Proper 19 C 2016
Some months back on a walk in the West Hartford reservoir, I found a car key fob on the path.
My family and I knew it was an important object—
how would the person get home without it? they are expensive to replace.
What we didn’t know was the best way to get the fob to its owner.
Should we pick it up and hope we run into the owner?
Should we leave it on the path, assuming they will come back?
We decided to pick it up.
The path is several miles long, and we figured it would be nearly impossible for someone
to retrace all their steps.
All along our walk we asked people, “Did you lose a fob?”
Sadly, we did not come across the owner.
We figured we would just have to leave it in an obvious place in the parking lot and hope for the best.
But when we got to the parking lot, we had a better idea.
We clicked the fob and the car it belonged to flashed its lights.
Now we knew where to leave the keys.
Except we didn’t want it to leave the keys too obviously in the open—
what if someone stole the car with them?
We decided to leave them on the car seat, hoping the owner would at least come to the car,
even if he realized that he no longer had his keys.
As we walked to our own car on the other side of the parking lot, a man came out of the park at a jog.
He patted his pockets and slowed, a shadow of a frown crossing his face.
This is our guy, I thought.
And sure enough, the guy walked hesitantly over to his car.
Looking in the windows, he saw his keys sitting on the driver’s seat.
He opened the door, picked up the keys, and then looked around -- to see my whole family watching.
“We found your keys!” I called out.
A smile broke across his face.
“Where were they? You sure saved me a lot of trouble!”
We laughed that day at the happy coincidence of reuniting the owner and the fob.
Looking back on it, I think my family was almost happier than the owner,
who really hadn’t realized he’d lost his keys until about a minute before he found them in his car.
We, however, had spent 45 minutes trying to devise a way to find the owner.
Walking back to our own car, we felt light as a feather, full of joy.
Jesus’ parables in the gospel lesson today are about the joy of finding.
A shepherd leaves his flock and searches high and low for the sheep that went missing;
when he finds that sheep, the shepherd puts the sheep on his shoulders, and goes home rejoicing.
A woman sweeps out her entire house to find one lost coin,
and upon finding it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and throws a party.
Both of these of these finders are so happy to be reunited with their prized possession
that they call in the whole community to celebrate with them.
Except these stories don’t make sense.
No shepherd would leave 99 sheep vulnerable to predators and loss to search for one;
no woman would leave her chores for a day to find a coin worth a day’s labor.
The solutions in these stories are just not practical;
everyone else would just chalk it up to the cost of doing business.
The context in which Jesus tells these stories is important.
Jesus had been drawing crowds of “tax collectors and sinners”
that is, traitors who collected taxes for the Roman empire,
and public sinners whose behaviors flouted respectable values.
The Pharisees and scribes, the local good guys, didn’t like it.
They were people who spent their time following the rules, trying to live a decent, God-fearing life.
It rubbed them the wrong way that these folks who never put in a good deed in their life
were cozying up to Jesus—and he was letting them, encouraging them!
You can bet those scribes and Pharisees had some nasty looks and not-so-quiet comments
for the people who surrounded Jesus.
Jesus tells these parables for both groups—those harassed by the ‘good people’ for not being good enough,
and those scandalized by Jesus’ welcome to the unworthy.
Jesus wanted to convey that God does not live by practical or expedient solutions when it comes to people;
He wanted to tell of God’s incredible joy at finding people in whatever state they were in.
I just completed a week long spiritual retreat yesterday, a fitting conclusion to my three month sabbatical.
The retreat was at Mercy by the Sea, a retreat center in Madison, CT.
When we arrived on Sunday, the retreat director asked us,
“Where have you found yourself in the past week?
“Where has God found you?”
The retreat director was not so much asking about physical location as to emotional and spiritual territory.
It’s a good question to ponder.
Consider for yourself: what has your journey been like in the past week?
Harried or lonely? Grateful or worried? Preoccupied or excited?
Take a moment to consider the events and feelings of the past week in your life.
The second question leads to a deeper thought—
where has God found you? met you in the circumstances of your week?
Where have you felt God’s presence in greater energy or joy or gratitude,
and when were you down, sapped of energy, lifeless?
God finds us in the midst of all of these spiritual attitudes, and we can sense God’s presence if we are aware.
That’s what a week on retreat does for you—it makes you aware enough to be found.
Some people have thought I was a little nuts for wanting to do a week of silent retreat.
But it really is a great thing.
The schedule of a silent retreat is generous—
all you have to do is show up to mealtimes and meet with the spiritual director once a day.
Your life is not cluttered by to do lists or even conversation
and so you find you slow way down and begin to notice things:
like how the cormorant swims underwater to catch fish,
while the osprey dives from the sky to grab an unsuspecting fish in its talons.
You notice the feathery pantaloons on Harriet, the resident hawk,
and the patterns the tide makes on the beach,
as if a Japanese gardener had come overnight and raked the sand.
You watch the clouds blow by as you lie on your back like a kid,
you see the sun rise and set, and a spectacular double rainbow stretching from one side of the sky to the other.
Being in the presence of God’s creation is breathtaking.
But the key here is not a particular set of surroundings
it is the conscious effort to slow down
and notice that God has already found us, wherever we are.
Now I am back in the land of schedules and meetings and school events—in other words, I am back to reality!
But it doesn’t mean that I can’t spend time with God.
And your schedule and busy life doesn’t mean you can’t slow down a little to become aware,
to notice God’s presence.
For some of us, it may be a daily ritual, perhaps only a few minutes long,
over a devotional book or cup of coffee where we take a deep breath and allow ourselves to slow down.
It might be something we do a couple of times a week:
writing in a journal, going for a run, bowing on the yoga mat, weeding the garden.
Whatever it is, when we act with intentionality, and the decision simply to notice what is,
God is near.
God finds us.