The Israelites in the first reading are lost but they don’t know it yet. St. Paul knows he was lost and has been found. Like Moses, St. Paul is preaching to religious insiders. Jesus is preaching to insiders, telling these parables to religious insiders who are pretty sure they’ve got it all down and could never imagine they are lost. Could never imagine that “lost” is not always out there beyond the flock, outside the sheepfold, apart from everyone – world of unbeliever, sinner, backsliders, and all manner of people on the outside.
Are these parables about sinners? Sure, but these parables are also about us, the insiders. The regulars at Mass, the every Sunday communicants, the one committed to the parish, the volunteers, and even the person in the pew next to you. These are also parables about being lost while still part of the flock.
Lostness happens to God’s people. It happens within the beloved community. It’s not that we cross over once and for all from a sinful lostness to a righteous foundness. We get lost over and over again, and God finds us over and over again. Lostness is not always about backsliding and church skipping; it’s part and parcel of the life of faith.
What is this kind of “lost”? It’s many things. We are lost when we no longer feel a sense of belonging. Lost when we are unsure that we believe. Lost, when we find trust too challenging. Lost, when we realize we no longer have some sense or experience of God’s presence. Lost, when we lose our will or energy to persevere in the current trial of life.
Some of us get lost when illness descends on our lives and we wonder where God is in all this. Some of us get lost when death comes too soon and too suddenly for someone we love, and we experience a crisis of faith that leaves us reeling. Some of us get lost when our marriages die. Some of us get lost when our children break our hearts. Some of us get lost in the throes of addiction, or anxiety, or lust, or unforgiveness, or hatred, or bitterness. But we can still be right here in church.
We can get very lost, very close to home. Lost when our prayers seem as dry as an unrelenting summer. Lost when we hear one more homily that accuses, condemns or just rings hollow. Lost when we realize we are just lining up to receive the Eucharist with our “Amen” running near empty. Lost when the experience of Sunday sucks the oxygen out of our lungs. When we wonder what in the heck we are doing here. Lost when we feel betrayed by the Church that was supposed to come looking for us and we are right in front of them.
We get lost. So lost that the shepherd has to wander into our personal wilderness to find us. So lost that the housewife has to light her lamp, pick up her broom, and sweep out every nook and cranny of the house to discover what’s become of us. Shepherd and the woman are not just going through the motions all the while knowing where we are. They are worried, anxious and in action. They are God.
God who experiences authentic, real-time loss and does something about it. God searches and persists. God wanders over hills and valleys looking for his lost lamb. God turns the house upside down looking for her lost coin. God seeks the small, the seemingly insignificant, the hard-to-find, the just plain difficult – the ones far away. The one right close to home.
God doesn’t remain in the fold with the ninety-nine insiders. God isn’t curled up on her couch polishing the nine coins she’s already sure of. God is in the darkness of the wilderness, God is in the remotest corners of the house, God is where the search is at its fiercest.
God is where lostness reigns. God is where the lost things are.
We are lost but in the eyes of God we are worth looking for. We are not expendable. We are loved enough and desired enough to warrant a long, hard, diligent search. We are lost and think God has given up on us. That’s half true – we are lost… and that is when God does His best work.
God looks for us when our lostness is so profound, we can’t even pretend to look for God. But even in that bleak and hopeless place, God finds us.
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”
Indeed. Once blind but now am able to see this truly amazing grace of God who lives where lostness reigns. That is my compass out of lostness.