... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 5 Year C, Message June 23rd, 2013

Lost and Found!

Text: 1 Kings 19:1-4(5-7)8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

In one of the comic strips – I’m not sure which one – there was a scene in which the father who was driving replies to his wife’s question, “Are we lost?” states, “I’m not lost, I know exactly where I am!” However the next frame shows him whispering to himself, “I just don’t know how to get to where I’m supposed to be!” Does this sound familiar to anyone here? Who has ever experienced being lost?

As a young boy I was in the Cubs and as part of St. Thomas’ Scouts and Cubs I was privileged to have a cabin in the bush outside of St. John’s in the Sugar Loaf Hills. On a regular basis the Scouts or the Cubs would have a weekend camp and we would get to work on a lot of the outdoor badges. One such weekend saw the Cubs engaged in a scavenger hunt and needless to say several of the boys wandered away. Fortunately all four stumbled into a meadow from all four direction, each totally disoriented and each totally fearful of the approaching nightfall. Agreeing to pick a single direction and walking in a straight line they eventually found a road which led them back many hours later, and in total darkness back to the cabin. Despite the joyful return the experience had taken its toll. Each of those boys had come face to face with the fears of humanity – the fear of being lost, the fear of not being in control, the fear of losing family and the fear of dying. We had been lost and knew it.

But there are many ways of being lost and in many cases they come without the sense of being lost. Asked if he had a plan for his future the young prospective son-in-law answered his to be mother-in-law, “Oh yes! I’ve got this great job and we will have lots of income, have a nice house and we will be happy!” His future mother-in-law- then said, “What about church!” He said he wasn’t sure if there would be time. Her reply, “Pity!”

Over and over we are reminded that it is only in the acknowledgement and service of God that we can hope to find our rightful place in the order of creation. And until we are able to find that place we are lost! The person who spends all his or her time trying to make ends meet or to become wealthy; the one who finds the thousand everyday chores chokes any hope for relaxation; the man or woman who goes through life lamenting the political social or economic stage of the world around may all be lost and not even know it. Such are some of the reports from today’s scriptural readings.

Elijah doing the Lord’s work – combatting the forces of false prophets – finds himself in the very real situation of being the target of royal revenge. Faced with the threat of death he flees into the wilderness. He is lost and his only way out as he sees it is to be allowed to die. Yet by divine intervention he is strengthened and led to a place where he is now able to see his lostness, to see that his battles with Jezebel is not his alone and that he is not the centre of doing. God comes to Elijah in the sound of silence in the moment of stillness and shows, if not pushes, him in the right direction. In the gentle whisper of the Almighty the raging cacophony of life’s battles are met and defeated restoring the lost and giving water to quench the thirst.

The psalm echoes the experience of one who has suffered lost situations and knows from those encounters that it is only in God that one finds hope and rescue. Paul in the passage from Galatians also points out that the path of being lost is our stubbornness and tendency toward self-centeredness. Reading the wider letter to the Galatians we will discover that being lost is in fact being away or apart from God. Such was the fate of humanity after the fall of Adam and until the choosing of Abraham by God. With Moses came the Law which became the parental guidance opening our eyes to see that we were lost, and trying to direct our course back. However, with Christ came a new sense of direction – a direction as one possessing a compass and hence the ability to direct one’s own course.

The exorcism story concerning the demoniac from Gerasene is not primarily about physical healing or indeed psychological healing, but about the restoration of one man’s identity. It is about salvation and the journey from being lost to being found. The first indication of this is the man’s response to Jesus’ question, “What is your name?” The man replies, “Legion” and we are told this was because many demons had been in the man. Yet the t term in light of what it means to be lost speaks volumes. The man oppressed and assaulted by too many demons has lost himself in the cacophony of their voices and has ceased being himself. He has, by the very onslaught of the burden become isolated form his community and even himself. David Lose notes that many today are overwhelmed by the voices of everyday living and expectations raging at them from all sides, denigrating their identity and driving them to places of extreme loneliness and despair. A personal illustration of this comes from one of my medical staff men when I was an intern. He was lost in the identity of doctor beset by the compulsion to be all things to each of his patients – spending upwards of 20 hours a day in his practice or at the hospital. Lost in this ever increasing demand he did see the loss of his marriage, the down turn of his health or the isolation from his family until it was too late. When things eventually fell apart he was too far lost to see that it had been his own doing, and instead blamed others for his situation.

Not to dwell on the individual as being lost, the story shows us that even societies may be lost. Having healed the man and restored him to his true identity the people didn’t rejoice or show amazement. Instead we are told they were afraid and asked Jesus to leave. In their own way the entire population was lost. With the swineherds we might understand their reticence as they lost their herd of swine and Jesus’ action had cost them their livelihood. However the entire city and countryside were afraid. Perhaps having seen the man restored to his true identity put them in a place where they no longer knew how to respond. When Cinderella goes from downtrodden household servant to princess the family and indeed the village do not know how to respond. The human “preferring the devil we know to the one we don’t” is alive and strong. People fear change! And perhaps congregations are among those who fear change the most and are those who need to be nurtured slowly and tenderly.

Perhaps that is why Jesus chose not to let the restored Gerasene man follow him but bade him to return home and to testify to God’s graciousness in his own life. Maybe as he witnessed to God’s gift to him through Jesus he may have been an instrument for good in the life of his community. Maybe his actions were the groundwork for the Gentile acceptance of the Gospel message some 30-40 years after the event when Paul began his Ministry to the Gentiles and found favour there. For sure, if Jesus had allowed him to become one of his regular followers the people of Gerasene would have returned to their previous way of life and would have been much more hesitant about allowing the Gospel into their midst.

God works in mysterious ways to seek us in our lostness. Sometimes it is in the turbulence of nature, sometimes it is in the quiet stillness between the thunders, sometimes it will be in the miraculous and dramatic and yet it might be in the slow and steady witnessing of one who has experienced being lost and then restored.

Are we lost and seeking to find our way back? Are we lost and don’t know it? Or are we lost and afraid of the alternative?

Almighty God, you alone know our lot in life whether we are lost, whether we struggle. You have given hope through your well beloved son and through him have promised new life. Help us we pray to see when we are lost, to know when we have strayed and to guide us gently back to the path of renewed self and restored identity. Keep us ever mindful of your presence and open our ears to hear you amid all the demons of the world. This we pray in the name of your Son Jesus Christ.