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Who's Looking for Whom?
a sermon based on Luke 15:1-10
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Two weeks ago I said I was going to ask you to start wearing your nametags. I gave some good reasons for doing that and said I’d start wearing mine, too. Later that week, you received the Sundial in which I again encouraged you to wear nametags. I said I’d be wearing one when you came to church.

Well, last Sunday I went looking for my nametag.

I know I have one.

I even know where I kept it in my office in Bowl.

And I know where I kept it when we lived in Spokane.

I even know when I wore it last.

But I couldn’t find it last Sunday.

I looked frantically. I searched the most likely places. I looked in less likely places. I even looked in places I know I wouldn’t put my nametag. I finally gave up and used a stick-on nametag.

This week I went looking again. But this time I was a little more methodical in my search. I began in my office. Slowly but surely looking in every drawer, every cabinet, and behind every stack of things. When I couldn’t find it there, I started to look at home. First in the obvious and likely places. Then the less likely places.

I still can’t find it.

It’s lost.

And I’m pretty convinced it’s either been thrown away or is in a box we haven’t unpacked yet.

So I’m using a stick-on nametag again today.

But I’ve lost other things before, and I’m sure you have, too.

I’ve misplaced my glasses before, and I’m sure anyone who wears glasses can relate with that.

I’ve set my car keys down in some rather unusual places, too.

And then there are the ever-so-unlikely places I’ve located the remote control for the TV and the cordless telephone.

When we moved to Spokane, we couldn’t find a table runner that a friend of Ronda’s made for us. We found it two years later - when we were packing to move to Sunnyside. We found it in a box we never finished unpacking the last time we moved.

We’ve all lost things before. Some were misplaced, some were accidentally set down, some were dropped unknowingly. Some end up in "lost and found" boxes in places we don’t even remember going to. Then there are the things that end up in our coat pockets that we find weeks, months, even years later!

Because we have all lost things, we know all about the emotions that Jesus is describing in these two short parables. We know about the frantic search that doesn’t end until what was lost is found. And when we find what’s been lost, we know about the joy that fills our lives and our tendency to go and tell everyone about it.

We can visualize the woman who frantically searches for her lost coin. We can almost hear her broom as it sweeps across the floor, as she reaches under the beds and into the dark corners of her house.

And while not all of us have livestock, we can picture the distress of the man who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in a safe place and goes out looking for the one that was lost.

In both cases, we can almost get excited as they report their find. Unfortunately, we also know the sorrow of looking for that which was lost and not finding it. Not only is my nametag lost.

I also lost my High School class ring while I was in college.

And I lost the address of a college friend and have not been able to continue our relationship.

We all know what it means to search and search only to realize it will not be found.

That’s part of what has been so difficult about the news reports from New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. We grieve for the people who are lost. And the longer the search continues the less hope we have that any will be found alive.

Over 5,000 people lost in piles of rubble that are almost inconceivable. Tragically, another frantic search began in Sunnyside the very same day.

People began looking for Joshua Hui shortly after he disappeared from his classroom on Tuesday. And as you all know, there was no celebration when he was found a few short hours later at the bottom of an irrigation canal.

But as I have been dealing with my own emotional anguish this week, I realized there is another frantic search going on. I heard it in the stories of people as they shared their concerns with me, and then I recognized it in me as well. You know, most of the time we stop searching when we find something. That’s why we always find things in "the last place we look." We stop looking once the lost has been found.

I realized as I was dealing with the story of Joshua Hui that we’re still searching. We’re searching in Sunnyside and we’re searching in New York. We’re searching as individuals and we’re searching as a nation.

But it isn’t a search for missing pets, persons, or possessions. Nor is it a search for someone to blame - which is not to say that there aren’t people searching for those things. All across our community, all across our country, all around the globe, there is a frantic search for explanations. We are looking for reasons. In many ways, the basis of our society is been challenged and we’re trying to make sense of it. But we’re searching in a way that suggests something has been missing. It’s as if we know we had the answer at one point in time, and only now are we realizing that it’s been lost.

And when we lose something, we start by reflecting on when and where we last had it in our possession. When I lost my car keys, for instance, I started by asking myself what else I was doing when I came in from the car. The grocery sacks led me to the keys in the refrigerator.

So when was the last time we had an answer to the kind of tragedies we experienced this week? What has changed since then? Some will say it was simpler times, slower times. They will point to the speed with which we heard the reports, for instance, and suggest that we lost any sense of answers with the advent of CNN. Some will say it was the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and can be traced back at least to the Iranian Hostage crisis over twenty years ago. Others will say it began when Americans became arrogant about their powers and abilities to sway world events and opinions, an arrogance that almost always reports tragedies in terms of the number of American lives affected as if they are the only important lives.

Still others will suggest it began when we stopped allowing prayer in public schools. I suppose there are those who would argue that I’m asking the wrong question, that in fact we never had an answer, that it isn’t something we lost but rather something we never had before.

But I am convinced we had it at one point. In that sense, I think we are very much like Job who sought to understand his suffering. His friends - if you could call them that - all had their answers, some of which were trite, all of which were useless to Job. He thought he understood God and demanded an accounting from God for the disasters that struck. In the end, his answer came when he stood in awe before the God who had stood with him in the midst of his suffering. Job had misunderstood the role of God in his life and in the world.

I believe the essential mystery of God is what has been lost and that is what we are searching for so frantically. The problem is we don’t realize what it is we’re seeking. We have grown up in an age where science has taught us to find definitive and verifiable answers to our questions.

We know the speed of light.

We know that E=MC2.

We know how to build buildings.

We know how to fight fires.

We even know how to trace the lives of passengers on planes and determine who the terrorists were.

And so we search for a definitive and verifiable answer to why tragedy has struck. But the yearning of our souls is not really an answer to the question of "why" as much as it is an assurance that we have not been abandoned by God.

And God remains a mystery. Try as we might, there are no human explanations for who God is. And the real irony is that while we are looking for God as if God is the one who was missing, God has been searching for us because we are the ones who are really lost.

Jesus came to seek the lost. His parables were meant to help us understand the mystery of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus. Jesus did not come to seek God since God was not lost; he came to seek us, for we are the lost.

We have witnessed and experienced enormous loss this week. That loss has taken its toll on our spiritual and emotional health. But I am absolutely convinced that God has been weeping with us, for God has not abandoned us. I am also convinced that if we look for God in the midst of the suffering we will find hope. Not hope in the sense of survivors being found in the rubble, but hope in the sense that we can find a purpose in life. It’s the same hope that was proclaimed on Easter Sunday after the tragic and untimely death of Jesus. It’s the same hope that Paul proclaimed in his preaching.

All heaven rejoices when God finds us. And no trauma, no disaster, no peril can separate us from God. God’s frantic search for us has ended. We belong to God.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:38-39)

Thanks be to God. Amen.