Where are you? It’s one of the fundamental questions of existence. From the earliest ages we teach it. We teach babies to play peek a boo, and help kids learn to check in with us. Through out life, that question of “where are you” is about the connectivity of relationships. Years ago when I was a young mom, our older daughter Catherine and her Daisy scout troop were scheduled to march in a Halloween parade in a neighboring town. And she was all dressed up as a princess, which was her constant theme at that age. She had a little tiara, and a dress I made, all pink and fluffy fabric, and ballet slippers. After the parade was done, her group was still gathered with their leaders when our younger daughter Alex, announced she had to find a bathroom. NOW! So I left Catherine in the care of her leaders with their permission while Alex and I wove our way through the crowd to the volunteer fire company to take care of business. Well, when I returned, Catherine was shockingly nowhere to be found. It was night, and there was a swarm of people, we did not know. And I did not see her or her leaders. And I knew that the post parade party for the group gathering was not at all a place for a 5 year old princess.
I picked up our younger daughter and began frantically searching. Looking for anyone who could tell me if they had seen Catherine, or even anyone I recognized. Finally, blocks away I found the leader with whom I had entrusted Catherine, who seemed unconcerned, and had forgotten her job was to stay with our daughter. But she was sure it would be OK, and since she had other things to do, waved goodbye.
She kind of treated my daughter like an object for the lost and found. And she drove away. And I was left facing that “where are you?” feeling that my daughter was seemingly invisible and unimportant to her. And I felt lost too. Now I was doubly frantic, and walked back through the whole swarm of people again, when I caught just a glimpse of the pink. And there she was, talking to a couple who sometimes worshipped at our church. She just wandered over and talked to people who were nice to her, and they recognized that she was probably not there alone. She wasn’t really thinking she was lost, but she was kind of alone. They just talked to her and kept her there safe, knowing a grownup would appear. They were just being good people, and reassured me it was nothing really.
But of course it was huge. Because while she was lost to me, finding her was of critical importance. She must be returned to me. And while part of me wondered what led her to wander off or who had let her, or whether I had trusted the wrong person, none of that mattered when she was found. Then the number one thing, the only thing on my mind was absolute gratitude that she was found! In fact for me, it was a celebration!
And I think that’s what is happening in the gospel and how God sees us.
Where are you? Is one of the first things God says to humans in Genesis, it’s the burning demand of the prophets. And now Jesus has come. Jesus has come for the sinners. Those separated. Those who may not have been feeling lost, but maybe feeling alone. Who might be vulnerable and invisible to others. Who for whatever reason seemed unimportant to the leaders entrusted with their care. They weren’t worth getting worked up over. Jesus surely should have better things to do. Some things just end up lost.
But it’s then that Jesus tells the parables- those stories that illustrate a truth, today a look into God’s heart. About a sheep and a coin. A shepherd so focused on finding the one who wandered off, and the woman who rips her house apart looking for that one coin. Because no matter how being lost has happened, restoration is vital. Lost must be found. That’s God’s heart.
Recently I found out that I had a role in a story like that. God showed me the end of a Lost Sheep story in a place where I was just doing my ordinary life. We call the hospitals every day to see who’s been admitted. Many months ago when I was still pretty new, the hospital computer said a woman from our parish had been admitted. She was kind of unknown, but I went to visit and learned her story and kept visiting. That's my job. Eventually I was there just before death with the family. And later presided over a service. That night in the hospital and again at the church, off handedly someone said how good it was they had all gathered. I had no idea. That they hardly ever gathered like that.
But recently I got a call recently from one of her daughters. I learned that whole family was baptized here. I was shown a baptismal napkin and a Bible in a box with Jesus on it. All the kids were baptized here. But then there were years of hard living and feeling lost. For everyone. The mom had not been here, and in fact had messed up pretty good over time. And sadly, really no one was looking for them. Now her adult daughter said she wrestled with that fact her mom hadn’t been who she could have. In the end she knew it. "But when you came and said we could entrust her to God who was waiting I realized what I have been missing. Yeah she messed up but God still brought her home."
And then God brought this daughter back. That’s God’s heart for us.
Ironically, that hospital lists people as connected with a congregation when you say so, but over time, even 35 years later, nothing changes unless you say so. You see, the woman who was sick, whose name showed up that day, never actually asked for God to send the clueless new pastor. But God was bringing her home.
Neither the coin nor the sheep ask to be found. The wayward and estranged daughter wasn’t asking to be reunited. But regardless of the reasons for being separated, and what forgiveness and mercy were needed, God’s heart would not rest until they were restored.
And their return to the relationships God gave brought blessings unexpected and in ways broader than might be obvious. Can you imagine a God who loves like that?
And a God who uses us in this work?
Sometimes it might seem we are doing nothing really. Shepherds are supposed to tend flocks; the housewife was expected to tend her house. Pastors are supposed to visit people. What about the fellow church goers who secured my daughter? They’re just like each of you when people cross your paths. Not enough people in our world do what they did – tend relationships. But even so, more than we know, sometimes when we are "just doing our job" whatever it is, God is doing life.
Each of you is here today because of it. Some of you because you’re “doing a job” and some feeling lost, and some perhaps feeling thankful. All of you are really here because God’s heart sought you out. Which leads me to the best part. The parties.
When I had the kids read this lesson on Wednesday, I asked what they thought about all the parties. Which drew a giant, WHAT??? What parties?
There are three- the one Jesus is in that draws the criticism. And the two in our parable-when what was lost was found. When “where are you?” has been answered. They show us what happens when Jesus is in our midst. Not only do we glimpse God’s ceaseless desire to draw us to God- that’s what repentance is. They show us reunited to a God who will go to all lengths to find us, to celebrate and who thinks that no matter what, we’re worth it. That’s why we’re here!
If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.
Let’s pray: Lord, thank you for your restless heart that finds us even when we don't know we're lost, and showers us with abundant love and mercy. May this inspire us to spread the party
Far and wide.