A Sermon for Those Who Have Been Lost
St. Philip Lutheran Church
11 September 2022 + Lect. 24c (Pentecost 14)
Rev. Josh Evans
They weren’t lost. I knew perfectly well where they were. Just seconds before, as I was innocently walking back to my apartment one morning on my day off, Dunkin’ iced coffee in hand, one of my worst nightmares (probably one of everyone’s worst nightmares) had come true. My keys – complete with $200 car fob – slipped out of my hand and right down the sewer, just outside my front door.
The experience of losing something like that is gut-wrenching. Of course, key fobs, however painfully expensive, can be easily replaced. Other things – sentimental or one-of-a-kind things, like family heirlooms – not so much. And their loss is even more deeply felt.
Beyond things, there’s also the experience of losing someone – a spouse, a parent, a child, a best friend, or any loved one. And, well, that can just be downright suffocating.
When something or someone dear is lost to us, it is gut-wrenching. And if the lost thing is at all recoverable, we would go to great lengths to try to get it back.
A shepherd abandons nearly their entire flock to go after one lost sheep. A woman searches her entire house all day and all night to look for her one lost silver coin.
It seems a bit reckless, foolish even, to put such effort into finding the one lost sheep, while potentially risking the safety of the other 99. Or to put so much energy into looking for one small silver coin when you still have nine more. It doesn’t make much sense – unless you’ve had the experience of such a loss.
In her book One Coin Found, Pastor Emmy Kegler writes from the flip side of loss – from the perspective of the thing that is lost.
“You might know the feeling,” she says, “like everyone who meets you sees you, but doesn’t really see you. You feel like you’re giving every possible signal other than tattooing it on your forehead, but still others don’t recognize you for who you are.”
Too many in the church – particularly those of us with marginalized identities, whether for our gender, sexuality, race, age, or disability – often feel lost like that. We are the lost sheep, who went wandering. We are the lost coin, who rolled under a cabinet in an unswept bit of dust.
But the thing about sheep, Pastor Emmy reminds us: They wander. And often for good reasons. The sheep might be hungry, and the shepherd hasn’t been paying close enough attention to realize there isn’t enough green grass to go around. Or the sheep are sick or hurt or old, and the shepherd doesn’t realize they’ve been left behind until the rest of the flock has already gone far ahead. And so the hungry, sick, hurt, or aging sheep wander in search of food, rest, or safety.
They’re not lost. They know exactly where they are. It’s the shepherd who can’t find them anymore.
In the same way, Pastor Emmy goes on, coins just don’t get lost by themselves. They can’t simply get up and wander away. Coins get lost because someone wasn’t careful with them.
The experience of being lost, however it happens, is disorienting and frightening. “Lost” isn’t so much something that we get ourselves into. It’s something that happens to us.
More recently, Pastor Emmy shared a public update on her social media pages that she was leaving her call as a parish pastor: “The past couple years have been really heavy,” she announced. “Recently I had to face some hard truths – namely, that my energy and passion and skill as a church leader have drained pretty dry.”
She’s not alone. Pastors, deacons, and other church leaders have left their calls in droves in the wake of the pandemic. It’s not limited to church work either. People across vocations have left their jobs in what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”
Among those who have stayed, another trend has also emerged: quiet quitting. At its best, quiet quitting has meant setting more guarded boundaries around one’s work-life balance. But too often, it’s also looked a lot like burnout.
We feel like we’re drowning in our work and responsibilities. We are exhausted and burned out. We feel aimless and lost.
However we become lost, for whatever the reason, it can feel like there is no one around. No life-preserver to reach for.
We are lost in our work and overwhelmed. We are lost in loneliness or depression or anxiety. We are lost in addiction or illness or grief.
That lostness can feel suffocating, disorienting, and isolating – all at the same time. Those feelings of being lost are real, and they are not something we can just “get over” or “snap out of.” After all, if we could become “un-lost” on our own that easily, we wouldn’t really be lost to begin with.
But on the other end of being lost is that gut-wrenching experience of losing something precious. Because there is someone anxious to find us and bring us back.
Today we hear about God who is a reckless shepherd, who, as Pastor Emmy Kegler puts it, “has donned a shepherd’s cloak and come running after us…clambered over rocks and climbed down cliffs…and found us, hungrier and more hurt and terrified, and cradled us close to say: No matter why you left or where you went, you are mine.”
Today we hear about God who “has picked up a woman’s broom and swept every corner of creation, tucked up her skirts and flattened herself on the floor, dug through dust bunnies and checked every dress pocket…and found us, dustier and rustier and without any luster, and held us up to the light to say: No matter how you rolled away or what corner you were dropped in, you are mine.”
Today we hear the good news of a God who seeks us out and finds us in our lostness.
Like a reckless shepherd who frantically searches pasture and wilderness until they find us. Or like a wildly distraught woman who turns pockets and drawers inside-out while scouring the house, determined to find out where we’ve rolled away to.
It doesn’t make much sense … but such is the nature of God.
God who is moved to such gut-wrenching compassion goes to great lengths and great pains to find us, to meet us in our lostness, to embrace us with a tender motherly care, and to remind us:
You are mine.
You are found.
You are beloved.