Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wandering Towards Joy

11 September 2016 
Proper 19C 

Have you ever been walking or driving somewhere, but not really paying attention and
ended up somewhere else? When I was a kid, my family went to the church multiple 
times a week and more than a few times, when my mom's mind was busy and she wasn't
paying attention, she would accidentally drive to the church instead of wherever she was 
trying to go. Sometimes she would realize it before she got to the church and change 
course, but sometimes we would pull into the church parking lot and us, the kids, the back seat drivers would ask, “why are we here?” and my mom would look around and say, “I wasn't paying attention.” We all wander off course sometimes. 

Some of us have the wandering off tendency more than others. Sometimes we have good 
reasons for wandering off. Sometimes we are looking for other things. Sometimes there 
is no good reason, but we feel the need to do so and off we go. Metaphorically, when we 
talk about wandering off, many times those are not good places, and then it takes 
courage to walk out of those situations. 

Many times when we figure out that something is lost, we either have to fight feelings of panic or apathy. They are two extreme responses to noticing something is missing, but I’m sure we all know both of them well. There are things that the moment we notice they are lost, we flip out about it and must find them. 

Then there are those things that go missing and we either forget about them or put off 
finding them because they are not worth the present moment. 

In the gospel passage, we see more of the first kind of response to the missing sheep and 
lost coin. The sheep quite literally has wandered off, while the coin has been lost, though 
not on its own agency. The shepherd and the woman care deeply about their lost item 
and go about swiftly looking for them.

As I have been trying to be conscious of paying attention to the many levels of things 
going on at St. John's, it strikes me that there is a lot of attention being paid in this 
passage. The tax collectors and sinners are paying a lot of attention to Jesus, despite the 
Pharisee's wish that they wouldn't. The Pharisees and scribes were paying attention to Jesus enough to be grumbling about what he was teaching and doing. Enough to be 
noticing who he was eating with every day. I like to pay attention to my neighbors, but I 
haven't noticed who each is having dinner with every day! With such an emphasis on 
paying attention to each other and going in search of what is missing, it almost seems as 
if Jesus is saying that God is incomplete when one of us is missing. (Don Armentrout) 

The shepherd was paying attention, otherwise he would not have noticed that one of his hundred sheep was missing. And then he had to pay attention in order to track down the sheep, to find where it had gone. The shepherd takes the risk of losing more sheep by leaving the ninety nine to go in search of the one. The woman was paying attention enough to notice that she was missing a coin, and then, to search her house for such a little object and find it. The woman cleans her entire house in order to find one little coin. The coins in this passage are each worth about a day's wage for a laborer. Even one coin was an important amount of money for a woman. Her attention to the details of noticing it was missing and being careful to find it shows her care in being a good steward. 

I have to wonder sometimes if we always recognize when we have wandered off course. 
In society we become very adept at hiding our lostness or our loneliness or our problems 
because we feel that we must always present a good face. However, I feel the call for us 
at St. John’s right now to be paying attention to those things which have been lost along 
the way. As a church, we have been walking with Jesus a long long time. Certain things 
have been lost and when we have figured out they were gone, were judged unworthy of 
the time or energy of the moment and then forgotten. Have we noticed what we are 
missing? Do we have the ability to track it down, to return to the path? As a 
congregation, we have lost some people along the journey. Both the shepherd and the 
woman offer us role models of what we could be doing in taking the care to follow up
with those who have wandered off, to clean up so that we can find the things that have 
been lost within our lives and our life together that used to bring grace and joy to our 
community. 

We have a lot we would have to pay attention to in order to find them. Finding the 
things, values, and people that have been lost along the way takes a bit of time and 
energy. In my time here so far, learning what it is to be St. John's, while there are many 
parts of our live together in which I have noticed that we are doing great at staying true, 
there are also a few places where perhaps we have wandered around a little. Luckily for 
us, we have a great good shepherd. We have someone who cares so much about us that 
no dirt or dust, no wandering tracks in the wilderness, would stop them from finding us again. We can be both the lost and the found. We can be both the ones being found and the ones doing the finding. One of the best bits about parables is that we can learn from every part of it. 

The best part of all though, is the part at the end. Did you pay attention to what happens 
at the end? The shepherd and the woman celebrate. They share their joy! They continue 
being role models for us in this way as well. When we are found, when we find what we 
are missing, we can share our joy in being reunited! There is inherent joy in finding, and 
joy is something that has to be shared, and we see that in the passage. The sheep and the 
coin are alone and lost, but when they are found, they are part of community again. 
There is an emphasis on sharing joy in this passage. Because the shepherd and the 
woman don't just find their lost items, they also rejoice and call their friends. They share 
their joy, in word and action. They throw parties, and parties always mean food. 

In a way, we could look at what we do here in church today as a party of joy after finding 
and being found. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having found something this week. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having been a 
little lost this week. But here we are all acknowledged as part of the community worthy 
being celebrated for! We celebrate our joy in being part of God’s community here in this 
place. We celebrate with food, with bread and wine. We celebrate our joy in being part of 
this community of those who have been lost over and over again, of those who have been 
found over and over again, and in being reunited with God.