This past Monday I woke up with the intention of writing today’s homily.
I began my usual morning routine…getting dressed and putting the usual stuff in my pocket…chap stick, cell phone. But, I could not find my cell phone. It was not on the bathroom window sill where I usually put it. It wasn’t in the pocket of the pants I had worn the night before. I didn’t find it on living room sofa where I had gone after calling my sister.
I was baffled and frustrated. I knew I wouldn’t settle down until I found that damn cell phone.
I stuck to my usual routine of eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, centering prayer. But I was preoccupied.
I even emailed Dave to ask if he had taken my cell phone to work with him by mistake. Of course, he hadn’t. When I got emails from a friend and from our daughter, I asked them to call my cell…nothing.
A few hours later I looked again in the living room and again carefully around the sofa. There it was, my lost cell phone; difficult for me to see because of the dark color of the rug. And, of course, I had to email my friend and Amy and tell them that I had found the darn thing. Rejoice with me!!
Was it a wasted morning?
Yes and no.
I didn’t get much writing done but I learned again about looking for what is lost, one of the themes of today’s gospel reading.
The first year Dave and I were married we went backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. On our last night we arrived at Presque Isle at the western end of the park and set up our tent. It was late and since it was October it gets dark early. So, it was a quick supper and to bed. We would explore our surroundings in the morning.
Sometime during the night I woke up. I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep until I got up and went trudging off to the outhouse.
Even though it was cloudy and pitch black I found my destination without any problem.
But on the way back I got lost, I couldn’t find the tent.
I didn’t have on my hearing aids or my glasses generally don’t need them to go to the bathroom, right? I called out to Dave, hoping that he would hear me even though I couldn’t hear him if he answered.
At some point Dave found me and led me back to the safety of our tent.
I was rattled but also very relieved!
I don’t know if it was then or the next morning that Dave told me that our campsite was on a peninsula framed by a steep drop off into Lake Superior and churning waters down below. In other words, it could have been a tragic ending.
I looked up Presque Isle this week on the internet; one site described it as having a “steep shoreline boundary with Lake Superior”
I was lost…and found.
Today’s gospel reading of the lost sheep and the lost coin is told from the perspective of the one looking for what is lost.
But let’s consider it from the perspective of the one who is lost.
A lost sheep wants to be found. I have no personal experience of sheep and know nothing about their behavior.
I imagine a sheep bleating or doing whatever sheep do when they are in distress. Perhaps he/she is caught in a thicket or stranded somewhere, feeling vulnerable because alone and not part of the herd. Hungry and knowing something is not right. Wanting to be found.
Or the lost coin:
If it could think, wouldn’t it realize that it was of no use or value when lost?
Or realize what great value it was to someone who was poor, it was a day’s wages.
If it wasn’t found, it would be lost in a crevice of a stone floor of a poor woman’s abode forever!
In fact, archeologists have found these lost coins and have used them to date their digs.
Or my cell phone thinking it was of no use lost.
I wanted to be found. And, of course, Dave wanted to find me. But, he would not have known I was lost unless I called out to him.
Part of the human condition is that sometimes we conclude that we have been lost, forgotten, abandoned by God.
Often when I was a chaplain, I would ask cancer patients what their current experience of God was.
I would sometimes be told they felt abandoned by God, that they were alone, that God was too busy for them, that the man upstairs didn’t want to be bothered.
But we are never abandoned. We are never lost. We are always found.
Martin Laird writes in Out of the Silent Land
God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition…. This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads.
God does not know how to be absent!
God is always seeking us out. No separation is possible.
It is our mind and our circumstances that seem to tell us otherwise. But these perceptions are not the truth.
Meister Eckhart notes that being human means that we will fail. Failure is part of the search for God. But, divine love is forgiving love; divine love is a love that continually seeks us out.
But, there is a caveat. There is a role that we must play.
I needed to call out in that dark night to be found. If I had just silently wandered around, what were the chances that Dave would have woken up and come looking for me? Would he have found me?
Playing hide and seek in the dark is pretty futile.
Would I have found my cell phone if I hadn’t kept on looking for it? I suppose I might have accidentally tripped on it at some point!
The gospel tells us there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
To repent is usually translated as to turn and go in a different direction. For the sake of today’s passages, I would like to translate it a little more loosely.
There is joy in heaven over a person who is feeling separated from God turns their face towards God.
It may be a simple cry for help, as a sheep baaing in fear.
Father Bill Sheehan, a retreat leader with Contemplative Outreach would often say:
You need to put teeth to your intention.
You need to put teeth to your intention.
What he meant is that you say you want to be in a closer relationship with God, you must act on your desire. It doesn’t just happen. It takes work, it involves choices and commitment. It is action that shows we are indeed serious about wanting to be closer to God.
Yes God can never be absent and is always seeking us out…but there needs to be movement on our side as well. It is not a one way street. We are co-laborers with God.
It takes two to tango.
Jim Finley in Christian Meditation makes the same point in his introduction; you can’t just read about centering prayer, you have to practice it.
The good news is that there is no formula. There is no cookie cutter mold on approaching God.
What is meaningful for me may leave you cold.
I love silent retreats. I have a number of friends whose teeth are set on edge when they hear about my experience. It would be torture for them.
Centering prayer isn’t for everyone. Neither is Taize.
Music that draws you close to God may turn me off completely.
I met with a patient whose spiritual disciplines and sense of God’s presence had evaporated during her cancer treatment. Now she knew her death was approaching and wasn’t happy with her sense of God’s absence.
I learned that she loved music and invited her to put on CDs that had touched her spirit in the past. She used to read her Bible a lot. I suggested that she start reading the Psalms again, reminding her that they are pretty gutsy prayers.
I often suggest to people that they mark up a Bible with day 1, day 2 in the Psalms.
And, I reminded her that we are never abandoned by God even though we may label our experience as such.
God is always tuned into any desire and action we take.
Just as a shepherd listening for one bleat, Dave listening for my voice.
Aren’t we weary when we think or feel we are abandoned by God?
Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt.11-28-29)
Lastly, there is joy is being found.
There is joy in the presence of the angels when one person repents.
How good it was to be found by Dave. To be safe again. When I found my cell phone, I emailed Amy and my co-worker. I found it!! I found it!!
Why this joy?
Because we are created to know God and be known.
I would like to quote Martin Laird again:
Communion with God…is a God-given capacity, like the rhododendron’s capacity to flower, the fledgling’s for flight, and the child’s for self-forgetful abandon and joy…This self-giving God, the Being of our being, the Life of our life, has joined to Godself two givens of the human life, we are built to commune with God and we will all meet death.
We are created to know God. We can’t live without breathing, we can’t live apart from the One who created us.
And, so of course there is joy in heaven when we turn to God and are found.
The writer of I Timothy was one of the lost.
There were three strikes against him. He refers to himself as a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
But he did not strike out, Paul received mercy and Jesus Christ had utmost patience.
Then Paul writes, “the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance”…i.e., I stake my life on it!!! I am exhibit A.
I was lost but have been found.
We were lost but have been found.
That in the midst of the turmoil of our lives and of the world, we would know deep in our souls that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus, we pray:
We pray for those struggling in their relationship with you, we pray:
We pray for the leaders of our towns, states, and the nations of the world, that they would seek the common good of all people, particularly those most vulnerable, we pray:
For what else shall we pray?
And for those listed in our book of intentions and those we now name quietly:
So, we pray in the name of the Holy One, always seeking out the lost.
Moses and God are in an argument; Moses has the final word by reminding God of God’s promises.
Paul writes of the mercy has received.
And, we hear the familiar story of the lost sheep and the lost coin, both are found.
Let us pray: