you left! They wanted to leave, but they didn’t dare.

There are so many ways good people may be lost.

Other ways to be lost: a good person may be convinced we don’t have to forgive some people in our lives. Could unforgiveness put us among the lost? I was convinced I didn’t need to forgive, which put me lost and among the brambles. I did forgive, and Christ found me. BIG TIME! It led me here to this pulpit. Literally!

Christ wants to give us more life on top of the life that he’s already given us. Jesus wants to give us MORE if we’re willing to sacrifice OUR perspective for the one from Jesus’ shoulders! If we are willing to be vulnerable and admit to our lost-ness, Christ will put us on his shoulders where the view is intoxicating! 

Believe it or not, repentance and forgiveness are GIFTS. Admitting we were wrong, stuck in the bramble bush – even SEEING there is a bramble bush – letting the Good Shepherd untangle us – ALL GIFTS.

Do you think it’s an accident that Jesus tells these stories around a BIG TABLE?

Food is only the BEGINNING of what we need. We HUNGER for more than food. And like humans everywhere we don’t necessarily know how to get ourselves out of the fixes we’re in.

Before we go on to glory, we, the good people, may have a couple of conversions, changes of perspective, turnings around, and repentances, under our belts before we meet Jesus.

Loving God. Thank you for wanting to FIND us, the good people.

We can easily get ourselves lost and stuck and need your help getting out.

We need your help because you want to CELEBRATE with us.

You have PURE joy to give us.

You are ready to give us new life and new perspectives.

Thank you for your great gifts, principally NEW LIFE right now!

We pray always in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.