Losing things is such a pain. I thought I lost my car keys once.
Okay, honesty compels me to share that in the history of my life, I have thought that my car keys were lost at least 972 times. And, honesty also compels me to share that what I am about to tell you has happened more than once.
I was headed out the door not long ago, with seven arms full of things in my two arms. You know how it is--a file, a laptop, some dry cleaning, a couple of books, a partridge in a pear tree. And, as I managed to open the door and head to my car, I noticed that I didn't know where my car keys were.
"Where are those things?" So, I searched the world over. On the kitchen counter next to the coffee maker? Nope. On the mantle? Nope. On the coffee table? Nope. Next to the front door? Nope. Upstairs I trudged, two arms still full of seven arms worth of things. On the bedside table? Nope. Bathroom counter? Nope. In the shorts I had on last night? Nope.
This is getting serious now. Losing things is such a pain.
So, after a few minutes of searching, I decided that it was crazy to conduct such a search with two arms full of seven arms full of things. So, I started putting down the seven arms full of things in my two arms. And, as I put down the last of the seven arms full of things and freed my two hands, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Have you ever done this? Yep. In my left hand, ring over my finger, safely in place, my keys. Please don't tell anybody what I said a minute ago. That's not the first time I've done that. Losing things is no fun.
Today's lectionary text from Luke 15 is about losing things. Whenever you hear Luke 15, think about losing and finding. There are three stories in this chapter, parables Jesus tells about losing and finding. There's a shepherd who lost a sheep, a woman who lost a coin, and a father who lost not one, but two sons.
Now, you've heard about Luke 15. And, you know how most lessons on this part of Scripture go. We're the lost sheep or the lost coin. And, like a kind shepherd or a persistent woman, God searches for us until God finds us. And, don't worry. God will keep searching until God finds. So, in the traditional reflections Luke 15, we often identify with that which is lost.
What if we shift our location in this text? Rather than identifying with the wayward sheep or the lost coin, what if we identify with the kind shepherd and the persistent woman? What if we see ourselves not as the thing that is lost, but as the searching person who has lost something? That's where my heart's been lately, and I don't suppose that I'm along in that.
We all know what loss feels like. It is a disorienting thing to lose something. And, unlike an absent-minded guy looking high and low for his car keys, knowing all the while that a spare set is safely tucked away for him to grab anytime he wants, these passages intend to speak of the loss of something irreplaceable and of inestimable value. The shepherd and the woman search for the sheep and the coin out of love and concern for what cannot be replaced. And, we all know what it's like to have lost what something that we really wanted.
And, I suppose my mind goes there with Luke 15 because irrespective of the usual painful losses we experience, we are living in a time that is characterized by loss. We've lost money. We've lost jobs. People are losing houses. We've lost respect in the public square. We call names better than we work together. In the present-day political landscape, things have degraded into such shrill abrasiveness. And, while the world cries out for solutions, it seems that we've lost the art of holding hands and have perfected the art of taking sides. And, a place that you'd usually expect to be a refuge from such ugliness, religion, has also become the landscape for name-calling and even worse. Fundamentalists from Christianity and Islam and Judaism seem hell-bent on driving the car right into the ditch, threatening to blow up other people or to burn up other people's Holy Books. We've lost our sense of kindness. We've lost a sense of confidence that things will get better and that the generations coming after us will automatically prosper more than we, just like we prospered more than the generations that handed things to us.
And, you pile all of this together, and it's not a pretty picture. You take the normal losses of life-divorce, death, illness-and add to them the unique kind of losses we are experiencing these days, economically and politically, and it's not fun. People are hurting. High unemployment, shrinking wages, bad air, high crime, long commutes, depressed housing. We are dealing with loss in elegant ways.
Now you know why I think of us today more as a shepherd or a woman than as a sheep or a coin. We're all searching, because we all know what it's like to lose.
That's why hope is so important. And, that's what wants to be said here. There is hope. When you have lost and are searching, there is hope.
The kinds of losses we are dealing with are infinite in their variety, but I suspect there are precious few of us who are not dealing with loss these days in some pretty important ways. A job is gone. A relationship is broken. An income is down. A child is wayward. A home is foreclosed upon. A horizon is shrunk. A ceiling is lowered. A father is dying. A loved one is ill. I suspect that most of us have some current story of loss to tell. And, what wants to be said is that there is hope.
Now, I'm not naïve enough to think that hope means that we can have just what we've lost in the form we want it. I've lost some things that I will never hold again. But, what I do know is that losing does not have to have the last word. If a relationship ended, and if that relationship brought me love, the end of that relationship does not mean the end of love in my life. Loss is real. But, so is patience and persistence and determination. They are real, too. And, if the shepherd never finds the sheep, perhaps the shepherd runs across a deer in need of tending. And, if the woman never finds the coin, perhaps she finds a pearl. You know what I'm saying? You can have what you wanted when you lost what you had. You just have to keep searching and digging and believing and hoping and faithing and trying.
And, that's what the church is. That's what our communities of faith are called to be. We're the spaces where we hold one another in our losses and encourage one another in our searching and in our digging and in our believing and in our hoping and in our faithing and in our trying. And, in the face of loss, which visits every human person, we need to be tender with one another and prop one another up and hold one another well and encourage one another strongly until our losses are absorbed and until--notice that I said "until" and not "if"--until we have found again what we wanted when we lost what we had.