Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Sep. 11, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Sep 11, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Sep. 11, 2022

My nephew Matthew was one of those children who seemed to consider it his duty to disobey whatever his mother (my sister Lisa) told him. One visit I recall being especially challenging. She needed to go to Sears, and on our way in from the car, Matthew, then three or four, broke free from her hand and ran up to one of those riding toys out front (this one a silver painted rocket) that for a quarter or two lurched and rocked for a few minutes. Mind you, he’d pulled out of her grasp while we crossed the parking lot, narrowly dodging cars as he ran. He tried to climb into it, but Lisa said, “Not now, maybe when we come out, if you stay with mommy this time.” He didn’t like it, but tacitly agreed, twisting and tugging at her hand as we went entered the store.

He immediately smelled the ever-present popcorn machine and ran for it. Lisa got him a bag — it always kept him busy — and I drifted away from them to look at something. Soon I heard her voice across the store in that parental pseudo-happy clenched teeth voice calling him. “Matthew! Where arrrre you?” We  looked around expecting he’d hidden under a clothing rack, but no. Just telltale pieces of popcorn here and there. He wasn’t at the escalator that fascinated him, nor the camping display nor even back at the relentlessly prolific popcorn stand, and so a saleswoman called over the loudspeaker for anyone who could spot a little boy in blue jeans and a red t-shirt. No one did. My sister was verging on hysteria, calling, coaxing and scolding. The security guards came and immediately locked down the whole store. Every exit. No one in or out until he was found. All departments on both floors were checked, every dressing room and bathroom searched, and still no Matthew. Lisa soon forgot her anger at his taking off and went into full panic mode, sure that someone had lured him away and taken him. Security guards continued searching  and also called the police. 

Then a crackly indistinct male voice was heard on the security guard’s two-way radio. He thinks he may have found the kid, so could his parent come to the west exit to identify him. The guard guided us over and unlocked the door (the store was still on lock-down), and there, sitting in that rocket ride, was Matthew, with tears streaming down his face because it wouldn’t ‘go’ and he wanted desperately it to. He was oblivious to our panicked search and store-wide drama on his behalf. Lisa pulled him into her arms, still shaking with adrenaline as her little one sobbed. Their wet cheeks traded tears as she held and kissed him. Seeing his head resting on her shoulder, arms around her neck, called to mind images of the shepherd finding the lamb and lifting it to his own shoulders. 

I’m no sheep rancher so I’m hard-pressed to imagine tending such a herd and leaving them all to chase after one runaway. I can relate some to turning my house inside out for something precious to me or perhaps a valuable coin. (How will we tell this as more places no longer even accept coins?). These parables are followed by a third we don’t read today about a father whose sons are lost in different ways, and the humanization of loss and relationship intensifies the lesson. This is why I shared my nephew’s story. 

My sister’s anguished and relentless search for her child is what I imagine Jesus is trying to convey that day about God’s relentless love for us. No matter how far we run, how dangerous a path we weave, no matter how badly we think we need that object of gratification, God loves and finds us. We may relate to a child as if twisting our hand out of God’s hand, realizing that to follow our noses to the most recent ‘bright shiny object’ also means turning away, leaving God out of sight and mind. Are we like the little boy running after a mirage of flying rocket rides or painted horses, itching for the quarters to buy the momentary fantasy, only to discover that short-lived thrill can never really take off for us.

What lasts forever is the divine Love who seeks us, the life-changing power of the bond between us and Christ. The journey we take with him is no fifty-cent illusion, nor does it require running away; it is real and it is eternal. Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Hear the comfort and promise in those words! We can always return to God, and it’s a good thing, because I have to tell you, two days later Matthew again slipped away from this mother who loved him and tried to keep him close. This time at a yard sale, where he ran down a hill to see the cows…who were behind an electric fence! While part of me laughed with relief at stopping him in time to avoid potential injury, another part of me was cross with Lisa for giving him too much leeway. 

But looking back, God gives us that freedom too and we are loathe to surrender it. We have the freedom to come and follow Jesus, and we are free to turn away, go off on our own —be it into dangerous places, to try out foolish things, or chase after idols— because free will is among God’s gifts to us. Returning is our gift to God, and one of great rejoicing. 

In response to our Lord, we are the ones embraced with tears of joy. Gathered into the arms of Love incarnate renews our longing to know, believe, trust, and rest assured. In seeking forgiveness for our forays away from that lasting love, we receive receive it, for you are the one he is searching for.

That ‘lost sheep’ likely took off repeatedly, as did my nephew, and the coin may have been lost again too. Does God get tired of coming after us? We began with the answer today; Jesus didn’t tire of welcoming and breaking bread with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who came to listen. How can you lace yourself into these parables and feel the depth of Jesus is teaching? How did you feel when a beloved animal companion, a child, grandchild, sibling or spouse was somehow ‘lost’ in the world, or lost to you? Whether you rejoiced at finding them or grieved at losing them, we get a glimpse of God’s depth of love for us, and the grief at our running away. Have you ever felt truly lost, and then found? That heart-pounding relief at restoration is immersive for both the one searching and the one found.

This is the time of year children go off to school, various extracurricular activities, and new adventures. Many families have enjoyed the closeness of traveling and vacations together and now return home only to be sending them out it seems, be it online or in person. That can be frightening in the world we live in. There are many ways of being ‘lost’, physical and spiritual, and it isn’t limited by age or neighborhood or aptitude, (we may be lost and found throughout our lives!). We show them ways to be children of God who are caring and kind, curious, while being safe and discerning. Because of you and your gifts it is what they discover here, in worship and prayer, in Godly Play and Youth Group, at coffee hour, work parties, picnics, acolyting, reading and even reenacting bible stories. Like the free will we enjoy, we offer them age-appropriate freedom too. As they explore and grow our greatest gift is to teach them they are so beloved that nothing will ever stop God from finding them and being near. And sometimes we are fortunate enough that God uses us, their family and faith community, to do so. 

Amen.

Note: Matthew and his four siblings all survived to adulthood. Last week he saw his own three children off to school, and today they too are at their church.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.