Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 11, 2022

Teri McDowell Ott reflects on the challenge and gift of being lost, and how we can live with the certainty that will be found by our God who seeks.

Teri McDowell Ott's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.

Pentecost 14C
Luke 15:1-10

I am directionally challenged. Living in rural Illinois before I had GPS in my car, I lost hours trying to find my way through the expansive cornfields where every road, every turn, looked exactly the same. Now, with GPS in my car and my phone, I am overly reliant on technology that doesn’t always recognize construction detours or closed roads. And once I know how to get where I’m going, my passenger should not try suggesting a different, more direct route. Changing routes means possibly getting lost again. And nothing feels more frustrating, vulnerable, exhausting, and defeating than losing your way.

In Luke 15:1-10 Jesus shares two of a series of three parables about the nature of God to a gathered crowd. Before we get to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11, we hear about the lost sheep and the lost silver coin. These two parables make a strong theological claim — not so much about those who are lost, but about the commitment of the one who does the searching. Neither the sheep nor the coin does anything to get themselves out of the mess. When separated from his shepherd and flock, a sheep hunkers down in fear, making him even harder to find. When a coin rolls off the table into a dusty corner, it doesn’t shine any brighter to alert the seeker of its whereabouts. It’s helpless, dependent on the one seeking to be found. These parables teach about our God who is relentless in these search and rescue missions, a God who will not rest until we are found.

Getting lost is frustrating and exhausting and makes me late. But it also makes me face my own limits and dependency. As much as I would like to celebrate my self-sufficiency, I am, at times, completely incapable of helping myself. None of us, in fact, can walk through this life without help. Getting lost reminds us of our needs. It can also remind us of our support system.

A few years ago I read a creative essay called “Spiritual Withdrawal: A Tool for Restoration” that encouraged readers to get lost, to take an extemporaneous walk to a destination unknown, to step from a why into whylessness, to lose track of the possible in order to dwell in the impossible. The author David James Duncan suggested that this intentional act of getting lost can disorient us away from ourselves and reorient us back towards God. Duncan concluded the essay with the following prayer:

When I’m lost, God help me get more lost. Help me lose me so completely that nothing remains but the primordial peace and originality that keep creating and sustaining this … love-worthy world that is never lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me.

As we reflect on these parables in Luke, might we allow ourselves to veer off course, to inhabit a space of uncertainty, to lose our way and to allow our fears and limitations to surface?

Are you feeling disoriented? Have you fallen so far from your “table” you can’t figure out which end is up? Are you dizzy with questions that have no easy answers, or fear that keeps you hunkering down? Do you have no idea which way you should turn?

Take a moment. Breathe. Let yourself feel lost. Give yourself permission to feel your needs, your desires, your expectations, your fears.

Then, pause and pay attention. Listen.

Do you hear the swish of grass broken and trampled just over the next hill? Do you feel the ground trembling beneath you as footsteps approach? Do you smell the sweat of the shepherd who is searching for you? Can you feel how precious you are to One who is frantically searching?

Go ahead. Let yourself be found. Because only then will you realize that, by God’s grace, you were never out of reach.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Recall a time you were lost. What were you thinking as you were lost? What were you feeling?
  2. Recall a time you were found after being lost. How did being found feel?
  3. Have you had any spiritual experiences where you felt sought or found by God? What did you learn from these experiences?