Get lost! Pretty forceful words: Get lost. Go away. Get out of here. No one likes to be told to get lost.
And yet lostness is exactly where we find ourselves in our readings today.
What does it mean to be lost? So many things:
- We can be physically lost on a road trip, which is frustrating, but nothing a GPS device or old-fashioned map can’t fix.
- Or we can lose our things to a lost-and-found box, which is annoying, but not exactly life-altering, short of losing something of sentimental value. (I hardly think anyone is coming back for the single earring, funny shaped key to who-knows-what, or reading glasses held together by scotch tape – all of which presently adorn the lost-and-found bulletin board down the hall from my office at the Cross of Life Campus.)
Often, however, we experience being lost in less tangible, sometimes painful ways. Moments when lostness feels like being disconnected, alienated, or alone. Being human, we’re no strangers to this kind of lostness:
- We get lost when the divorce is finalized or a meaningful relationship comes to an end.
- We get lost after the death of a loved one, whether we know it’s coming or not.
- We get lost when we hear the diagnosis and our health and sense of independence start to decline.
- We get lost when our future feels uncertain after being fired or laid off, or not getting into to the college we had so desperately hoped for.
- We get lost when addiction takes over and we finally hit rock bottom.
Lostness can be downright stifling. Lostness is to experience what the writer of Psalm 88 felt when they declared, “Darkness is my only companion.”
Our biblical ancestors know what it means to be lost: In our first reading, we find the Israelites lost in the desert, as they begin to fear the loss of Moses their leader, who has left them alone as he goes up Mount Sinai. They’re alone and scared. They fear they’ve been abandoned. Seeking some semblance of hope and safety, they turn to a golden calf in the apparent loss of even the presence of their God.
Whatever the nature of our lostness, I think it’s fair to say we’ve all experienced getting lost in one form or another.
Most painful of all, there’s the kind of lostness imposed on us by others who tell us to get lost for who we are, or what we believe, or what we look like, or where we come from – the kind of lostness that makes us feel ashamed, excluded, and overlooked.
This past week, I had the opportunity to hear the moving and emotional choral work Considering Matthew Shepard that retells the story of Matt – as he was known to his family – who was a college student at the University of Wyoming in 1998. Maybe you remember his story: Matt was only 21 years old when he was brutally beaten and left for dead – the target of an apparent hate crime because he was gay. Matt was left alone, abandoned, on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, by all accounts lost. Less than a week later, when he died, the world would grieve and lament – their own kind of lostness.
In the midst of such devastating lostness, where do we look for hope? Where is the joy of being found? What does it even mean to be found?
What could be the song?
Where begin again?
From the shadows climb,
Rise to sing again;
Where could be the joy?
Where could be the joy?
The joy comes in being found.
There is joy in being found:
- The shepherd rejoices at finding his lost sheep.
- The woman rejoices at finding her lost coin.
- Even the Israelites hear again the good news of God’s presence by way of Moses’s reminder – the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and all their descendants.
In our lostness, God finds us and God rejoices – no matter how lost in the wilderness we are, no matter how far we have strayed, no matter how far we have been cast aside.
Being found is:
- Connection with another person in the midst of loss and grief.
- The experience of recovery – naming our addictions, claiming our stories, and being vulnerable to getting help and making things right.
- Being seen and named as a human being and not only as our medical diagnosis or mental illness.
Being found is to experience love and to live love and to be love. To defiantly and boldly declare that hate and lostness will not get the final word. To tell lostness itself to get lost.
Once more, the choir sings:
What could be the song?
Where do we begin?
Only in the Love, Love that lifts us up.
God never stops searching us out. God is the love that lifts us up. God is the love that finds us, again and again.
And when we know what it means to be found like that, no matter how we have been lost or for how long, we are compelled to search out and find others who are lost, to bring them back to the safety of the fold we have experienced, to pick them up, dust them off, and say to them: you are home, you are beloved, you belong.
Where do we begin? Only in the Love. Love that calls all of us to seek those who are lost, to find them, to welcome them back, as God has first welcomed us back.
God is where the lost things are (Debie Thomas), and God will stop at nothing to go to the very edges of lostness to find us and bring us back. To pick us up, dust us off, and embrace us in an everlasting embrace – no matter how we’ve come to be lost, or how long we’ve been lost.
And if God is where the lost things are, then we are called to get lost, my friends.
Get lost! Get lost in the waters of this font that wash over us and name us as God’s beloved. Get lost in the fullness of this meal that fills us with God’s love. Get lost in the kind of reckless love of a God who gets lost for us. Get lost in the joy of finding and being found.