Back on a warm and beautiful day in August a friend and I went for a walk in the woods. I believe many of you, like me, have spent a lot more time walking outside since last March. I know that when I ask my favorite small group check-in questions, “Where are you finding God these days?” the answer – outside – is a shared one. All our Zooming has encouraged more roaming.
Which is what we were up to back on that warm summer day. Discovering a new trail in a new wood - Liberty Reservoir, out in Eldersburg, MD. Our trail book promised a hearty two mile or so hike.
We started off at 11am and anticipated being back at the car around 1pm or earlier just in time for lunch. And our guide book delivered on it’s promise! We passed not one but several very tall butterfly bushes teeming with the quivering wings of those delicate insects.
We saw blooming jack in the pulpit flowers in those slivers of sunlight that cut through the shade from all the trees. We crossed streams, saw turtles and passed very few people. I remember a lone fisherman out on his boat, framed through the trees it looked like a painting.
It was a rich, roaming excursion and guess what? We got lost. Quite lost. Even with our guide book, our phones which had a compass. I’d pull up the Maps app on my phone which almost seemed to sarcastically say, your car is here – and if we could fly through trees then we’d get there pretty easily – but there’s no trails on that app. So we kept backtracking – trusting that eventually we’d make the right turn at the place where we’d made a wrong one.
And finally at 6pm – seven hours later - we emerged from those woods and the beauty of a trailhead parking lot and our car. Oh, that glorious feeling! I mean we knew that we weren’t going to be lost forever – but still we were tired and hungry and tired. And what a feeling of security, of ok-ness, of relief.
There is such joy in being found when for a time you were lost.
How often in our lives do we get lost? Or probably better to pose the question – how often in our lives do we experience the relief, the joy of being found? Of knowing this is the work I was meant to do. Or knowing – ah-ha – this is the person I am meant to build a life with? Or yay, I found it, this is the church that I want to attend. This is the volunteer work I want to give my time to.
How grateful I am to have found “this” – whatever that may be – for this is where I belong.
Being found is to feel a returning to one’s own self. The deepest part of yourself where you connect with God – connect with you beloved belonging.
Belonging is what Jesus calls his disciples to. Not mission or ministry or work – it begins with belonging. This is what God calls Samuel, and even Eli, to. To return, or remember or wake up – to their belongingness in the heart of God.
I can’t know if any of them felt lost – but they certainly seem restless. In the gospel, Philip is clearly searching – because he runs to tell his friend that he finally found who they have been looking for. And his friend Nathanial – so honest with his cynical reply – What good can come out of Nazareth?
Cynicism is a characteristic of being lost. Because there is no connection in a cynical heart – to people, or purpose, or possibility. Cynicism is a hair’s breadth away from despair – believing that nothing good can come, ever. Lost without a path out of the perceived darkness. Things are what they are and that is that. It’s short-sighted. Cynicism cannot manage a bigger picture.
I read an email correspondence of an activist, Whitney Kimball Coe, who works on behalf of farmers, the Center for Rural Strategies. She had to take her daughter to the hospital for emergency surgery after a bad fall and she wrote -
“You know, our hospital experience put us directly in the path of so many wonderful East Tennesseans. Nurses and technicians and doctors, the other parents waiting in the ER, the parking attendant, the security guard. I’m sure many of them didn’t vote as I did in the last election and probably believe the events of Jan 6 were mere protests, but they responded to our trauma with their full humanity. I’d forgotten what it feels like to really see people beyond their tribe/ideology. It broke something open in me. I’ve been living in a castle of isolation these many months and it’s rotted and blotted my insides. I’m aware of contempt, anger, and maybe even paranoia coursing through my veins, and I wonder if that’s just a snippet of where we are as a nation. Why is our righteous indignation and disgust so much easier to flame than our compassion?” (Emphasis mine. from “The Pause” a weekly newsletter from On Being Project)
What an important question to ponder as Christians - Why is our righteous indignation and disgust so much easier to flame than our compassion?
You’ll note Nathanial doesn’t push Jesus’ indignation button, with his, what good comes from Nazareth, dig. Jesus sees the humanity and replies, look a person who is honest about where he’s at.
And that is a compassionate response. It opens something, grabs Nathanial’s attention – unexpectedly wakes him up and prompts him to say – Hey, how do you know me?
When you feel seen by another person –it’s an experience of being found. Of connecting. It breaks through cynicism and anger because it creates a crack in that despair – and lets a little light – a little possibility of something new, in.
This morning’s readings are all about being found by God – just as much as they are about being called by God. And if you are listening to this – you are called by God. Period. End of story. In whatever way you are feeling lost – or you see lostness around you (and there is plenty of that to see) – the response is Here I am Lord – your servant is listening.
Listen for what, where and how you experience being found. Those are tools God has equipped you with to do the work God has given you – has given us – to do.
Listening is a powerful tool. Learning more – more perspectives, more stories, more history than we really want to – is a powerful tool.
Lord, our psalmist wrote, you have searched me out and known me (Ps 139:1). We are not lost – we are found. God knows us intimately and collectively. What we choose to take in – what we choose to guide us – can ignite our indignation, or our compassion. We fan the flames of our own hearts.
To surrender our trust to the truth that we are known fully, is to be found. It is to be at home in our beloved belongness. It is what enables us to answer God’s call – to be agents of love, harnessing the power of reconciliation.
Healed people – heal the world. Transformed people – transform the world. Let God find you.