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Looking for the Lost   (Here’s the mp3 from 9.16.07)  Luke 15:1-10

Ravens lead searchers to lost woman

Circling ravens and two men who decided not to rest on their day off led to the discovery of a 76-year-old woman who had been missing for almost two weeks in the Wallowa Mountains in northeast Oregon.

Baker County sheriff’s Deputy Travis Ash told The Oregonian newspaper that he and Oregon State Police Trooper Chris Hawkins went looking for Doris Anderson on their day off. They left a Forest Service road and went down a steep, brushy canyon because Ash felt it had not been searched well enough before.

“What alerted us was birds; we heard ravens,” Ash told the newspaper.

Ash said they also heard the Anderson talking to herself.

“It sounded real faint, like a child,” he said.

That was at 2:08 p.m. Thursday.

According to Ash, Anderson said: “Oh, my God, I’m glad to see you.”

Ash rushed to the road to radio for help while Hawkins stayed with Anderson, who has an injured hip and was dehydrated.

A Forest Service paramedic team arrived and rappelled down into the canyon to treat Anderson. The woman from Sandy was then flown to a Baker City hospital, where she is in critical, but stable condition.

Police say Anderson disappeared on Aug. 24th while on a bow hunting trip in the Eagle Creek area with her 74-year-old husband, Harold.

Hope had been fading for Anderson’s survival chances, as she was lightly dressed in an area where temperatures dipped into the 30s over the past two weeks. About 70 volunteers a day combed the Wallowa Mountain of Eastern Oregon until the search was scaled back in late August.

The Andersons had driven into the rugged mountains and canyons in a Chevy Tahoe pulling a utility trailer. The vehicle got stuck, and Harold Anderson broke his wrist while unloading an all-terrain vehicle from the trailer.

The couple tried to walk to a U.S. Forest Service road for help but became exhausted. Harold Anderson said his wife headed back for the vehicle. A hunting party later found a disoriented Harold Anderson, but there was no sign of his wife.

A Baker County deputy and an Oregon State Police trooper found his wife around 2 p.m. Thursday in an area that had already been searched.

Iris Anderson, 71, who is married to Harold’s brother, Melvin, credits Ora Doris Anderson’s survival to prayer and Anderson’s healthy lifestyle.

“How she managed to live for two weeks at the bottom of canyon, I don’t know,” Anderson said.

Looking for the Lost

Almost everyday we see a story about someone who is lost, and the frantic search efforts underway to find them before it is too late. Often the lost person is a child whose parents are desparate. Or the lost person is an elderly man or woman who has wandered away from their home. Or the lost person is a celebrity, a missing mom, or an entire family. It doesn’t matter really because our response is the same — we hope they’re found.

So, when we come to this passage today, where Jesus talks about lost sheep and a lost coin, we understand what it means to be looking for something that is precious to us.

We are all lost sheep

I posted a poem on my blog, Amicus Dei, several months ago. I had written the poem in the mid-90s, and found it while looking through an old journal one day. Here’s what I said — the poem is titled Prayer for the Wandering Heart

Prayer for the Wandering Heart — by Chuck Warnock, 1995

When you call

And I do not answer,

When you lead

And I do not follow —

Do you ever tire of your shepherd search

For this lost sheep?

Lord, give me ears tuned to your voice,

A will bent to your will

And a heart that never wanders so far

That it cannot find home.

— copyright 2007, Chuck Warnock

Interestingly enough, I received an email from Mr. Wang Yuan, a Chinese man living in California. I met Mr.Wang when I worked in China with a large Chinese electronics company. Mr. Wang informed me that he was bringing the president of the factory and the international sales manager to Chatham so they “could hear me pray.” [These men were intrigued when I quit the business world to go back into the pastorate. I am sure none of them have ever been in a Baptist church.] Then, Mr. Wang concluded his email by saying, “We are a group of lost sheep in your eye.”

I assured Mr. Wang that we were all lost sheep, and that I looked forward to seeing them in a few weeks. Regrettably, their schedule did not allow my Chinese friends to travel all the way from Las Vegas and the electronics show they were attending, to Virginia to “listen to my prayers,” but maybe next year.

The Basics of These Parables

The stories that Jesus tells here — about a lost sheep and a lost coin — have a couple of very important points.

First, the very idea that something is lost — a sheep and a coin — implies that it is not where it belongs. So, the owner — the shepherd and the woman — both seek to find that which is lost to return it to its rightful place. The place where it belongs. The place where things are when they are  not lost.

Sometimes when we think of spiritually lost people, we think that God knows nothing about them. That God has never heard of them before, and until they profess faith in Christ, that they are strangers to God. But this parable tells us that is not the case. The sheep belonged to the shepherd, the coin belonged to the woman — both wanted them back.

One of the great themes of the Bible is the theme of the exile and return of Israel. Israel, the people of God — the people belonging to God — get lost. They get lost in slavery in Egypt, they get lost in the Babylonian captivity, they get lost under the harshness of Roman rule. But God looks for them. God finds them. God makes a way for them to come home. In Exodus, God sends Moses, a shepherd, to find and shepherd the nation back to God. In the Babylonian captivity, God sends prophets, and even a pagan king, to help the people return home where they belong. Once they were lost, now they are found.

So, lostness implies ownership. The sheep is owned by the shepherd, the coin is owned by the woman. People belong to God. But people can get lost from God, just like sheep and coins can get lost from their owners.

The Bible has a lot of names for this lostness — blindness, darkness, deafness, hunger, sin, exile. Call it what you will, but all of those conditions describe that “away-from-God-ness” that we label as “lost.”

Secondly, the idea of being lost or found isn’t just about going to heaven when we die. Now that’s a part of it, but it’s the last part of it. Jesus was talking about people who were lost from God because they “had ears but didn’t hear.” Or because their hearts were hard. Or because they didn’t live righteously because the prevailing religious customs cut them out.

The lost sheep and the lost coin need to be found now. Not just for heaven, but for usefulness now. For completing the herd, or the set now, not just in the future. Our lostness from God isn’t just about our profession, its about our practice. How we live now. Because Jesus was addressing those whose profession — they believed the Law — was perfect. But, their practice of excluding “the lost” from their social lives, their congregations, and their worship was wrong. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to know that heaven rejoiced more when one sinner (lost person) repented — turned around — than when 99 righteous people did what they were supposed to do. So, finding the lost is a very big deal in heaven. But, they’re not just being found for heaven, they’re being found for the here-and-now, too.

The problem is, lost people don’t talk like church people.  They make us uncomfortable.  Jim Wallis wrote about Anita Roddick this week.  Anita was the founder of the Body Shop retail chain.  Anita grew up in the Catholic faith, then was lost to all faith for a number of years.  In 2004, Anita attended Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in the UK, and came home to her faith in God again. 

About her return to faith, Roddick said —

“What’s wonderful about being my age is having to face your prejudices,” said Roddick. “I had no idea how big Greenbelt was. I had no idea how organized it was; how free it was; how joyful it was. And I had no idea that there was such a strong activist, trade justice plank in its platform. It’s really hard, when you have had your antennae up for most of these movements, to have completely ignored it. I have fallen for the zeitgeist that says anybody who has a religious inclination has no sense of rationale or intellectual understanding and therefore should be dismissed. I am cheering the Greenbelt festival from the top of every bloody mountain … for me, it’s like a heartbeat. And it’s youth. I’m ashamed of my bloody prejudices, but I’m delighted to be a convert.”

In her interview with Sojourners magazine, Anita Roddick said, “I don’t want to die rich.”  Instead, she wanted to die giving back to the community and the world.  Body Shop stores were one of the first companies operated in an environmentally-responsible way.  Roddick had also written the book, A Revolution in Kindness.  When asked what that looked like, Anita Roddick said,

 “It [fierce kindness] has to be bigger than the personal, and more than random acts. It is not satisfied unless human rights and social justice are present.”

Getting Lost and Found

Then, the question is — How do we get lost? Well, if you’ve ever taken a trip in unfamiliar territory without a map, you know how easy it is. You get lost because you don’t know your way around. You don’t know how to navigate the terrain. You get lost because you don’t pay attention, and wind up going the wrong way. You get lost because you think you don’t need any help and you can figure it out yourself. You get lost because you didn’t listen to your wife when she said, “Honey, why don’t we stop and ask somebody?” That’s why we get lost. We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re determined to get there on our own.

Do you know what wisdom is? I saw a very good and simple definition of wisdom the other day. Wisdom is knowing how to live. So, we have the book of Proverbs telling us to get wisdom — in other words, learn how to live. Of course, implied in that is that we learn how to live life as God intended it. But, that’s redundant because life is what God intended for us, so of course, wisdom is living life as God intended it.

Do you know what being lost is? Forgetting that God made us. Forgetting that God loves us. Forgetting that God has a plan for our lives. That’s what being lost is. Not knowing where we are or where we are going. Forgetting God. That must resonate with a lot of us because Rick Warren has sold over 30-million copies of his book, The Purpose-Driven Life. People are tired of being lost.

Tell me about God

Marcus Borg in his book, The Heart of Christianity, tells a story of a 3-year old girl. She was the first-born, and only child, but her mother was expecting and the little girl was very excited about having a new brother or sister. Finally, the big day came and a new brother arrived. Within hours of the parents bringing him home, big sister made a request: she wanted to be alone with her new brother in his room with the door shut. Her insistence about being alone with the baby with the door shut made her parents a bit uneasy. But, they had installed a baby monitor in the room, so they decided to let their three-year-old daughter have her wish.

After several conversations about how small and fragile new babies are, and how gentle she must be, they let the little girl go into the baby’s room and close the door. Quickly the parents raced to the monitor in their room. They could hear their daughter’s footsteps as she crossed the room, and imagined her standing next to his crib.

Then, they heard her say to her 3-day old brother, “Tell me about God — I’ve almost forgotten.”

When we think about those who are lost as having forgotten about God, then it changes how we view those who are lost. And we have to admit ourselves that we get lost, too. Lost to the purpose of God for our lives, even though we might be sitting in church. Lost to the meaning of life because we have forgotten the giver of life. To paraphrase Mr. Wang, “We are all lost sheep in God’s eye.”

The great point of this story is that God is looking for us. Leonardo Boff, in his book New Evangelization, says that the Holy Spirit is always the first missionary. God is looking for us and others like us, long before we know it, long before we are looking for Him.

And, when He finds us — on the mountaintop of our own lostness, swept up in the dust of our own lives — heaven rejoices. We’re back home where we belong.