I was travelling that morning, a sunny, spectacular Tuesday morning 15 years ago. It really was a particularly beautiful morning with a small suggestion of Fall chill in the air As I almost always did on long morning drives, I had Don Imus’ show on the radio to keep me company. About 1/3 of the way through the trip, sports reporter Warner Wolf broke through with a special report, but not about a breaking sports story. Instead, Wolf was a resident of lower Manhattan and was calling in to report on an incident involving an airplane crash into one of the two towers of the World Trade Center. As he tried to present the facts to the radio audience, there was a sense of great confusion around what had happened. Some people on the scene reported that it was a small plane that hit the building. Others were saying it was a large plane. Some were reflecting back on a similar incident involving a small plane and the Empire State building many years before - but that crash happened in heavy fog, and this Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a crystal clear day. Other witnesses suggested that it seemed the airplane rammed into the tower intentionally. I remember thinking to myself as I was driving “No, let’s not go there, please”. Seconds later, Wolf reported that a second plane crashed into the other tower. At that point, we all knew these were no accidents.
I’m sharing this little vignette about 9/11, not just because this is a day of profound remembrance of an act of brutal violence which caused the deaths of thousands, or because we remember the heroism of many people whose actions in the face of danger saved many lives. And not just because in the aftermath of 9/11, America and her allies began a campaign of war against state- sponsored terrorism that still has our armed forces on the ground in many parts of the world, but has failed to eliminate, and may indeed have exacerbated terrorist movements around the globe.
I’m also sharing this remembrance of 9/11 as a story of loss and a story of being lost. After hearing the news on the radio, I continued my drive having, with no visual experience of what was going on. I could only imagine in my mind the chaos that was stirred up when the first, and then the second tower collapsed, then a plane crashed into the Pentagon, and another attempt thwarted when a plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. I remember erroneous reports of other attacks, including a plane crash into Camp David, one of several reports which turned out to be untrue. The more I drove, the more I remember a sense of deep loss, and a sense of being lost, coming over my soul. And I wondered where God was in all of this. In the aftermath of these acts of unprecedented evil, I began to think that God may have given up on all of us – were we beyond even God’s ability to help? We all seemed so vulnerable, so fragile, sooooooooo….lost. I’m reminded of the scene in the Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, when facing annihilation by the army of Saruman at Helm’s Deep, King Theoden lamented: “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”
The parables that Jesus presents in Luke 15 remind us that God does not see the world in the same way that we see it. Jesus is sitting with a group of “tax collectors and sinners”, which is a way of describing those that don’t belong to the elite religious class of the time – those lost ones considered to be unworthy of God’s love. Looking on were the Pharisees who were complaining about Jesus, and the amount of time and attention he gave to those the Pharisees deemed to be unworthy, unredeemable – lost. Observing the class divide standing in front of him, Jesus uses double-edged sword of God’s Word here as the teachings provide comfort and hope to those the world considers lost, and simultaneously issue a call to repentance for those who use their power to oppress rather than liberate – those who determine who is lost and who is not – those who determine who is worthy of being found, and who is beyond the pale.
Jesus makes the first parable very personal right from the outset – “Which of you”, Jesus asks. Which of you having 100 sheep, and losing one of them….? Actually, Jesus seems to assume a little much here. I’m not sure that any of us would leave 99 of anything unguarded to find 1 that was lost. But that is just the point… that his audience knows that the parable exposes their own weaknesses and points them to see a heavenly shepherd who will risk everything to find the one who has been lost. The shepherd in the parable takes extraordinary risk with almost no hope – even to the point of venturing deep into the wilderness (an image that conveys an area of complete desolation, utter loneliness, beyond any kind of protection) to retrieve the one sheep who everyone else has left for dead. Most “normal” people would consider the actions of this shepherd to be folly, but Jesus uses this image to let us know the depth of God’s love for us, and the lengths that God will go to find and return any part of God’s creation that looks lost and beyond healing. It’s an image that makes us think of those 9/11 first responders who risked so much to run toward ground zero, when most were running away from danger and death. Jesus tells us through this parable that God is the ultimate first responder who never considers anyone to be lost and considers none to be unworthy of risking everything to save. And more importantly, considers recovery of the lost something over which God and in fact all of God’s kingdom rejoices.
The second parable, about a woman and her lost coin, is more than just a repetition of the same message with different metaphors. This parable takes us in a little bit deeper to show how much God has done and will do for those who seem lost. It would be easy for the woman to say that its hardly worth the effort to find one solitary coin, while still retaining 90% of what she owns. Yet, this woman stops everything to scour her home to look for the coin. We are told the woman searched carefully, more literally she over-cares for the coin, looking over and over and over again. We are given a sense of her determination, and she lights a lamp to aid in her search. The lamp not only brightens the room to aid in her search, but also allows the coin to reflect some of that light in order to be more visible to the woman. Do you see the connection of lighting the lamp to the gift of the light of Jesus?
Like the widow and the coin, God so loved the world, this often lost world, that he sent Jesus, God’s only son to be a light shining our way to God, and to give us a chance to reflect that light along the way. And like the first parable, the end result of finding what was lost, is the joy of all of heaven, that what once was lost has now been found, what was considered dead has been found alive.
You see, God never counts anyone of us as lost and never leaves any of us for dead. Each and every one of us is as precious to God as that one lost sheep or that one lost coin. God promises never to stop searching, no matter how far away we stray. God always lights the lamp, searches over and over again, and rejoices when we see God’s light and turn back. There will be much joy in heaven, when we realize that those promises are for us, and for each of us. What the world may count as lost, God counts as loved.
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About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.