I was so relieved and grateful to be found. Later that evening, I heard the powerful sound of drumbeat elsewhere on that mountain. Somehow that drum sounded the beautiful heartbeat of a God who had walked with me. I am blown away by this God who has lovingly sustained me throughout the journey I call my life.
I spent a day with Nadia Bolz-Weber last month. Nadia is not a typical Lutheran pastor. Her path to ministry was far from conventional. She has one of the most powerful theologies of incarnation that I have ever experienced. Nadia is so clear about her own humanness. She does not flee or deny it. She owns it and everything she is grows out of it. She knows what it is to be lost and I’m guessing if asked, she would respond that there is no shame in being lost. I hear these stories from Luke and I wonder how many of us would ever think to identify with a coin or a sheep. Wouldn’t we like to be the shepherd who bravely saves the sheep or the woman who diligently searches for the coin? Don’t we want to be the hero?
Jesus turns things upside for us over and over again. He experienced the fullness of humanity and understood how messy it can be. He wasn’t afraid of humanity, but he didn’t allow those around him to hide behind the illusion of being more than they were. While we prefer to be heroes rather than those who need to be saved, Jesus meets us in our weakness then shows us a God who waits to gather us up and welcome us home. *Nadia Bolz-Weber says that we often talk about the strength and might of God. But she wonders about a vulnerable God who creates us and then gives us freedom. This God risked everything for us by allowing us to be fully human and is left wide-open waiting for a potential broken heart. We are not puppets. We have this amazing opportunity to live as compassionate people who are generous and loving. We also have the opportunity to be selfish and uncaring. More realistically, we are a combination of both. Every morning, we wake to navigate through another day. In any given moment, we may find ourselves lost.
This happens to us as individuals when we lose our way. There may be times when we lose our faith. We will lose those that we love. At some point, we may lose our trust in others or in institutions. We will likely lose our dignity. When we have lost our way, we may find ourselves lying awake at night wondering if there is any way home again.
Lost congregations take many forms: they may feel disoriented when the next step is unclear and they must wait for God to show the way. Congregations are lost when they treat people badly and call it Christian. They are lost when they ignore those who are suffering because they are too busy.
It isn’t just individuals and congregations that become lost. It happens in our culture when we choose to express ourselves with violence. Today is the 50th anniversary of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This African-American church was at the center of the local civil rights movement, hosting meetings and marches. At 10:22 am on Sunday, September 15, 1963 a bomb planted by white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan ripped through the side of the church. Many people were hurt. Four young girls were killed: Addie Mae Collins (14 years old), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Denise McNair (11). It was Youth Sunday and they were preparing to join their friends and lead the service. The church lesson that day was “The Love that Forgives.”
This week alone, we are surrounded by memories and stories of lives lost. We remember the lives lost on September 11, 2001. The horror and devastation of that day lives on twelve years later. The lives lost in Syria are with us every day. We add lives lost in the flooding this week and many more missing.
Into all of this, all of this death and destruction, I wonder about our vulnerable God whose heart breaks when we kill one another. I wonder about a God who loves us and waits for us to figure out that we really are loved. Period. This God walks with us when we are lost. This God never gives up on us. This God not only looks for us when we think we are hopelessly lost. This God throws an over the top party to celebrate when we return. It’s rather embarrassing when you think about it. One little coin and the woman/God is throwing a party that probably cost more than the lost coin. One sheep is found and the shepherd doesn’t go back to life as usual, but invites everyone to join the celebration.
Do you remember how the story began? The Pharisees are grousing because Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Clearly they are not worth his, or their, time. And then Jesus tells these stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin being worth the party of the century to God. Really? The God we hear about wants to throw a party for us? Not just the collective, beautiful us, but the individual who wanders off completely ignoring everyone else. God throws a party for the judgmental, crabby, uncaring us. It is never about who deserves a party and who doesn’t. There is simply a celebration – no questions asked.
One of our favorite family songs is You Cannot Lose My Love by Sara Groves. It is written for her children and the lyrics are:
You will lose your baby teeth.
At times, you'll lose your faith in me.
You will lose a lot of things,
But you cannot lose my love.
You will lose your confidence.
In times of trial, your common sense.
You may lose your innocence,
But you cannot lose my love.
- Sara Groves – You Cannot Lose My Love
Can you hear God saying, “I know you will wander off. You will lose your way. You will act like you don’t care. You will do many stupid things. You will disappoint those around you. But you cannot lose my love. I will come looking for you. I will not stop until I find you. When I find you, I will celebrate and invite the whole world to join with me.”
That is the God we worship. It is astonishing to realize that God will travel to the end of the earth to find us and bring us home. We are never so lost that this relentless God cannot find us. This extravagant God throws the party of the century when we are found. How do we respond to a love that big?
*God’s vulnerability taken from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermon: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/03/sermon-the-parable-of-the-prodigal-father/