Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Lost Found

Proper 19C, 2016, Scripture Appointed for today linked here


Lamentation runs throughout our tradition.

And the beauty of this, is that lamentation laments what is yet hold hope for what might be. 

Our passage from Jeremiah today holds to this.  Lamenting the reality of God’s beloved people’s failings and the subsequent upheaval of their lives while holding forth the possibility for transformation. 

Lamentation holds hope when hope seems lost. Lamentation is the grieving over what is while clinging to the possibility that this is not all that is.

This is the lament of a God who has been betrayed and God’s abiding love—a love that cannot be turned away.  And, yes, the earth will mourn but there will be grace beyond the disaster.

I was asked recently, about the nature of suffering. How to hold the teachings of God’s omnipotence next to our experience of pain in this world…

And, in exploring this question, in walking the journey of my own life…

I have reached an understanding that has brought me enormous comfort. 

Many of you are likely familiar with the Michaelengelo’s sculpture, La Pieta.

In this sculpture the blessed Mary holds the body of her dead son.

She cannot fix what has been broken.  She cannot heal or mend. But, she does what she can--she stays and she holds and she grieves and she embraces.

And he is not alone. 

When I need to lend shape to God’s love for us, I meditate upon this image.

Given the truth of suffering, this is the image I need in order to walk the path set before me. That in the midst our hurting, we are not alone. That we are held by a God who knows all too deeply our pain. And, out of that place of knowing, accompanies us so that we are never alone in our suffering. 

The prophet uses words that have been translated to read to us as “the poor people”, words that could also read as “the beloved people”…and in that place pity becomes compassion and God yearns for the beloved who have turned away.

And, yet, they are still beloved.  And the prophet’s phrasing juxtaposed with the psalmists offer of comfort in the midst of castigation.

“you would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.”

The poor, the beloved, the hurting, the fearful…enfolded within the embrace of the God who knows most intimately what it is to live and what it is to die.

The God who holds us all the while.

La pieta, the pity.

The pain.

The compassion.

The hope.

The hope that even when we are lost we will not be alone.  

When I was in college I had the privilege of meeting William Sloane Coffin Jr.  Bill Coffin, who died in 2006, was the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City and a peace activist.  He was also a grieving father.  His son died in his early twenties and in a sermon that Bill Coffin delivered ten days following his son’s death, he spoke these words

“My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” 

God’s heart broke. God was there, God saw, and God’s heart broke.

And, therein is our consolation.

These are heavy words and sorrowful thoughts for a day dedicated to our ministries. But, these are needful words. 

And, these are not intended for our desolation and they are not to be heard in isolation. 

The Gospel today, juxtaposed with the prophet, juxtaposed with the images come across our newsfeed of fallen towers and a lost little boy, juxtaposed with this our own gathering…

And, in this juxtaposition is the grace of the Good News, the good news of a shepherd who has found the one who is lost while the rest of the herd waits, hopes and prays.

The 99 are as Christ to each other while Christ abides with the one who’s been lost.

99 left in the wilderness, and 1 in the company of the shepherd.

No one is alone and all will be found.

I have said in the past that scripture makes it clear that we will walk in the valley of the shadow of death—but, it also makes it clear that we shall not be alone there.  In our gathering, we keep the promise that none of us will be alone in the valley and in this Gospel we hear of God’s commitment that those who have been lost from the gathering will be found by God.

Desolation become consolation. Sorrow become joy. Tears to laughter. And the Christian hope is proclaimed.  Today we celebrate that we are not alone in our ministry and that God has gone in search of those who’ve been lost to us but never, never, never lost to God.    

There are two places in the Gospel of Luke when the heavens are described as joyful—when Jesus is born and when the lost are returned. And, so even whilst we mourn, we are called to celebration that someday this incomplete gathering will be made complete through the love of God.

And, so in celebration, let us sing.

"King Of Love"

The King of Love my Shepherd is
Whose goodness faileth never
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever
And He is mine forever

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Lost and foolish off I strayed
But yet in love He sought me
And on His shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me

In death’s dark veil I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me
Thy rod and staff my comfort still
Thy cross before to guide me

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Oh, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Oh, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never
Good Shepherd, may I sing Your praise
Within Your house forever
Within Your house forever



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