You just heard two Jewish stories from the first ten verses of the 15th chapter of Luke that touch on the theme of being lost. Here’s another Jewish story that touches on the same theme.
Abe and Esther are flying to Australia to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Suddenly, over the public address system, the captain announces, “Ladies and Gentleman, I’m afraid we have some very bad news. Our engines have ceased functioning and we will attempt an emergency landing. Luckily, I see an uncharted island below us and we should be able to land on the beach. However, the odds are that we will never be rescued and will have to live on the island for the rest of our lives.” Thanks to the skill of the flight crew, the plane did indeed land safely on the island.
An hour later Abe turns to his wife and asks, “Esther, did we pay our charity pledge check to Beth Shalom Synagogue yet?” “No sweetheart,” she responds. Abe, still shaken from the crash landing, then asks, “Esther, did we pay our United Jewish Appeal pledge?” “Oh, no, I’m sorry. I forgot to send the check,” she says. “One last thing, Esther. Did you remember to send the check for the Synagogue Building Fund this month?” “Oh, forgive me, Abe,” begged Esther, “I didn’t send that one either.” Abe then grabs his wife and gives her the biggest kiss she’s had in 40 years. Finally, she pulls away and asks him, “So why did you kiss me?” Abe answers, “They will find us.”
I vividly remember a moment of lostness from about 50 years ago. As a child growing up in California, family vacations often involved renting a cabin for a week up in the mountains. I know what you’re thinking: cool walks in the shade under towering pines, a dip in a mountain lake or a lazy day fishing along a mountain stream.
Well, yes, I suppose some families did those things. But not the Kershners. My parents’ idea of a good time was a long, torturous uphill hike – usually to some lookout point from where one could see far below into the valley and dimly see families actually having fun.
On one particular hike we were near the end of the day’s ordeal, within a mile or so of the trailhead, when I suddenly found myself alone and off the trail. I was terrified. I could only imagine the worst. I knew I would never be found.
Fortunately, I did have the good sense to do one thing right in the midst of my panic. I looked around for a familiar landmark before I wandered too far away from anything I could recognize. Soon enough I found it and was able to make my way back to the trail.
Lostness can take many forms: the death of a loved one can leave you lost, a broken relationship can leave you lost, unemployment can leave you lost, serious illness can leave you lost, no sense of purpose and motivation can leave you lost, a sudden encounter with one’s own mortality can leave you lost. And that’s just for starters.
In all of our lostness, we would do well to remember the admonition: “When lost, go back to the last place you knew. Hold on to what you know is true.”
And what are those things?
They are the familiar landmarks we knew before we became lost. If you seem lost without the one who recently died in your arms, remember those times when that loved one danced in your arms. Those memories speak of a love which does not end.
And speaking of a love which does not end, if you are lost, recall those times in your life when you have sensed the nearness of God and God’s love for you. “Go back to the last place you knew. Hold on to what you know is true.”
When the cruel realities of life seem to have you beaten down, as they sometimes can, remember those stories from Scripture which have given you comfort and hope. For me, one big one is the story of the father welcoming back the prodigal son. Remember what you learned of Jesus from your Sunday School teachers. And remember not just what they said, but how they lived. Remember the simple moral values by which you have tried to live your life. Remember those you have loved and those who have loved you.
Seek those places – it may be a church or it may be a favorite spot in a quiet park or it may be a noisy bowling alley – where you have before found support for the journey.
“Go back to the last place you knew. Hold on to what you know is true.”
Practice kindness where you can. Show compassion to the less fortunate. Don’t return hate with more hate. Forgive, not because you condone, but because you refuse to let your life be consumed by the desire for vengeance. It won’t cure your illness or bring back a loved one, but it will leave you feeling less lost.
In your lostness, remember that God’s love is often mediated through the love of friends. Hold on to them.
A man lost in West Virginia pulled into a gas station. With panic in his voice he told the attendant, “I’m lost.” The attendant smiled and said in a relaxed manner, “You’re not lost, you’re with us.” Perhaps Jesus says to you in today’s text, “You’re not lost, you’re with me.” Amen.