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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God's Lost Thngs - 09/15/2019

On Thursday this week, I had an appointment in Marquette at 9 am and a Noon meeting here in Munising. So I was in fifth gear from the get-go that day. It was a busy week like that – Thursday Night @ Church kicked off that night too. We’d had a council meeting this week. And the Kiwanis Club had its annual dinner in which we installed new officers and the like. Then, as you can see already, we kicked off our Stretch & Grow Stewardship focus … AND I leave for a long-awaited vacation with my Mom on Monday.

Through all of it, I had been thinking and talking to people a lot about these lost things, this one sheep in a hundred, this one coin in ten … but by Thursday, I still hadn’t really landed on what I should preach about.

And then I walked into church Thursday morning between calendar items. The quilters were here at the time, getting quilts ready for Eden’s annual gift to Lutheran World Relief and so I asked how things were going.

Well, they weren’t going as expected. When the quilters got here, they discovered sheets that had been set aside for quilt backings had mysteriously disappeared. Seriously, we cannot figure out what happened, so if you know anything, please let us know. And if you have any sheets that are ready to repurpose, the group could really use them.

And, I realized in the midst of finding out about the lost sheets and in that mix of irritation and bewilderment the lost sheets had caused, that God had just dropped the sermon start in my lap … the story of the lost sheets.

I joked about it with Jean Hayes a little, thinking maybe …

After my noon meeting, I ran to the grocery to grab some lunch food, and Bruce was there. “Hey, did they find the lost sheets?” he asked.

What?! How did he even know? News had spread that fast? It was also an indication of how real this loss feels to the ones who have lost these sheets. These quilts will be blessed next week and are scheduled to get loaded onto a truck with quilts from throughout our synod very soon. The lost sheets present a challenge to getting all those quilts done now.

It was pretty clear that this was where the Spirit was leading, but just in case I had any doubt, Friday, when Terry came into the office – she doesn’t work on Thursdays – one of the first things she asked me was, “Did they find the lost sheets?”

That story of something valued and treasured and lost, got me thinking about a couple of other stories too.

Like the story of an amber necklace I used to have. My stepdad Rodger gave it to me the summer after Max was born when I went to visit them in Texas. Back at home in Negaunee I was also caring for my father, who was very ill. The necklace was a piece of raw amber, about the size of an almond in its shell. It was a beautiful deep orange color and because it was raw, the surface was imperfect and chaotic, it had a soapy, opaque kind of finish to it – kind of like life, I thought.

I loved it and I grew to love it more when Max tried to bite it a couple of times when I was nursing him. Amber is very soft, so it didn’t take much for those little razor-sharp new teeth of his to make marks. And I loved those little marks too, how they added to the imperfection and chaos, and reminded me of my children as nursing babies.

So, fast forward about six or seven years. Larry and I decided to go on a trip to Cozumel with some friends. I was 37 and I went snorkeling for the first time, and I was wearing the amber necklace. Once I got the hang of snorkeling, I was under the water thinking, “I wish I had found out about snorkeling long before this! This is great!”

I came up to the surface to share my revelation and the necklace was gone. I dove back down to where I had just been to see if I could find it, but I didn’t. It was lost to me forever.

My friends knew how I felt about the necklace – the story behind all its imperfections, and consoled me right away. But I didn’t want to dampen our vacation spirits, so I said, “Well, I guess it was just time for someone else to have it.” But inside I cried and felt like a little piece of my heart had been pierced in that loss.

And here’s yet another story that came to mind about lost things. In 2005, Larry and I decided to make the move back to the U.P. from lower Michigan. Two of the kids had graduated and spread their wings and so our little migration included us, Max and our two dogs: Itchy Don Pedro de Ferndale, and Miss Isabeau de Ferndale … or Pedro as Izzy as we called them on regular days.

When we moved back, we stayed with a friend for a time while we found a place to live. He lives in one of the houses behind the old airport site in Negaunee. Behind his house are miles and miles of forest and wild U.P. and then Lake Superior, eventually.

Well Izzy, who was typically good off-leash, took off into the woods one afternoon. I looked for her and called her. I yelled the names of her favorite treats into the woods, nothing.

Now, if you know me and Larry for very long, you realize we are dog people. Izzy was a very special dog for our family, particularly for me. We just connected. We got her as a foster dog in Detroit. She’d been rescued and it was suspected that she was being used to breed fighting dogs. But she wasn’t cared for and was very sick.

Because she was considered a pit mix, the shelter staff decided to use her for a training exercise on how to evaluate a dog’s temperament. They chose her because they thought she’d fail. This is a really important thing for shelter staff in Detroit. At that time, Detroit was the blood sport capital of the U.S. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault, but rather, it was the fault of the people who were abusing them and weaponizing these dogs to kill other dogs on command. It’s not only inhumane and sinful, it’s all-kinds of dangerous because they can also be used to attack people and can become very unpredictable. So over the years, Detroit has sadly had to euthanize a lot of abused and dangerous pit pulls. Izzy was headed in that direction, but she, very unexpectedly, she did not fail that temperament test.

So ultimately we ended up fostering her. She came to us weak, full of infection, her coat and eyes were dull. She couldn’t climb stairs and slept a lot. As she started to heal, her true personality started to emerge and she was a lovely dog. The better she got, the more we knew she was not leaving us.

She was smart as a whip and won two awards in dog training … one for obeying a sit/stay command from across the entire stretch of a warehouse, and one for her beautiful hourglass figure.

She was very athletic and loved to be off leash on trails and beaches. She ran up the sides of trees chasing squirrels and birds. She was bit of a mysterious mix … basenji and, some even thought, maybe dingo? Whatever it was, it resulted in these strange yodel-like vocals that were endearing and a little reptilian.

She was a joy. And when she hadn’t returned by feeding time that day in Negaunee, I began to fear I’d lost her for good. I prayed. I kept going back out to look and listen for her. I prayed some more. About midnight, I started getting pretty upset, so I went outside and looked up at the heavens, tearing running down my cheeks. When I looked down again, there she was, coming out of the woods. When she saw me she started running to me and pretty soon she was in my arms, nuzzling into my neck, making those weird lizard vocals.

I was so relieved and thankful and just bursting with joy in having found her. I scooped her up and brought her inside and we all shared in that relief and thankfulness and joy.

This is how God feels about us, Jesus says in these parables today. The Pharisees are so focused on the sins of these others – people they have written off as lost for good – they begin to forget they too are sinners. We can assume that Jesus is being a little cheeky when he refers to the 99 righteous who need no repentance. Outside of Jesus, that human is fantasy and fiction.

So Jesus uses this very common, very relatable kind of human experience to try to get through this blind spot the Pharisees reveal in their grumbling about Jesus’ hospitality habits.

He uses this idea of something treasured and loved and lost – maybe even something or someone that is a throw-away in someone else’s’ view – and Jesus says this is how God views the lost ones, all God’s beloved sinners.

So for instance, one of God’s beloved is inexplicably missing – like so many sheets. No one seems to understand why or how, and perhaps we can imagine God too feels something like we do in these situations – some mix of irritation and bewilderment. And, like we do sometimes, God keeps pursuing the lost and the sinners until there’s a buzz about it everywhere you go … did God find the lost one yet?

Or, another of us may turn away from God completely, walk farther and farther from God’s law and God’s promise of freedom and redemption in Jesus. And God’s response is a lot like ours when we lose something we love. Like us, God grieves and cries and feels like that Divine heart has been pierced and wounded through and through.

And, God never stops searching for the lost ones or the various parts of any of us that may be lost right now. We hear evidence of this in our invitation to Communion these days, which is a persistent and authentic call to the faithful and the lost alike. “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Come take your place at the table.”

And if we can remember the relief and joy and thankfulness we feel when we have found something or someone treasured and lost, we get a beautiful and divine glimpse into what God feels when even one sinner.

We get a sense of God’s seriousness and commitment to seeking all that is lost. And we begin to see more clearly, our own reflections in the eyes of the sinners Jesus keeps calling to this table – all of them, all of us. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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