It’s a weird thing, but I tend not to lose the extremely important things in my life: I know where my tax returns are, where my birth certificate and ordination certificates are, and where the dog and cat are. What I cannot seem to keep track of are those other things—important things, but not critical. High on that list would be my car keys. I have left them in every conceivable place: in the freezer while putting away groceries, in the bathroom linen closet, and on every horizontal surface in the house. And when I’m trying to leave the house for work or even for church, quite frequently I am running around the house looking for those keys. I look in likely places, and then in less likely places. I try to be methodical in my search, starting with the most logical and ending with the least likely.
I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. When I wore glasses, I left them in all sorts of interesting places: I’ve found them in the trunk of my car, in the wine cellar and even in the clothes dryer. We won’t even talk about the remotes for the TV and TIvo and that darned cordless phone!
We’ve all lost things before. Some were misplaced, some were accidentally set down, some were dropped unknowingly. Some end up in “lost and found” boxes in places we swear we never even went to, and sometimes they end up in our own pockets or, I am ashamed to say, even in our own hands!
Because we have all lost things, we know all about the emotions that Jesus is describing in these two short parables. We know about the frantic search that doesn’t end until what was lost is found. And when we find what’s been lost, we know about the relief that ensues and our tendency to tell other people about our good fortune.
We can visualize the woman who frantically searches for her lost coin. We can almost hear her broom as it sweeps across the floor, as she reaches under the beds and into the dark corners of her house.
And while not all of us have livestock, we can picture the distress of the man who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in a safe place and goes out looking for the one that was lost.
In both cases, we can comprehend their relief and joy as they report their success. Unfortunately, we also know the sorrow of losing something and not being able to find it. I lost my high school graduation ring the summer after I graduated. I’ve lost the addresses and contact information of people I cared about, and was unable to continue the relationship. I’ve lost special gifts, treasured pictures, and a great deal of my sons’ artwork from when they were little.
We all know what it means to search and search only to realize it will never be found.
Twelve years ago that was part of our grieving over the news reports from New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. We mourned for the many people lost on 9/11, and the longer the searching continued, the less hope we had that they would be found alive. Remembering that day at school this past week, as we had another moment of silence, was very emotional for me. I stood with all my students, all of whom were toddlers when the twin towers came down. They have never known the feelings of safety and security that I grew up with: instead, they have only known a world of uncertainty, a world desperately searching for stability and wholeness.
So, as I encountered once more the emotional anguish I carry within myself, I came to another realization. The whole world has changed in the past dozen years and there is another frantic search underway. Whenever we find the thing we have lost, we say we found it “in the last place we looked.” That’s because we stop our searching once the lost has been found.
And as I watched again the twin towers come crashing to the ground, the people running in terror, and the footage of the fire and rescue personnel searching desperately in the rubble, it hit me. We are still searching. We’re searching in Fort Wayne and in New York. We’re searching at the synagogue and we’re searching in every church and place of worship. We’re searching as individuals and we’re searching as a nation.
But it isn’t a search for missing pets, persons, or possessions. Nor is it a search for someone to blame because we’re past all that. The foundations of the world we grew up in have been destroyed, the basis of our society has been challenged, and we’re trying to make sense of it. And, we’re searching in a way that suggests something has been missing. It’s as if we know we had the answer at one point in time, and only now are we realizing that it’s been lost.
When we lose something, we start by reflecting on when and where we last had it in our possession. When I lost my car keys, for instance, I started by asking myself what else I was doing when I came in from the car. The grocery bags lead me to the keys in the refrigerator.
So when was the last time we had an answer to the kind of world changing tragedies we experienced 12 years ago this past week? What has changed since then? Some will say it was simpler times, slower times. They will point to the speed with which we heard the reports, for instance, and suggest that we lost any sense of answers with the advent of CNN. Some will say it was the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and can be traced back at least to the Iranian Hostage crisis over thirty years ago. Others will say it began when Americans became arrogant about their ability to sway world events and opinions, an arrogance that almost always reports tragedies in terms of the number of American lives affected as if they are the only important lives.
I am convinced we had it at one point. In that sense, I think we are very much like Job who sought to understand his suffering. His friends – if you could call them that – all had their answers, some of which were trite, all of which were useless to Job. He thought he understood God and demanded an accounting from God for the disasters that struck. In the end, his answer came when he stood in awe before the God who had stood with him in the midst of his suffering. Job had misunderstood the role of God in his life and in the world.
So, what have we lost that we are so frantically seeking to recover? It is the fundamental Mystery of God. And we don’t even realize that that is what we seek because we’ve grown up in an era where technology has held all the answers because it holds all our faith.
We know the speed of light. We know that E=MC2. We know how to build buildings. We know how to fight fires. We even know how to trace the lives of passengers on planes and determine who the terrorists were.
We have spent a lot of time wondering why tragedies strike, but none of those answers satisfy the soul. This is because our souls are yearing to know that we have not been abandoned by God.
And God remains a silent mystery. Try as we might, there are no satisfying human explanations for who God is. And the irony is that while we are looking for God as if God is the one who’s missing, God has been searching for us because we are the ones who are misplaced.
Into our aimless wandering comes Jesus, seeking the lost. His parables are presented to us to help us understand the heart of God. Jesus does not seeking God because God isn’t lost: he comes seeking us because we are the lost.
We have, each of us, witnessed and experienced enormous losses. This past week’s anniversary is yet another loss that has taken its toll on our spiritual and emotional health. But I am absolutely convinced that God is always with us, always with us to weep with us, because He has not abandoned us, no matter how it feels sometimes.
In the midst of suffering and loss, we wait in the silence and God is revealed in the pain. Hope can return in even the darkest night, and we can regain a sense of purpose and direction for our lives. And no trauma, no disaster, no peril can separate us from God. God’s frantic search for us ends whenever we slow down long enough to be found.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)