A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 11, 2022

By: David May, Rector


I think we could be forgiven for getting a little lost in the swirl of events – both near and far – that are going on all at once right now. Though it seemed like she could possibly live forever, Queen Elizabeth II has died and with her death the world has lost a visible, living connection to a much older and different world is gone, and probably more than that has been lost with her passing. Today is also the 21st anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a tragic and traumatic day that changed the world. When I watch the documentaries of that day (which has become almost an annual ritual for me) I still find myself saying, ‘what is happening?!’ in the present tense as if its still happening. Trauma operates like that, leading you back to the feelings you had when it first happened. Psychologists tell us that is because we are trying to get back to that original time and place, like retracing your steps, to find something that you know you’ve lost.

Nearer to home, today is the first nearly normal Kickoff Sunday for us in three years. There are children who the last time we saw them were being carried around in their parents’ arms and who today are walking around just fine on their own. And talking. For the past several months here at church, I’ve seen us try to pick up where we left off before the pandemic with limited success. For starters, that’s because we just lost contact with all of those regular routines and habits that shaped our life before and kept things rolling. So, we’re finding new ones, or trying to.

And nearer still to home, to right here, right now, we’re going to take time to dedicate and bless these new green hangings that are a gift from Georga Williams to the church in loving memory of her mother. We received these hangings from England just before the pandemic and with church closures and all the rest haven’t had the chance to thank God for Agnus Dyson Smith represented by this gift. But this is one dropped stitch that we can go back and pick up.

And we began our service today with something I’ve never been a part of but am so glad for it. Missy Roberts, our Senior Warden, with Wayne Dementi, our Junior Warden read a letter from the vestry for you the people of St. Mary’s. It’s a letter that reminds me that even if we’re not exactly sure where we are, we can be sure of the voice of the Good Shepherd calling this flock to be his own. And we have been given gifts by his grace that haven’t been lost.

And so we’re beginning a new program year on a little bit of a wing and a prayer, a little bit put together with scotch tape and chewing gum, not entirely sure where everything is and aware of things and people and times that have been lost. “Time like an ever rolling stream bears all our years away” as the great hymn ‘O God our help in ages past’ tells us. But we’re here in this sacred place/ together/ today/ to listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd.

Jesus’s response to some crabby religious traditionalists is such a good word for us to hear today. He tells us about things that get lost that apparently his detractors are just fine with staying lost, beginning with ‘tax collectors and sinners’. Good riddance, I guess. ‘Tax collectors and sinners’ is the catch-all phrase the Pharisees and scribes use for people who in their estimation have put themselves beyond the reach of God’s loving care and we would be well-advised to follow God’s lead on that. Besides, they probably got themselves lost anyway. They should pay the consequences. Case closed.

And I’m sure we do get our own selves lost by our own choices. Sure. I’m sure that’s right. But Jesus tells us two stories about a single sheep and a single silver coin that get lost that don’t have one thing to do with bad choices. Sometimes things just get lost. Sometimes we just get lost. No choice was made. It just happens. The opening line of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ contains the same insight. Dante wrote: “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost”. For some reason, he just comes to and discovers he’s lost. He has no idea where he is anymore. Sometimes we just get lost. And when you’re lost like that, how do you get yourself found?

The lost sheep in Jesus’s parable, as one commentator put it, apparently just ‘nibbled himself lost’, one bite led to the next to the next til after a while, he lifts his head up, chewing, and goes, ‘uh oh’. Who knows how the single coin ends up under a dust bunny under the bed. It just does.

And even if the sanctimonious few look down their noses at those who get lost, Jesus doesn’t. Because it is the property of God always to have mercy until what is lost is found.

One of the great pandemic stories of St. Mary’s Church took place during Holy Week, 2021. On Good Friday, members of the church staff were preparing the west parking lot for the service that was going to be there Easter Morning. We were attempting to spray paint 10 X 10 squares six feet apart from each other on the gravel in some kind of orderly pattern. I’m not sure why it was such a challenge except that we like everyone else had had it with ‘pivoting’ to plan B. After a while, pivoting stops being a creative opportunity and becomes just plain too much. Anyway we’d all been at it for a while when I became aware that Emily Bruch, our Director of Youth Ministries then, was weeping, sobbing really. I looked at her across the parking lot. The wind was blowing. It was cold, cold, and as I looked Emily crying, I thought she looked like ‘Rachel weeping for her children who were no more’, as the Scriptures say. That’s how profound her grief was. It seems that when Emily went to look at her brand new engagement ring sparkling on her finger (because apparently that’s what you do a lot when you’re newly engaged), it was gone.

When was it lost? How was it lost? Who knows, it was just lost. Poor Emily, she just cried and cried. She got lots of hugs but it was still lost. I don’t know but looking at her at one point I saw she’d lost her ring, a thing. But looking at her, it was my guess that she had lost more than just a ring. And she had.

Of course, we all spread out and put our noses to the gravel and scanned every square inch of that parking lot, because she needed it back on her finger along with everything it meant to her returned to her as well. Eventually, we had to give up looking because we had to finish spraying those squares. I didn’t have the heart to make the connection that her ring had been lost on Good Friday.

I don’t know how the word got around but it did. And the next morning, Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, three men, Tennie Wellford and his son Ty, and Gordon Lohr were out there with their metal detector things and head phones on searching searching, sweeping the metal detectors back and forth, back and forth – like the woman sweeping and searching for her lost coin. Til finally, one of them, Ty I think, heard a little bleet like a lamb on his headphones and there was Emily’s ring shining in the gravel. I wasn’t there but I saw Emily later that day with her ring on her finger and all the rest that had been lost, found, and restored in her spirit. I think a whole lot more than just a ring was found for her when it went back on her finger.

When we lose things, it’s never just the thing we lose, it’s never just a choice we made, not the kind of lost things Jesus is talking about.

We have all lost things and been lost where no amount of retracing our steps will get you found. But hear this, we are Jesus’s Beloved Community who know how to seep and sweep and search and search because his love has made that so. We know the voice of the Good Shepherd and he knows each of you by name. We have been marked in baptism as Christ’s own forever. His joy and the joy of the angels of heaven is to search and search until what is lost is found. Amen.