September 27, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Psalm 23 & Luke 15: 1 – 10
During his physical, the doctor asked the patient about his daily activity level. He described a typical day this way:
“Well, yesterday afternoon, I waded along the edge of a lake, escaped from wild dogs in the heavy brush,
marched up and down several rocky hills,
stood in a patch of poison ivy, crawled out of quicksand,
and jumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake.
Inspired by the story, the doctor said,
“You must be one heck of an outdoors man!”
”No,” he replied, “I’m just a lousy golfer.”
Ahhhh, a lousy golfer in search of errant, lost golf balls!
There seems to be a whole lost of lostness in our society, according to media reports. Tragic stories of lost children and dogs. Heartbreaking stories of people who have lost their way…looking for love and happiness and success in all the wrong places.
You may have heard the story of the fellow who was driving home in a very dense fog. The only objects he could see clearly were the taillights of the car ahead, so he decided for safety sake he would just follow those lights to be certain that he stayed on the road. Suddenly, without warning, the taillights ahead came to a complete stop and he ran into the driver he had been following. “Why didn’t you give some kind of signal that you were going to stop?” he shouted angrily at the other driver.
“Why should I?” came the reply, “I was in my own garage.”
Frequently when we feel lost, we blindly follow someone we think knows the way…. which may or may not be the best way for us!
Last week I tried to sell you on the idea that being lost was a blessing! Did you buy it!?
I suggested that we will be nourished and inspired when we venture away from religious and theological certainly ….the beaten path…. and dare to be lost in the wilderness, led by the Spirit to new ways of understanding and relating to God and our religious practice. I even dared to quote Wendell Berry, saying: It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
And I agree with him! We need to ask questions, as Jesus did…to seek in order to grow and gain wisdom.
Ann Stoneson , who is a psychotherapist in South Austin, Texas created a blog called Labyrinth Healing, Finding Your Path Inward, posted this recently: “ There was the kid who always insisted on playing hide-and-seek in my closet-sized office. He’d hide under the same chair—in plain view, really—again and again. I’d pretend not to see him and then, after much fruitless searching under my desk and behind the potted plant, I would “discover him”. And he would be elated every time.
You may remember the joy of playing this game as a child yourself. I particularly remember the thrill of hiding and waiting to be discovered—and also the fear that perhaps I would hide myself so well that no one would ever find me! This process does not end in childhood, however. And it becomes less and less a game.
Every day, there are people hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered, to be seen. People who want you to look at them, not through them. To talk with them, not at them. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the hastiness of a life that asks us to do more with less, to hurry, hurry, hurry. I do it all the time, in spite of myself.
There’s an old, old story, that I think is still funny. The phone rings and a little boy answers in a whisper: “Hello?” The caller says: “Hi, is your Mommy there?
“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?” “Yes, the firemen.”
“Can I talk to one of them?” “No, they’re busy, too.”
Caller: “Good heavens, your whole family’s busy, the police and fire departments are there and they’re busy! What’s everybody doing?”
The little boy giggled and whispered: “They’re looking for me.”
Today’s Gospel message is about searching and finding. And that’s an old story that illustrates the frantic nature of people who have lost something and are in search of it. Remember the little childhood taunt: “Finder’s Keepers, Loser’s Weepers.” We all used to use it when our brother or sister dropped a nickel or a dime and we found it. It was our way of laying claim to that which had been lost.
The incident that gave rise to Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10) which Peter read this morning, was the attitude of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They grumbled when they saw tax collectors and sinners being welcomed by Jesus.
Jesus didn’t approve of the behavior of tax collectors and sinners, but he demonstrated God’s welcome to all people who repent. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day regarded tax collectors as the least worthy members of society. After all, in Jesus’ time, tax collectors were Jews who were traitors. They collected money from fellow Jews to give to the Romans. In the process they lined their own pockets by taking extra for themselves. Tax collectors were the scum of society, the least important people around….big time sinners!
The religious leaders also saw common people as sinners. They considered themselves better than the common folk spiritually, morally, and economically. Sinners were regarded as hopeless, lost souls. … and sadly, even today in what is considered an enlightened era, there are those who decide who are lost souls and sinners and who are not….. who will be found by God and who will be rejected.
According to the author of Luke’s gospel, Jesus told them parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin to correct their lack of vision. The reason why the shepherd has to keep careful watch over the flock is because sheep just naturally wander away and get lost. If they ever wander away they will never come back for two reasons: they seem to be incapable of finding their way back, and what is even worse is they don’t even realize they are lost.
Jesus was very concerned about those who, like the sheep had lost their way, had wandered away from God, were struggling to survive in a hostile, oppressive society, who were hoping to be found and rescued by a compassionate, powerful God. Jesus wanted to be certain they understood that God cared deeply for each soul and was eager for those souls to be found. Jesus was concerned about the marginalized members of society….the voiceless ones.
I’m sure you are all following Pope Francis’ historic visit here in the United States. Unprecedented security arrangements to be certain he is safe on his whirlwind tour of DC, NYC and Philly. He has a warm, compassionate, congenial persona, and his message to Congress and the United Nation was a challenge to address some major issues that face our planet. In his impassioned speech before Congress he said:
Yours is a work, which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Indeed, and when we witness his sincere, compassionate, Christ- like presence and embrace the wisdom of his words, we have to ask whether he will address one of the major issues facing the planet, and the Roman Catholic church, that of women’s rights. For women, are among the most vulnerable, most marginalized on this planet ….their rights and freedom denied, and yet their image and likeness was also fashioned by God, There must be a new mandate to uphold their dignity and grant them equal rights and opportunity.
Joan Chittister is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. She is one of the most influential religious and social leaders of our time. For 40 years she has passionately advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues, and church renewal. A much sought-after speaker, counselor and clear voice that bridges across all religions, she is also a best-selling author of more than 50 books. She wrote a very respectful open letter to Pope Francis saying:
It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.
I implore you to do for the women of the world and the church what Jesus did for Mary who bore him, for the women of Jerusalem who made his ministry possible, for Mary of Bethany and Martha to whom he taught theology, for the Samaritan Woman who was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, for Mary of Magdala who is called the Apostle to the Apostles, and for the deaconesses and leaders of the house churches of the early church.
Until then, Holy Father, nothing can really change for their hungry children and their inhuman living conditions.
We’re glad you are here to speak to these things. We trust you to change them, starting with the Church itself.
A powerful challenge to a powerful church that in some ways is caught in the rut of archaic doctrine and practice that limits its potential for growth and ministry and denies women their religious calling from God and their dignity as beloved children of God. It is not only the Roman Catholic church, but also many Christian fundamentalist churches who deny women ordination. Tragically, the majority of women around the world, are oppressed…. still viewed as property with limited rights.
There is an incredible outpouring of love and devotion for Pope Francis. Thousands have lined the streets just to get a glimpse of him and receive his blessing. What amazing influence he has…and what a responsibility to use his power carefully and prayerfully.
I personally, hope and pray, on behalf of all of our sisters around the planet who do not have the freedom to live and work and study and raise their children and serve their church as we can and do, that Pope Francis will address this critical issue of women’s rights. I pray that he will work toward giving women in the church their voice…..because right now, they are lost, their voices of wisdom on mute.
Theresa – an Optometrist turned Licensed Professional Counselor turned blogger, who loves to read, write, volunteer and travel writes this in a recent blog entry:
“ Did I mention that I happen to love incidents that showcase the triumph of the human spirit? In my life, I have met so very many people who have inspired me, lifted me up when I was down, pointed me in the right direction while I was without a compass and made a positive difference in my life. They touched my heart in some way, and for that I am grateful beyond words.
In my evolution from an Optometrist who helped people to see with their eyes to a psychotherapist who helps people see through the eyes of their hearts, I have been inspired by meeting ordinary people with extraordinary offerings.
She shares this lovely poem:
If I were a song…by Theresa, Soul Gatherings
If I were a song, what would I sound like?
At birth, luminous angels must trumpet the Hallelujah Chorus for each and every soul in celebration of their birth, their innocence, their precious light.
As an infant, I must have sounded like wind chimes…softly stirring, different refrains, yet always in harmony. Tripping like water over pebbles in a winding brook, exploring different paths, yet always pulled forward.
But there were deeper tones – starts and stops, hesitation, background noise – too quiet – almost imagined.
Then – regimented, in step with military precision (what happened to the wind chimes? the babbling brook?), with a cadence never out of step.
Oh, no – never out of step.
Ominous darkness with undertones of rhythmic despair; on and on, building to a crescendo. A cacophony of discordant sound – keening wails, shrieks, cries, moans… Until cymbals crash and everything stops.
Then silence…echoes of silence…
But wait –There it was – Faint at first –
The wind chimes, the sparkling notes of laughter and joy, of innocence and love, of life and hope and play… Bright colored, shimmering golds and purples, a glittering rainbow of dance… Free style dance. Theresa’s dance.
It sang with spirit and direction and confidence in itself, this song. This heart song…It never stopped, never left.
It was always there, lighting my way, dancing in the darkness, spilling its notes through the channels of my heart carved by tears. My heart song.
Always there in celebration, always my own; song of Your heart, song of my own.
And speaking of beautiful songs waiting to be sung,
there is a beautiful song from Mendelssohn’s Elijah called: If With All Your Hearts, Ye Truly Seek Me”
If with all your hearts ye truly seek me,
Ye shall ever surely find me,
Thus saith our God.
Ye shall ever surely find me,
Thus saith our God.
The idea behind the text of this beautiful song is that, at some time or another, most of us will go looking for God. We may not do it continuously … or devotedly. We may search in traditional ways or we may choose to venture off the beaten path and embark on a wilderness journey. But, there may come a time in our lives, when we are feeling particularly lost or alone, that the longing for a deep and comforting relationship with God will capture and consume us. It will take some of us to mountaintops and others to monasteries. Still others of us will go to places where human need is raw, the better that we might find God in the faces of our hurting neighbors…..as we reach out to serve those in need.
According to biblical texts, God goes looking, too. According to the Creation story in Genesis, Adam is hiding from God in the garden. Leading God to ask: “Where are you?” Adam is hiding, ashamed and guilty…feeling unworthy.
Evident in the book of Genesis, and in much of Hebrew scripture, God is interacting with Creation, seeking a relationship with men and women. The dramatic stories we find of Moses, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, the prophets Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, King David…. we find an ongoing game of hide and seek….between the Divine Mystery and human beings created with a longing for the spiritual, for relationship with the Divine.
There is a heart wrenching revelation from the psalmist ……joyful assurance of God’s presence:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
Imagine that. Wherever we go, the psalmist writes, God will find us. No matter where we are hiding or what we are doing! Impossible to hide from God! Will we recognize God’s presence? Will we allow ourselves to be found?
Psalm 23 is one of the most treasured of all psalms. The image of God as a comforting shepherd, who will seek us when we are lost, and lead us to green pastures and still water….who will tenderly anoint us, and feed us and be with us for all eternity. We will be found, and embraced, held and loved. All of us who seek.
In the parables of Jesus from Luke 15 that I discussed earlier, a shepherd loses a sheep and goes looking for it. A lady loses a coin and does the same. And, in a story we didn’t read, a boy leaves home and heads for parts unknown…..seeking his fortune. But his father never turns off the porch light, even as we picture him standing in the doorway scanning the horizon for a familiar face. When he finally sees that face, tear stained and wounded, coming down the road , he welcomes him home with joy and even throws a party to celebrate the homecoming.
He who was lost, has been found! Cause for great celebration.
When we dare to be lost….to seek….to take that inner journey toward a personal relationship with the Divine Presence, we will be found and led to a place of quiet understanding… a place that is our spiritual home….we will rediscover our soul songs, placed there at the time of our birth. A cause for great celebration. We have come home.
In his daily online meditations this week, Fr. Richard Rohr has been discussing the practice of Hinduism, and as usual, there is much insight to be garnered from the wisdom traditions of Eastern Religions that can enrich our Christian practice.
In the Hindu tradition, darshan (or darsana) is to behold the Divine and to allow yourself to be fully seen. Many Hindus visit temples not to see God, but to let God gaze upon them–and then to join God’s seeing which is always unconditional acceptance and compassion.
It seems clear to me, that to be found by God is to be able to see ourselves as God sees us….and to love and accept what we see. Amen