We all are sought

Pentecost 17, Proper 19C

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I don’t typically misplace things.  In fact, I’m the one many of my friends turn to when they’ve misplaced things.  I’m good at remembering where I saw them last and also at imagining where they might have been forgotten.

So in the few times when I have misplaced something, it’s stood out.

I remember one time when I lost my keys.

I first noticed that they were lost on a Friday afternoon.  I had popped into my office to check on something for the following Sunday, when a sudden, inexplicable shift in the wind happened and the door to my house slammed shut.

Dread swept over me.

Instantly I felt in my pocket.  I always keep my keys in my left pocket.  But this time I felt, and there was nothing.  I stepped over to the door to see if maybe I had left it unlocked, which, of course, I hadn’t.

Fortunately, the parish sexton came to my rescue and was able to let me back into the house, but the deeper problem remained.  I had to find those keys.

For most of the next day I searched through the house, high and low.  I checked the pants that I’d worn the day before.  I checked on every flat surface in the house.  I checked in the couch cushions.  I checked under the bed.  I checked places I’d check five times before.

I couldn’t sleep Friday night for thinking about where those keys had gone.  When I tried to relax in front of the TV, I couldn’t get through a show because I’d go check somewhere else or again somewhere I’d already checked.

By Saturday afternoon, panic had started to set in.  I was having terrifying visions of expensive locksmith bills for the church, the rectory, and my car; visions of wasted time and being unable to leave the house or to drive.

But, then, when my search widened to places that they couldn’t possibly be, of course, that’s exactly where I found them.  They were in my office: sitting about ten inches from the place where I had waited the day before for the sexton to come and rescue me.

Of course this is something of a silly story of loss, but we all know what its like to lose things.  To lose people, even.

To lose relationships through death or estrangement.  To lose jobs.  To lose security.  Sometimes even to lose hopes or dreams or expectations.

We understand the fear and the confusion.  We understand the sadness.

When we’re lucky enough to find them again, we understand the joy and relief.

In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells two short parables that use somewhat “silly” stories of loss - not unlike my lost keys - to illustrate a larger point.

We are told, “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.”  Some of the most undesirable people of society came to sit at the feet of the teacher.  And the teacher was foolish enough to welcome them.  The leaders of the community were “grumbling” – not so much because Jesus would dare to teach, but because Jesus would dare to welcome.

When we hear parables or other stories from the Bible, we often imagine where we would fit into the story.  Are we the shepherd or the woman: desperately searching for the one that was lost?  Are we the sheep or the coin: isolated and alone, immobilized and unable to reach out to the one who seeks us?

But even beyond the parable – are we Christ: spreading the good news of the radical love of God even to those who seem most unworthy?  Are we the “tax collectors and sinners”: most unworthy ourselves?

Are we the Pharisees and the scribes sitting in judgment of people practicing the love of God?

I think the default position for most people is to identify as the seeker.  Like the shepherd and the widow, we’ve been there.  Whether it’s for something silly like keys or something or someone more significant, we have all sought.  We can identify with that role.

But similarly, not only have we all sought, we all are sought.

There’s a degree to which we are the tax collectors and sinners.  We are the bottom rungs of society for whom the “welcome” of Christ might seem least likely.  But we receive it nonetheless.

We understand the joy and the relief when we’ve found what we’ve been looking for.  Just imagine the joy and the relief that comes when we - the least likely and the lost - have been found.

But sometimes, there’s also a degree to which we can be the Pharisees and the scribes.  Perhaps we expect the welcome of Christ for ourselves and then feel threatened when it’s shared with those on the outside.  But we receive it all the same.  We are found even when we didn’t know we were lost.  With all the same joy and all the same relief.

It’s like the parable of the lost keys that I lived through once before: when I widened my search to include those places where “they couldn’t possibly be,” I found them.

So, too, when we widen our searching for the love of God to those places that logic and experience tells us that it couldn’t possibly be, that’s precisely where we will always find it: among the misdeeds of the tax collectors and the sinners; among the arrogance of the Pharisees and the scribes; even among the misdeeds and arrogance that exists within ourselves.

We are all, at one time or another, lost.

And even though we are lost, we are sought.  Amen.

(this sermon draws from a previous version which appears here.)