text: Gen 21:8-21, Matt 10:24-39 title: lost

By David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

From where we stood, the kiosks loomed large throughout the store. It was like wandering through a human-made forest, our eyes taking in the multitude of colors and shapes as we searched for a new comforter. We circled kiosk after kiosk on our great department store adventure, cycling through neatly ordered stacks of sheets and duvet covers. We were modern day explorers in a modern day jungle.

We rounded the corner of one kiosk and stopped in our tracks. She stood there and it was apparent that we were not the people she wished to see. I would imagine that to her, this suburban jungle was a frightening maze of obstructions and impediments.

The look of panic on her face told me that, it also told me that she was lost. She was probably four or five years old, and had just wandered or played herself away from her mother. My wife and I could see her mom across the aisle just out of eyesight and so we approached her cautiously and asked if she was lost. The large eyes just stared back at us as her head slowly nodded.

My wife took her hand and led her through a winding trail of pillows, beds and sheets, until she could just see her mother. At that point, she broke into a run and crashed into the arms of her waiting mother. We watched as the mother knelt and looked her daughter in the eyes, instantly comforting away her panic and reassuring her that she was safe…

Hagar was probably somewhere between fourteen to seventeen years old. She had nothing except the clothes on her back, a days worth of food and water, and oh yeah, a roughly two-year-old child in her arms. She was let loose from the only home she had ever known, not even really understanding why, other than someone could no longer stand the sight of her.

She might have been lonely, afraid, probably panicked and maybe even angry. All that she had ever done was what they had asked of her, and now she was put out to die.

In that age, safety was found in numbers, anyone alone was a target for robbers, thieves or bandits. She would have been easy prey. There was nothing left in her life that was familiar. Her family was gone, her friends, her home, her safety, all gone never to return. So she did what so many of us do when times are tough, when panic sets in, when there is no hope to be seen, she gave up.

Being lost is an act of violence. It is the rending of one’s body from the very comforts that it has come to expect. But being lost is not just a physical thing. It is an emotional and mental and spiritual thing as well.

Lost means wandering aimlessly in real and proverbial deserts, with your water running low, your safety ripped from your life, your peace replaced with doubt. It is confronting the unknown in life. Stepping out into areas where we cannot see what the future holds.

When we are lost there is little that can comfort us, little that can bring us hope, sometimes even our ideas of God become impediments in our lives. This Great Comforter can feel strange and distant, and the ways we grew up believing hold little promise for helping us find our way home again.

Sometimes, lost means accepting the state of being that we find ourselves in, sometimes it even means giving up.

Today, I think we live in a very “found” society. We live in a day and age where answers are readily available. We know more about the Bible, about the culture of its authors, about the daily activities of those who live in the first and second centuries.

Information is at our fingertips through the internet and television; we can research our maladies, our homework, our bosses, our friends. We can print out maps that take us from door to door. Read books that will help calm our weary souls. Talk and write to friends instantaneously. It is difficult to get lost in today’s world. Between cell phones, beepers, tracking devices, and GPS, most of us couldn’t even get lost if we tried.

But if that is truth, then why do I have this feeling that I sometimes live amongst the lost, amongst a people who wander aimlessly? Why do I question the direction our society is taking, one that leads to rampant consumerism, a search for the next shiny new object, and a lack of depth? Why does our world toady seem less peaceful, compassionate, empathetic?

For all of our intelligence and information, there seems to be a lack of wisdom, common sense, and meaning. Maybe being found isn’t such a good thing. Maybe there is more to life than knowing, than doing.

The message in our gospel lesson doesn’t bring much comfort at first glance. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Hagar certainly experienced this sword of Jesus. She experienced the violence that occurs when a sword cuts through the life you have known leaving you in a freefall from all of the things that kept you on solid ground. In one fell swoop she went from a moderately peaceful existence to one of great uncertainty. She went from found to profound lost-ness.

And yet, she was never alone even though it felt that way. When life seemed most frantic, she suddenly found herself found by a Creator that loved and heard the frantic cries ringing out across the desert. When all seemed lost, when she had given up, it was then that she was able to be found again.

Sometimes we need to be lost. We need to have our safety stripped from us. To have a sword cut through the delicate webs we weave that insulate us from the world. Sometimes we need to be restless. We need to step away from our peaceful existence and grapple with the issues of the world around us.

Whether it is genocide, poverty, education, starvation, AIDS, war, or murder we need to walk out without a net and live in the world we have borne. We can only do that when we are lost.

When we find ourselves found, there is too much safety in our lives, too much that is comfortable. And when we are comfortable, there is no reason to change, to trust, to grow. By relying on our found-ness we lose the opportunity to dwell in the mysteries of life.

For me, being lost is not the end; it is merely a new beginning. In fact, I don’t think we can begin anew without first being lost. Every movement in life requires a step into the unknown, a leap of faith into the void that can only be filled by the Creator.

As Presbyterians, we believe that there is nowhere in this world that we can go without God. That doesn’t mean that we will always feel God’s presence, nor will we always understand the things that happen around us. Sometimes there is no answer for the experiences of our lives. Being lost or being found includes no guarantees of happiness or stability.

Really I can only guarantee one thing; there is no way we can be found, if we are not lost in the first place. So I will tell you today, one thing that I think ministers sometimes want to tell their congregations:

Get lost…



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