Monday, September 13, 2010

You are here

1 Timothy 1: 1-19; Luke 15: 1-10
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
September 12, 2010

I was never interested in watching the TV series “Lost”. The premise seemed at the least hopeless. A plane flying from Los Angeles to Sydney crashes on a mysterious, remote Pacific island. The survivors learn that they can’t leave the island and that they all are connected in some way. Through a myriad of plot twists and two separate yet also intertwining timelines, the show took its viewers on a wild ride, getting everyone hopelessly lost in the story and its characters. But this week I did watch the final two episodes of the TV series “Lost”, to see how such a hopeless premise could be resolved. And of course, being lost and then found is the scripture theme.

Of the reviews I read, the consensus was a strange mix of euphoria and disappointment. Some comments left by viewers were rather philosophical while many were full of feelings of being taken down a long road, only to be abandoned with no real answers as to why things happened the way they did. Nobody likes to be fooled or waste their time; nobody likes to be lost.

When you think about it, we’re all looking for some real answers, some meaning and purpose to our lives. Why do things happen the way they do? How much do we contribute to our situation and how much of it is out of our control? What is real and what is just an illusion? Are we fools for believing or not? How far off course are we?

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World calls getting lost a spiritual exercise. She writes, “If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? …[The] skills are the same: managing your panic, marshalling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.” [1]

Many of us have heard or read other people’s stories of how getting knocked clean off their course gave them an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and there are countless other everyday heroes that don’t make it into a book or the newspapers. Many of us not in a twelve step program don’t share with each other our stories of being lost because then we’d have to admit we lost our way, that we stumbled off the path or got blown off it, that for a while there we thought we were alone and didn’t know where we were.

The scariest thing about being lost is feeling like you’re not sure you’re going to get found, if you’re ever going to get off the island. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?” When we first wake up to what is really real, we don’t know where we are. We don’t recognize the way home. But eventually, if we can endure and keep ourselves vulnerable to the moment, rescue does come to us.

My first experience of being lost, and I mean spiritually, emotionally, heart-breakingly lost, was when I was twelve. My father had moved out of the house and my parents were going to get a divorce, the shame of which was very keen in 1977. The year before, we had moved to another town. We had also started worshipping at another church not long before that. That meant new school, new people—I couldn’t imagine being more lost. At one particularly low point, I even contemplated suicide. Even though I had believed in God since I was a young child, I felt as though God had abandoned me and left me on some remote island to fend for myself.

For the next three years, through my freshman year in high school, my father moving to North Carolina and getting remarried, to my mother’s boyfriend moving in, I cried and cursed at and pleaded with God. In youth group I began to make new friends and deepen older friendships, including this guy called Jesus, but I still could not imagine that these people, this Jesus, loved me as I was: miserable, shy and a face full of pimples.

In the fall of my sophomore year I had a dream that changed the course of my life. In the dream I am an observer, watching the drama unfold before me. I see a group of men and women seating about a crude wooden table. Outside the makeshift shack I can hear bombs and shelling, automatic weapon fire, and people screaming. I am aware that there is a civil war being fought and that this group of people is an underground movement comprised of both sides to end the war and achieve peace.

As they are discussing and making plans, there is a loud knock at the door. The leader goes to the door, opens it and I see Jesus standing on the threshold. The leader does not recognize him but instead asks how he may help this stranger. Jesus replies that he has come to help them. The leader welcomes Jesus inside, the group makes room for him around the table, and their discussion continues.

Suddenly a woman’s scream is heard right outside the shack. Everyone rushes outside to find one their group has been fatally stabbed. Jesus picks her up and carries her inside. Jesus lays his hands upon her wound and heals her. Then the wound appears on his body and then he too is healed. The people in the group are amazed at this and ask, “Who are you? What’s the meaning of all this?”

The next morning I woke up and I remembered the dream all at once. I had no idea what it meant, so I called my pastor and asked to talk with him. He was aware of what was happening in my family and he knew how unhappy I was. After listening to me tell him about the dream, he said that there was a civil war going on inside of me, between my anger at God and my love of God. I wanted God to help me but I didn’t recognize him. God would send Jesus to heal me but I had to see what God was already doing in my life.

After that, nothing about my life changed. My parents were still divorced; my father still lived in North Carolina. My mother’s boyfriend was still living with us. I still had a face full of pimples. I still felt like a social outcast. What changed was my heart. What happened was that I turned around and started moving toward God. That’s what it means to repent: to have a change of heart, to turn around and face God.

It meant I had to stop blaming God for the way that my life was. I had to learn to accept my life and to put my focus on God and on the love that was coming into my life. And when one does this, indeed God does rejoice.

From that dream I also heard a call to the ministry, and I thought I could see how my life would go from there. Yet every direction I thought my life would take, my life has taken me somewhere else. I didn’t know how long I’d have my father, but I thought it would be longer than 19 years. I thought I would live on the eastern seaboard but I ended up in Ohio. I thought I would work part-time after having my first child but of the almost 19 years I’ve been ordained, I’ve worked about 8 years. When we moved to Monroe I thought it would be temporary; we’ve lived there almost 12 years now. When I became a pastor, I thought I had walked away from my childhood dream of being an artist, yet sometimes I try to use various art forms as a means of getting people to think about their relationship with God.

The apostle Paul certainly didn’t end up where he thought he would. He thought he was on the side of justice and righteousness when he was rousting out Jewish Christians and having them thrown in prison, but then wound up being God’s number one case history for those needing rescue. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that if it weren’t if Paul, there may not have been a church, yet he started out ensuring there never would be a church.

AIGA National Design Center, Design Journeys: You Are Here

Do any of us end up where we thought we would be? And does that mean we’re lost? Or could it be that we just can’t see where we are? I truly believe that wherever we are, God is; that there is no place we can go where God isn’t. Every time we try to shake God off our trail or think we’ve lost our way, God shows up in any number of surprising, subtle or life-jolting ways to bring us home.

God comes to us in Jesus to say “You are here. And so am I.” It was that truth that saved me when I was fifteen. It is that truth that continues to save me every day. None of us does this alone. Though there are days the premise of our lives may seem hopeless, though we may feel like we’re on a remote island, there are other survivors with us and all of us are connected in some way. What saves us is not getting off the island but realizing that we’re not alone.

It’s no coincidence that the TV series “Lost” ended in a church, a place of community and faith, all of the characters reunited, greeting each other in joy, forgiveness and healing. Whatever has happened to us, whatever we have lived through, wherever we have ended up, it has all brought us to this place and to this time and to this church. We are here and so is God: that mystery that found us, loved us, forgave us, and has been leading us home ever since.

Woodmont UCC Heritage Sunday, 2010

Even those who may feel lost to us, God is there as much as God is here, and God is leading them home too. We read in 1 Timothy that the whole purpose of what we’re about is to simply love and to live a life open to God. And we have also been given a commission to seek out those who feel lost and alone and help them see where they are, free them from their prison, introduce them to an old friend named Jesus, tell them our stories, and listen to theirs. Simply love. Leave your lives open to God. You are here, and so is God.


1. Barbara Brown Taylor. An Altar in the World. New York: HarperCollins, 2009, p. 72.

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