Read Martha’s Sermon from September 15th
For a pdf version of this sermon, click here.
St. Margaret’s Church
Sermon for Pentecost 17C Pentacost
September 15, 2013
The Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick
Exodus 32:7-14; Ps. 51:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Seeking the Lost & the Circles of Care Program
We all know what it feels like to be lost. One of the most famous literary beginnings is that of Dante’s The Divine Comedy “In the middle of our appointed life, I went astray from the straight road, and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” He has our attention. Somehow we get off-course and find ourselves alone in a dark wood. It is a solitary experience, lost in a dark place, not seeing the path forward, no idea where to turn. Like a lost sheep, sometimes all we can do is sit down where we are and bleat. No more idea of how to move from that place than a nickel stuck between the cushions of a couch.
This gospel text has a few things to say about being in that lost place. The first, and most important, is the reminder that God is seeking us, searching diligently for us, never gives up on us. We are never lost for good. It is interesting the way these two parallel stories are clearly gendered. In the story of the lost sheep all the actors are male, including the friends who celebrate. In the story of the coin, all the actors are female, including the friends who celebrate. There it is.
We are also called to note the intensity of this search. This is the kind of “drop everything to find the lost” that we are to understand is the nature of God’s relationship with us. It also speaks to the intensity with which we seek the lost among us. We are supposed to seek the lost with the full throttle focus that we apply when we can’t find our car keys. Or think of the all-out efforts by the Maine Warden Service when someone is lost in the woods. This is no time for “whatever” or half-heartedness.
What does it mean to be lost? All too often, lostness has been interpreted in the Christian context as “anyone who doesn’t believe what I believe is a lost soul and I am supposed to save them by convincing them of right belief.” This is not consistent with the message of the gospel. I suggest instead that you simply draw on your own experience of being lost, and you’ll be in just the right place to understand what this gospel is about. I invite you to recall a time when you were lost and then you were found. I very much doubt that that was a cognitive experience of thinking one thing and then another. I bet it felt more like a deeply lonely feeling in the heart and a twist in the gut. You may find it helpful to share your experience of being lost. Maybe you were literally lost, turned down a dark road late at night, and someone helped you. The relief. Maybe you experienced a sense of being cut off, excluded, not quite right. And someone paid attention to you and made you feel accepted, and helped you to know that you are loved for who you are.
One more word about this text that has to do with the word “repent.” I have said many times that our word “repent” does not mean in the common sense of feeling sorry that you did a bad thing. That can be the way repentance happens, but it’s way too narrow. Metanoia, the Greek word, literally means “enter into the large mind.” Or perhaps more precisely the heart/mind. In other words, out of the small ego self and into the true self that is centered in God, a place of belovedness and connection to God and to all life. When we do that, and it happens many times, it is a cause for great joy, when we have a new way of seeing through the larger mind of the true self. So if we are seeking the lost, perhaps the best place to start is to help them see their worth, their belovedness in their own unique person, not by telling them, but by enabling them to tap into their own wisdom and supporting them in doing that. This I think is the genius behind the Circles of Care approach, and the great gift is that we are invited to be participants in that process. Patricia Estabrook is going to tell us about that.