Seventeenth Week After Pentecost (C/RCL): “Lost & Found: A Gold Medal, 2 Saints and Us”
September 10-11, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
“U. Dub” is what the people in Washington State call the University of Washington. Many of you have either read the book or seen the movie The Boys in the Boat, about the crew team from “U.Dub” that won Olympic gold in Berlin in 1936. At the beginning of the book the author tells about going to the home of one of the now-elderly rowers, Joe Rantz, in order to interview him. There’s a glass case on the wall, in which the gold medal is displayed. Rantz’s daughter takes it out and hands it to the author, explaining that it was LOST for years, so long that the family despaired of ever finding it and even wondered if it had been stolen. However, it finally turned up in a most-unexpected place. During a house renovation workmen found Olympic gold tucked away in the insulation of the attic, inside a squirrel’s nest. Its glitter had attracted the eye of the little furry fellow who thought it would make a nice addition to his home!1
Some things seem to want to be found. Like the Olympic medal in the attic insulation. Like the hospital nameband and lock of hair that I “happened to find” under the floor of my mother’s jewelry box. When things are found in such strange and hidden places that they easily could have been lost forever, but aren’t, we get a sense of “It was meant to be.” There’s something greater at work here. Grace.
I don’t know about you, but I keep a mental list of all the stuff I’ve misplaced. I call it my St. Anthony list, because when I was growing up I was taught that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Some things on my list went missing a long time ago, and some only recently went AWOL. Some I launched an immediate search for and others I didn’t recognize as missing till well after the fact. You know: you hear the vacuum cleaner suck something larger than usual and think, “I should check the bag and see what that was.” Sometimes there’s time to do that and sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes the search reveals an earring to rejoice over and sometimes it’s part of a dog bone to pitch. You know the story: how quickly I look and how hard I look, depends on how much the lost item means to me.
In today’s Gospel, the lost coin means the world to the woman who tears the house apart to find it and the lost sheep means the world to the shepherd who leaves 99 others to locate the wandering lamb. Talking about these two parables and the one that follows about the lost (prodigal) son, someone has said that God has “an obsession with the lost.”2 That was echoed by our former Bishop Roy Riley who once, when he was preaching about the wedding banquet Gospel we heard a couple weeks ago, pointed out that we go to a wedding and look for where we’re going to be seated while the Lord shows up and looks for everyone who’s missing from the party.
Our loving Lord is obsessed with the lost and so are those who love our Lord. We’ve all heard how Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonized last Sunday. More than 100,000 people packed St. Peter’s Square for the celebration and not one of them was surprised, because, as the news reports pointed out, most people of all faiths recognized her as a saint even while she was still alive. I received a news clipping about her from a Jewish friend who wrote:
“I, of course, have always admired her. At this point I absolutely stand in awe of her – what she accomplished, how she did what she did, and the woman herself.”
We all admire Mother Teresa because of her devotion to and holy obsession with the lost: the untouchables, the dying, the poorest of the poor, the refuse of society. You’ve probably heard the story of how a journalist saw her tenderly removing maggots from the open sores of a man lying in the gutter. He admitted, “’I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.’ Mother Teresa replied, ‘Neither would I.’”3 The people she served and whom her Missionaries of Charity serve all over the world are so “lost” they’re invisible to anyone more fortunate than they (which is almost everyone). She sought them out and found them and brought them back to the Nirmal Hriday Home for the Dying Destitute: not a place any of us would want to have to call home, but maybe the most welcoming place they’d ever been, and for some, the last stop before heaven. A little shepherdess, small-but-mighty, cared for them there, before the Good Shepherd called them Home.
Another lover of the God-who-loves-the lost comes to mind this weekend when we commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, was listed by the New York Medical Examiner’s Office as Victim #1 of 9/11. He perished in the lobby of the North Tower, hit by falling debris dislodged when the South Tower collapsed. He had just come from anointing a firefighter.4 As with the firefighters themselves, he had rushed in when everyone else was trying to rush out. In a very real sense he was seeking out and ministering to the lost. When we took the confirmands to Ground Zero in December of 2001 and visited St. Paul’s Chapel next door, we were shown the altar where Father Judge’s body was laid after it was recovered by first responders. So beloved was that shepherd of the flock.
So what’s the point? You probably don’t feel like you have much in common with Mother Teresa of Calcutta or with Father Mychal Judge of New York City. But we all do have a couple things in common with them.
1) We’re all lost. Mother Teresa had a deep sense that she was unworthy of her Lord’s overwhelming love, and knew she could only rest on His mercy and not her own merit. (How very Lutheran!!) Her way to thank her Lord was to serve Him in “His most distressing disguise of the poor.” Father Judge was open about being a recovering alcoholic; he was 23 years sober when he died. His passion for pastoral care was rooted in his deep sense of having been saved himself. Not just from the scourge of alcoholism but from the sin that would be the death of us apart from our Savior. It makes no sense to be here unless we, too, recognize ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior. Why else would Amazing Grace so soulfully?? “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!”
2) We’re all deputized by the Good Shepherd to go after the lost sheep; we’re all invited to share our God’s “obsession with the lost.” We don’t necessarily have to go to Calcutta or run into burning, collapsing buildings. We just have to keep an eye out and go the extra mile to recover the lamb that has nibbled itself lost but wants desperately to be found.
Here’s a prayer by Mychal Judge to help us on our way:
Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say,
Keep me out of Your way.5
1Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: 9 Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (NY: Penguin, 2013), pp. 2-3.
2_________________, Luke (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 19___), p. 274.
3Javier Martinez-Brocal, “Teresa of Kolkata, From Mother to Saint,” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 2, 2016).
4Daniel J. Wakin, “Killed on 9/11, Fire Chaplain Becomes Larger Than Life, The New York Times (on-line), September 27, 2002.
5Michael Ford, Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002), p. 203.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham