Pastor Todd Buegler
September 10 & 11, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who seeks the lost! Amen.
Psychologists tell us that a fundamental human fear is that of being lost. Humans have a strong, emotional reaction to not knowing where they are, and not being sure of how to get to their destination. Anxiety levels, and fear can skyrocket when someone feels lost. It makes you feel out of control.
I’ve only ever really felt lost once, when I was probably just a 3-footer, and I got separated from my Mom in the clothing department at Dayton’s in Southdale. I still have a vivid memory of walking around the big clothing racks, twice my height, until an employee spotted me, took my hand and hollered to my Mom “Hey lady! I think this belongs to you!”
And I remember being embarrassed…and at the same time, relieved.
No one likes getting lost. We just don’t. And so we take steps to avoid it. Money Magazine estimates that in 2016, $26.7 billion dollars will be spent in the GPS market. I did a Google search for “GPS Devices” and it showed over 53 million search results. One of the fastest growing slices of that market is for GPS tags, that are in bracelets or other jewelry for the elderly to wear. Their adult children have fear that their parents with memory issues, might wander away…and they want to be able to locate them. No one likes the idea of being lost. For themselves, or their loved ones.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus strikes at a chord within our hearts.
“Which of you, losing one of your 100 sheep, wouldn’t leave the 99 and search until you find the one? Or having 100 coins, and losing one of them, wouldn’t light a lamp, sweep the house and search until you find it?” Which of you wouldn’t search for the lost? Which of you wouldn’t seek out the one who was in crisis?
As we know, context is important. The Pharisees and scribes were, the Bible says, (and I love this little editorial comment), “grumbling” because the sinners, and the tax collectors were gathering around Jesus to hear his words. They looked around and were judging Jesus based on those who were listening…and clearly they found Jesus and his audience lacking.
So Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and scribes is to talk about searching, seeking and rescuing these sinners, the lost. And he concludes his two object lessons, sheep and coins, talking about rejoicing when the missing one is found, because there is more joy when a single sinner repents, than for the 99 who remain faithful. He talks about the vital importance of searching, for the lost.
Twenty-seven years ago, the lights came on. Front porch lights, all over the state of Minnesota, literally tens of thousands of them, were all turned on during the days after October 22, 1989, after Jacob Wetterling was taken. His mother, Patty, asked for people to illuminate their front porches throughout the night. Why? She said that the light would break into the darkness, would help us to find him, and may guide him home. So the lights came on.
I was living in an apartment at the time, and I remember those days. I didn’t have a front porch, but I left the lamp by the window on in my living room.
And for weeks, months, years…people searched.
But I also remember that after a few months, the hope of many, including myself, began to fade. I remember thinking that it was good that because of Jacob, the laws on protecting children were changing…and that a foundation, Jacob’s Hope, was being started…but I, and I think many of us, began to doubt that he would return home. Still, on the anniversary of his disappearance, people would turn on their front porch lights, to remember the lost.
Last weekend, front porch lights were again turned on across the state; but this time in memory, and honor of, Jacob Wetterling. The shock of Jacob’s death, even after 27 years, was palpable. It felt like the whole state of Minnesota was kicked in the gut, didn’t it?
But for me, the shock of his being found was followed by the surprise of Patty Wetterling’s response. Tearfully, and in obvious pain, Patty said, “For us, Jacob was alive until we found him.”
Jacob was alive until we found him.
When I heard those words, I realized: Patty and Jerry Wetterling had never given up. Never. They really believed that some day, Jacob would be found.
That’s why the Wetterling’s never sold their home and moved…they never changed their phone number. Because they believed that someday Jacob would walk in their door again. They were relentless in their searching…in their pursuit of Jacob, and in advocating for him; and in their efforts to protect other children.
When people told them to give up…told them to let him go and allow themselves to grieve, they refused. I was shocked by this, until I thought about it and realized that if our roles were reversed…if it had been me, I too never would have given up. That’s the kind of love a parent has for their own child.
And Jesus tells us that this is the kind of relentless passion with which God pursues us. There are days when we are the lost sheep, or the lost coin. There are days when like that child at the mall who steps away from their parent, we too distance ourselves from the presence of God. There are days when life feels so hard…when we feel exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually…when we grieve the loss of a good friend, like many of us are this week…when we feel like our lives are ruled by our calendars…or there is a crisis in our life. And God feels far, far away from us.
But we have a God who, when we draw away, relentlessly pursues us and draws us back. God seeks us out, overturning every stone, never giving up.
And in both of the stories Jesus told, the lost sheep and the lost coin, he says that when the lost is found, the seeker rejoices.
Jesus is telling us that when we wander, and when God finds us and we return, God rejoices!
Yes, there are days when we are the lost. And God seeks us out, relentlessly.
And there are days when we are the seeker. Sometimes, in God’s name, we are the ones who, like the shepherd, are out, seeking those who are disconnected. Sometimes, we are the ones lighting the lamps, sweeping, and looking in the dark corners. Sometimes we are the ones who turn on our front porch lights to pierce the dark, and we look. It is God’s work, but often it is our hands, that are reaching out to care for those in need, to seek the lost, and to share the hope that comes through Christ.
On September 11, 2001, fifteen years ago today, Welles Crowther went to work, just like every other day. He was an equities trader and he worked in the World Trade Center. After the second tower was hit, the one he was in, Welles led everyone he could find down the steps to safety, and then he went back for more. And after leading more people to safety, he went back again, and again, and again, until the tower collapsed.
On that day, this talented, athletic, good natured, but in so many ways ordinary person did an extraordinary thing, giving his life to make sure others could live. On that day, God worked through Welles Crowther to find people who were literally lost.
I pray that we won’t often find ourselves in those kinds of circumstances, yet God can also use us to find others. At work, at home, at school, through our church, where we volunteer, God regularly uses us to find and to help others.
Yes, on some days, we are the lost. And on some days, we are the eyes and hands of God, the ones who are doing the searching.
Know these three things:
- You have a God who loves you so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ. And when we wander (and we will wander,) God relentlessly pursues us, never giving up until we are found.
- Second, whenever any of God’s wandering children are found, God rejoices. For as Jesus said, there is more joy when the one who wanders is found, than for the 99 who stayed put.
- Finally, we in the church are the ones God calls to reach out, and to seek the lost, to bring hope to the hopeless, and love to those who don’t know love. It’s what we do.
There is no more humbling, or common human experience than feeling and being lost. But on the flip side of that, Jesus reminds us today that the most joyfully divine experience is finding, and being found. No matter how lost we become, and by whatever means we lose our way, God’s promise is never exhausted. Jesus, the light of the world, is piercing the darkness and gathering the lost. The shepherd is searching. God is watching and believing that that the lost shall be found.
- It is time to open our eyes to the light of Christ, drawing us back into God’s presence.
- It is time for us to light our metaphorical front porch lights, and to look into the darkness, seeking those who wander.
- And it is time to celebrate, because God says: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep, the one that was lost.”
Thanks be to God!