I was on my bike. After a meeting up near Temple Hospital, I was headed to meet a friend at a new restaurant in Mount Airy.
I knew it wasn’t too tricky a trip: I’d once done essentially the reverse ride in a car when Julie Steiner was taking Bruce Clark and me home from her house. A hop, skip and a jump, and we were right off of North Broad where Bruce’s apartment was. It never occurred to me I couldn’t do this.
I’m usually very good with directions. Innately, I seem to know the compass points. And if I have a picture of how my starting point and destination relate in my mind, I can usually find… or at least wind… my way there.
But not this time. I got all turned around. Suddenly all the streets were diagonal, but in the wrong direction. I rode in circles for awhile before I stopped at a corner to ask for directions.
There was a woman on a corner with her back to me. I said, “Excuse me, m’am.” She turned around with a big smile. And immediately handed me a religious tract titled, “Are you lost?” One couldn’t make stuff like this up!
The cover was an image of “a message in a bottle washed up on the beach.” I responded, somewhat over-excitedly perhaps, “Yes, I am!” She looked confused, “Excuse me?” “I am lost. I stopped for directions. Could you point me towards Mt. Airy, please?” Curiously, she felt competent to direct me to heaven, but Mt. Airy was also beyond her capacities.
It tickled me. And made me think. Earlier in the week, a friend had confided in me: “I am really lost. Not just temporarily turned around. Or momentarily misplaced. But deeply, profoundly lost.” My friend’s tone left me thinking of a fairy tale of a child lost in the deepest, darkest woods, with no way of knowing which way might lead out.
Later I read the tract the woman had given me. It evocatively described being lost:
~ making a wrong turn and finding oneself nervously in an unfamiliar part of town feeling unsafe;
~ called on in a class — everyone staring at you– caught without an answer;
~ unexpectedly losing one’s home, job, primary relationship, or place in the world.
…As if most of us need help identifying how painful being lost is!
But reassurance helps: all of us, at some time or another, find ourselves without any clue where we are, except knowing we aren’t where we want to be. And we have little idea where our desire might be or how to get there.
Jesus offers his three parables of lostness — of a sheep, a coin and a child — to “normalize” our not being where we belong. They also promise that even lost, we never lose the great value we hold for the One who has a claim on us. In fact, that One will set aside other interests to find us. And once found, we will be restored to our rightful positions.
What’s that about? I believe it’s describing the right relationship meant between God and humans.
In the beginning, humans were designed to be one in spirit with God. In being so made, we enjoyed an intimacy and a communication with God, who was “up close and personal” with us. God walked and talked among us.
And God meant for us to return the intimacy. But it didn’t work out like that. It’s powerful: to realize that things may not always work out as God meant or expected…
Humans weren’t so sure of this closeness and communication with God. Or perhaps we were just more guarded. Or were trying to claim some advantage for ourselves.
Somehow, we got in our own way– in the way of our being present to and open with God. We lost ourselves. Or got lost to God.
And ever since, God misses us terribly.
And in Jesus, God set out to find us. Came back into our human, physical world, to approach us and to greet us. Maybe even to grab us and shake us. To invite us back home.
Our second chance. Will we receive him? Can we get ourselves out of the way that we might follow in his way?
See you in church (where we might find out!),