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Monday, September 13, 2010

Lost and Found

Lost and Found
1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

My daughters and I were doing some belated school supply shopping this past week. Sophie needed some art pencils, so we went to the art supply store in Old Town. I sent Sophie off to find her pencils, and Lucy and I went in separate directions to browse. We all agreed to meet back at the cash register in a few minutes. I found Sophie standing in the line after I'd satisfied my need to look at cool pens. She was checking out the erasers and pencils near the register, and we waited our turn. When the cashier invited us forward, the gentle man behind us barked, "There's a LINE HERE!" I hadn't understood that Sophie was just looking at the merchandise near the line. I thought she had been waiting in the line. So we had, in fact, cut in front of the barking man without knowing it. I apologized to him, and waved him forward, and as he took his rightful place at the register, he scolded the cashier for not having paid closer attention. We waved the next few customers forward as well, until we sure it really was our turn. I found myself, as we waited, watching the barking man at the register. His face was set with anger and disgust. It was a face of hate. I couldn't help wondering how he got there? Had he had a particularly bad day? Or was his face always calcified with hate? I had to look away after awhile. He scared me.

The face of hate has been on display this week. And it has been alive in our memories. Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of 9/11. As we remember and grieve again the loss of some 3,000 lives on that day, we continue to be frightened and appalled and devastated by the hatred that would lead people to such abominable, violent acts.

The face of hate showed up on a pastor in Florida this week as well, who threatened to burn the sacred texts of fellow seekers and lovers of God. Wasn't it hate that led to such a threat? It looks like hate to me.

Political cartoonist Mike Luckovich offered a look at hate this week. A parishioner sent his cartoon to Al, and Al passed it along to me. He draws a globe, and on one side, an outline of the U.S., and on the other side, an outline of the Mideast. On the U.S. side, a woman and her child sit on a couch facing a television screen, and on the television are two angry middle-eastern faces holding plackards. One reads "Infedels" and the other reads "Death to America." The woman is saying to her child, "Not all Muslims are hateful..." Sitting on couch on the other Mideast side of the globe are a woman and her child. They are also looking at a television screen on which are two angry American faces. On holds a plackard reading "No Mosques!" and the other holds a plackard that says "Burn the Koran!" This mother is saying to her child, "Not all Christians are hateful..."

Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in response to a recent rash of anti-Muslim frenzy is quoted as saying, "This is not America. America was not built on hate."

My response to this hatred, all of it, is to say NO to it. It is our call to say no to hate in all its forms. It is our gospel obligation. But how am I saying NO to this hate with my actions? I notice that I respond to hate by distancing myself from it. It frightens me. I am offended and frightened by the man at the art supply store. I am offended and frightened by religious extremists, whatever their faith, even and sometimes especially my own. I turn away from those faces. Their fierceness, their power seem impenetrable. The people who spew such hatred seem to me to be a lost cause.

Paul was such a guy. Paul had deep hatred for all Christians, and wreaked havoc for them. In the book of Acts, leading up to the story of his conversion, it says he was "breathing threats and murder." Hate was the very air he breathed. I imagine his face looked a lot like the faces we've been seeing and remembering this week. Listen to Paul's own description of himself, pre-conversion, his anti-resume: "I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence." I would have been afraid of Paul in his Saul days. I would have wanted to get as far away from him as possible. I would have looked forward to his demise. I would have him a lost cause.

But what does God do with Paul? God moves towards him. God goes after him. God looks at his anti-resume, his offensive, violent, destructive life, and interrupts it with blinding love. Where we see lost cause, God sees lost lamb. Where we can see only sinner, God sees through the sinner to the person God made, someone of immense value, God's precious child. Who but God could have wanted Paul? It's stunning, isn't it, the way God sees. Oh, to have eyes like that. To have a heart like that. God wanted Paul, and God lit the lamp, and swept the house and searched carefully until Paul was found. And look at Paul's life after that. He spent the rest of it loving with the same intensity with which he had hated. He spent seeking and fighting for a finding the lost, and welcoming them in.

We see the same approach in the gospel today. Jesus is having a meal, whether as host or guest, we're not sure. But he's sitting at a table surrounded by tax collectors and sinner. And on the periphery of the gathering, pharisees and scribes are complaining loudly that Jesus is eating with these lost causes. Jesus hears their grumblings, and he responds with stories that challenge their view of his dinner companions.

My favorite is the story of the lost coin. A woman has ten silver coins, but one of them is lost, and she is frantic to find it. Today's stand-in for the silver coin would be the lost cellphone, or perhaps more universal, the lost keys. You know this feeling, don't you, when you've lost your keys. It's crazy. You're thrown off your center, the world comes to a screching halt, you're in a complete panick. The keys could be right in front of you in your search, but you're so crazed you can't see them. Your heart races. You rush around like a maniac. It's insane. And when you find them, it really does feel like your whole life has been given back to you.

Jesus says this is the way it is with God when looking for one who is lost. This is the kind of energy God gives to the search. This is the picture God paints of the search for the ones we want to hate, the ones we've given up on, the ones we can't imagine ever being redeemed, the ones we wouldn't want to be redeemed.

This is such radical vision. I don't see like God sees, most of the time. But I want to. I want to learn. I want to practice it. And I want to pay attention to the hatred in my own life, my own heart. It probably won't ever be as ugly or as obvious as the hate on display this week, but it is there. It sneaks around and sometimes ekes its way out. So I will pay attention. And I will be grateful that God will come after me, like God did for Paul, like the woman looking for her coin. God will come after me like that when I am lost in hate. And I will be grateful that God won't rest until I am found. AMEN.

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