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Sermon: September 15, 2019

Proper 19 – Luke 15:1 – 10  

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. 

 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ 

Have you ever had one of those weeks were everything you had planned gets turned upside down?  Sometimes when that happens, it can feel like the rug got pulled out from under you.  Sometimes we can feel lost in unusual terrain.

Thursday night when we picked Mike up for a weekend visit, he was off.  A quick check of his temperature indicated a low-grade fever.  We figured he was coming down with something and when he asked to go to bed early, we knew sleep would be the best thing for him.

Friday morning he woke up asking for Advil for his headache.  He’d been complaining about a pain since Wednesday.  And his neck was sore.  Checking his temperature again, we learned that the low-grade fever had jumped to 102.7. 

Off to his family doctor in West Bloomfield. She couldn’t find any reason for the fever or for the headache.  However, combined with the stiff neck she’d discovered and he’d complained about, she was worried and suggested that it wouldn’t be the worst idea to go to the ER. Because of how his symptoms were manifesting, his doctor was worried about meningitis.  That sent us into a tail spin.

Which ER?  We were in unfamiliar territory.  She suggested Providence in Novi.  So, off we went.  I have to tell you, it’s been a very long couple of days.  Not knowing what lie ahead, not fully understanding all that was going on with Mike, we felt a little lost.  As much time as we both have spent in various hospitals, as many things as we’ve had to deal with together over these past years, and as many situations as Dave has experienced with Mike since he was born, well, nothing helped make us feel any more comfortable with this situation.  

Today’s parable speaks into everything we were experiencing.  We were the sheep that was lost in the wilderness.  We were the coin that was hiding somewhere in the house.  We needed to be found.

And we were.

Part way through that first night in the ER, Dave needed to go for a wee walk.  For some reason, and even now he has no idea why, he decided to head outside.  It was dark and there was nothing out there.  He listened and let that inner voice lead him outside.

As he was noticing his surroundings, he heard a voice.  A familiar voice.  One he hadn’t heard in many years.  It was one of Mike’s teachers.  The one who had been with him for almost his entire schooling over in Farmington Hills. Joyce and Mike shared a special bond. Mike was always one of her favorites, she always told us.  Knowing Joyce, I suspect that every student was one of her favorites.  Mike loved her.

As she turned around, Dave called her name and she immediately brightened.  As they talked outside, Joyce shared some of her story.  Joyce has a brother and when they were in their early 20’s she and he were in a massive car accident that left her brother totally paralyzed. She’s been his caregiver ever since, living with her for a time, then moving on to an apartment on his own, then moving back in with her and her husband.

There was a point in time when her husband had had enough.  It was a challenge to care for his brother-in-law and he couldn’t do it anymore. He confronted Joyce.  It was either him or her brother.  She had to choose.

Joyce didn’t use these words in her story, but the sentiment was sure there.  She was lost. Just like the sheep.  Just like the coin.  She needed to be found.

Where do you turn when your world turns upside down? When everything you were sure of just yesterday ends and you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, not even knowing where to begin.

Joyce turned to prayer.  She stayed up that entire night praying for wisdom and guidance. Praying for help in making an impossible decision.  The next morning an inner voice led her out of the house as she walked to the mailbox. She told us she has no idea what made her do that – she never walked to the mailbox.

Standing there was one of her neighbors.  They uttered all the normal social niceties and then she decided to ask if he knew anyone in the neighborhood who was selling their house.  As she pondered this horrible turn of events, she thought the best thing would be to find a house in the neighborhood for her brother to live in.  Close enough that she could still be his caregiver.  Far enough away that her husband felt he had his space. She’d scoured the websites and nothing was for sale.  Nothing.

So, when she asked this man if he knew of anyone selling their house, she really had no hope.  You know what he said?  He was about to go and look at a new house and his house would be for sale.  It was a ranch.  And it was a two-minute walk from her house.

She was found!  An inner voice had led her to the mailbox at the exact moment when her neighbor was there.  An inner voice was spoken aloud as she asked a question she believed she knew the answer to. And she asked it anyways.

The story doesn’t end with what seemed to me to be a perfect ending.  You see, her brother didn’t have enough money to purchase the house.  She and her husband didn’t have enough money to purchase the house.  That seems like an insurmountable problem to me.  It wasn’t.  A friend of her brother’s purchased the house for him.  

Joyce was bubbling as she told that story. Over and over again, she kept saying that everything she was saying was true.  Feeling lost, she still has no idea what led her to the mailbox that day. Feeling lost, Dave still has no idea what drove him outside in the dark of night.  Not just to hear a familiar voice.  He was led outside to listen to a story of being found by the One who stops at nothing to find us when we are lost. 

Dave and I needed to hear Joyce’s story about being found.  Together, sitting in the lobby of the hospital I heard Joyce’s story and Dave heard it again.  Seeing Joyce in the walking across the lobby was a miracle in and of itself.  By this time Mike was in the Critical Decision Unit and Joyce’s father was admitted to a bed on the fourth floor.  

Dave had sent me home to get some sleep the night before and on the way in I stopped at St. Jude’s and picked up prayer shawls for Mike, for Joyce’s father and for Joyce.  We didn’t know where to begin to look for Joyce.  We had no idea what her father’s name is.  And there she was.  As I shared the shawls with her, she started to tell me the story.  It was an amazing honor to be brought into the story.  To feel alive with the miracles of being found. To join in a heavenly celebration even when our world was still so up in the air.

I learned something from Joyce that I know I will carry forever.  You see, Joyce left a job teaching in a school that isn’t easy to be in day in and day out.  It’s a job she loved and dearly misses.  She left to be a full-time caregiver for her aging father and her paraplegic brother. That’s something that can sap your energy.  Especially when the needs are so great.

Yet Joyce is incredibly positive.  She’ll tell you over and over again that she loves her life.  She misses teaching her students.  She continues to love them.  Joyce did share that when she first retired, she found herself in a depression.  I suspect that she was grieving the life that she’d had.  When she recognized her “foundness”, Joyce was drawn up into God’s celebration. It’s a celebration that she continues to live into and to share.

I think of all the parts of today’s scripture reading, it’s the celebration that hits me the deepest.  I mean, when’s the last time you held a party to celebrate that you’d found a penny, or even a quarter?  Granted, this coin was probably a day’s wages.  But can you imagine the expense of having this kind of party?

That’s the kind of God that we have.  One that loves us so much that God celebrates when we find ourselves; when we find God.  Celebration’s the name of the game.  It’s a celebration that draws you in and holds you until you begin celebrating too.

When Dave found Joyce that night, he experienced her celebration.  As Dave and Joyce and I visited in the lobby, Dave and I were caught up in her ability to celebrate.  

Yesterday afternoon I was out for a short walk when I got a text from Dave.  Dr.’s in. As I rounded the corner I had no idea what to expect.  The doctor had already given Dave the news and now I heard it.  No meningitis!  The doctor was amazing.  Took the time to explain about how they need to keep looking to understand and cure the infection that is present.  Answered all of our questions.  Helped us to feel comfortable.  In his conversation I experienced “foundness”.  Someone searched us out.  Someone cared enough to be present with us in the midst of our feeling lost. 

I can’t say we’ve been caught up in God’s celebration just yet.  Being in the hospital is a frustrating experience.  When I find myself spiraling down into being lost again, I think of Joyce. I remember how caught up Joyce already is.  She celebrates her “foundness” even when it seems far away.  She celebrates so fully, so beautifully, that it can’t help but catch up everyone she’s with.

My sisters and brothers.  We are already found!  God never lets us go.  That’s something to celebrate!