Being lost and alone, adrift and missing.
This seems to be a common theme arising from the scriptures this morning.
Jesus speaks of one sheep gone missing, and the shepherd leaving the 99 in search of that one lost sheep.
And the woman desperately searching for that one lost coin in her room.
The early church missionary Paul, in his letter to Timothy, writes about how, at one point in his life, he was “lost” in life; a “sinner”, the “foremost” of sinners; a violent, blaspheming, self-centred man.
The prophet Jeremiah declares how “lost” the nation Israel was: how “foolish” and “stupid” and “skilled in doing evil” they were.
And the Psalmist echoes Jeremiah’s observation, saying: “There’s no one who does any good… all have gone astray…”
All are lost in life.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we all know – to varying degrees - what it means, and feels like to be lost, disoriented.
Lost in fear, doubt and confusion…… after losing a job, letting go of a hope or dream, or losing a loved one to cancer, or the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s…
That sense of feeling cast adrift in the waves of confusion and loneliness, either as a result of what happens to us in life outside our direct control, or by the poor choices we ourselves make on account of our addictions, greed, or self-serving interests.
We know the feeling of being “lost.”
Even worse, is when we don’t know it, when we don’t know or admit to being lost.
Two years ago I was hiking on parts of the Bruce Trail up near Tobermorry.
Armed with my map, and good sense of direction, I was excited and pretty confident in my ability to follow this particular trail I was going on, and not get lost.
The foot path meandered in front of me, bending around birch trees, aspen, pine and ash trees, over rocks, and dried-out stream beds.
I frequently checked the map. I kept noticing those small painted white markers on tree bark and rock faces in front of me.
All was good.
I soon caught up to two other hikers; a mother in her late fifties and daughter in late twenties.
We shared a friendly greeting as I passed them on my brisk hike.
Time passed as I hiked along at a good pace.
I eventually came to this unexpected and unmapped fork in the trail.
Surprised and confused, I looked down each pathway; both looked well-travelled, both had those white markers on the trees lining the pathway.
With a shrug, I just simply picked the one on my right and followed it.
I soon forgot about that moment of confusion, and continued to enjoy the trees and rocks and outdoor air.
Suddenly my confusion returned to me full blast when I noticed the mother and her daughter whom I had overtaken earlier, coming toward me on the trail!
I stopped, shocked and confused: They should’ve been behind me, not in front of me.
And then with a rush of awareness, I realized that somehow, likely at that weird fork in the trail, without knowing it I had looped around, and was back-tracking along the way I had come!
The mother, daughter and I shared an embarrassing chuckle over this, and then together we made our way in the proper direction on the pathway until we came again to that weird fork in the trail.
This time, we took the left fork, and sure enough in time, we arrived at our destination.
I’ve since thought about that period of time during my hike when I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was back-tracking along the same trail, without knowing it, not realizing I was lost and going in the wrong direction, fully convinced in my own mind, that I was going in the right direction, doing the right thing.
And then, that moment of sinking, embarrassing realization, that I had been wrong.
Have there been times in your lives, when you’ve realized suddenly that you had been lost, moving in the wrong direction, not making the best choices, thinking you were on the right track, while all along, you weren’t?
Could it be that, even in this moment, at this time in our own lives, we may be “lost” without even knowing it?
The good news is, that even in the depths of our lost-ness, even if we don’t know we are lost, God is searching for us, trying to find us, to bring us back on track, to show us the way.
This is what grace is.
This is what the scriptures and our faith traditions teach us: that ultimately, it is not we who get ourselves “un-lost”, and healed and back on track … but God.
God pursues us, find us, and brings us back on track, showing us the way to abundant living, and the truth of our situation.
So relentlessly does God search for us, that God has come to us in Jesus.
Jesus’s own family history and genealogy say something important about his ability to identify with, completely understand and sympathize with our “lost-ness.”
Consider his ancestors, many of whom were so “lost” in different ways…
… Jacob, the son who stole his older brother’s birthright;
… Tamar, the woman who tricked Judah, her father-in-law, into getting her pregnant;
… Boaz and Ruth, an illegal immigrant who seduced her future husband;
… King David’s son Solomon, who was the offspring of a relationship that began in adultery;
… King Uzziah, who tried to usurp the priesthood and was subsequently struck with leprosy….
… and on it goes.
These ancestors of Jesus were all “lost” in so many ways!
His ancestry is the human story of faith and faithlessness, of “being found” and “getting lost”, of good deeds and wicked ones, of saintly actions and dubious intentions, of fidelity and duplicity.
Jesus may be “king” in the royal line of King David, but his family is pretty much the same as everyone else’s.
As author and theologian Diana Butler Bass puts it, “Jesus has a family genogram that could keep a therapist occupied for years.”
Such is our God in Jesus, who not only completely identifies with, fully understands, and sympathizes with us, but also relentlessly seeks and searches us out.
And when God, the “Hound of Heaven”, finally finds and embraces us, we begin to change, and be transformed with the renewing of our hearts and minds, growing towards the full stature of Christ, toward a greater wisdom, beauty and goodness.
Praise be to God!