Lost and Found

Photo by allison griffith on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Dear Working Preachers, it is good to be back. After five years, 1000 words a week, I sensed a need for a break, in part to work on some writing projects simmering on the proverbial back burners, but also, to reflect a bit on the purpose of this column, its need, and its voice. Reading “Dear Working Preacher” (DWP) written by my colleagues was, personally, some much needed grace. As you know, when you try to preach the Gospel each and every week, hearing God’s grace for you every once in a while helps—a lot. Like you, I needed to hear some words of encouragement. Some words of empathy in and compassion for what it means to preach the Gospel. And different voices make a difference.

Going forward for a bit, we will continue to rotate DWP amongst the Sermon Brainwave hosts—Rolf Jacobson, Matt Skinner, our new professor of preaching at Luther, Joy J. Moore, and yours truly, as well as other faithful voices you know from the summer and from the Narrative Lectionary podcasts. We trust that we all are voices you trust. Working Preacher is committed to “Dear Working Preacher” and all of us know, in different ways, what it feels like to have accompaniment, to know that there are those walking alongside you who get it; on whom you can depend to encourage you, to uplift you, to empower you in this most holy calling. This is the fundamental goal of DWP, to which we are committed more than ever.

And now to the Gospel lesson for this Sunday. The promise of these brief minuets seems straightforward—what was lost will indeed be found and found by our doggedly persistent God. No stone unturned, God will not stop. That’s great, right? We know what it’s is like to lose something important. We might even know what it’s like to be found when in a period of being somewhat lost. But if we leave these stories at the level of finding a set of lost keys or returning to social interaction after a couple of days away, we have missed the point entirely—and completely.

The thoroughness of the searches and the extravagance of the celebrations intimate that there might be more to the lost sheep and more to the lost coin than a first glance assumes.

These stories elicit rather interesting adjectives when it comes to God, perhaps ones we do not use as often as we should or desire—relentless, stubborn, insistent, tireless. After all, some of us would rather stay hidden, even wish to be lost or left alone, if not forever, at least for the time being, at least longer than a short-term stint. A kind of “lostness” that is even a mode of self-protection. “Just leave me alone. Let me be. I’m fine.”

Because being found is both frightening and enlightening. Exposure makes us wonder if we are worthy of finding. Worthy of the kind of celebration narrated in Luke. The rub of these two succinct stories is that we simultaneously experience the joy of the found and then wonder if we are worthy to be found, especially with such diligence and determination. “Give it up already, God. It was a good effort, but LET IT GO.”

On the other side of the coin is the kind of lostness that has been imposed on you—that is, on others. Your own sense of unworthiness has been affirmed by those around you, by society, by systemic sin that has told you, time and time again, you are best swept under the rug, you deserve to be overlooked. It doesn’t take much effort to see the lost in our world, the lost we ignore. But our seeing rarely translates into the kind of assiduousness demanded in these pithy parables. We are all too comfortable with letting God do the finding. And yet, these stories demand some serious theological reflection—how much we are like the shepherd, how much we are like the woman, or do we give up too easily? Because searching is hard work. Because being found might also then ask us to find the lost. And that kind of persistence is not always met with favor—or faith.

One Coin Found. That is the title of a memoir by the Reverend Emmy Kegler, an ELCA pastor located in Minneapolis, whose life and ministry has been shaped by this brief passage in Scripture. Queer, recently married, Kegler narrates in her book how the woman in the Gospel of Luke searching diligently for a lost coin mirrors Kegler’s own sense of being found. Kegler is able to do her own celebrating when she becomes a called and ordained minister in the church of Jesus Christ. Pastor Emmy, as she as known by her congregation, knows what it feels like to be found and thus, has based her ministry on searching for and accompanying the lost. The story of the persistent woman in Luke became her story, first as the coin the woman found, then as the resolute woman, the persistent preacher, God needed her to be.

Therein, I think, lies the homiletical heart of this story, of these stories. A tension between being found and doing the finding. Of knowing what it means to be lost and then going out and finding the lost. And I can’t help but wonder if the true celebration is in both.