Bob Chell, Sioux Falls, SD
Tell about a time you were lost. Feel free to interpret being ‘lost’ in your own way.
From Lost to Seeing the Way
In 1987 20,000 boys fled the civil war in Sudan to begin a thousand mile journey to Kenya. Half of them died on the journey. The world watched these “Lost boys of
Sudan” as they came to be called. Jacob Mach was one of those “lost boys. He was 21 years old when he arrived in the USA. He had a harrowing experience on his journey from Africa to North America. “We encountered a lot of difficulties,” he said. “A lot of friends died because of hunger, because of being eaten by wild animals.” Despite all the challenges he faced, Jacob graduated from Georgia State University and recently became a police officer in Atlanta. In a story about his experience he said, “The city has been wonderful to me. I felt that there was a need for me to give back to the people of Atlanta.”
- Do you find stories like this inspirational or sappy and sentimental? Why?
- Would it we worse to be lost with thousands of others in the same situation or alone in a new country where you didn’t even know the language?
- Is it worse to be physically lost or to be psychologically lost?
- Who is your ‘go to’ person when you are feeling lost?
Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Thomas asks Jesus, “…how can we know the way?”
As pastor of a congregation inside the state penitentiary I work with men who lost their way in life. The reasons are many and often complicated: abusive or neglectful families, emotional or mental health issues, addiction, the list goes on and on. Yet, at the end of the day each of us is responsible for the choices and decisions we make in life. The young man in the news story, Jacob, was inspired to success by his time in the wilderness of Sudan.
Each of us will spend time in the wilderness. The story of the Israelites wandering for forty years after fleeing slavery in Egypt is our story, whether it’s leaving home to serve in the armed forces, pursue a trade, or go to college, we enter an unfamiliar and overwhelming place. Leaving a relationship, quitting a job, grieving a death—all of these things push us into the wilderness. What we do when we are in the wilderness determines if we make it to the Promised Land or end up back in Egypt as slaves.
Whether it’s the psychological wilderness of discerning a career and wondering if we will ever find a life partner or the physical wilderness of seeking a place to sleep and food to eat, the wilderness is a painful place to find ourselves. We cannot choose to not be lost. Even those whose fear keeps them from leaving home or reaching out to another will find themselves lost in loneliness in despair. We can only choose what we do when we are lost.
I tell the men I serve as pastor that it is important to determine if the place they are going is the place they need and want to be. Sometimes the lure of the familiar and the comfortable is nearly irresistible, especially when we are hurting. Yet, for those who have been incarcerated going back to the same people and doing the same things often brings them back to the same prison cell they were so eager to leave behind. On either side of the walls it’s worth reflecting on whether the place we are going is the place we want or need to be.
The other half of going somewhere is, of course, leaving somewhere. Whether one is fleeing a troubled relationship or moving away from home for the first time, complete with a going away party, it’s worth spending time reflecting on what we leaving. Many of us (me for one!) have sought the ‘geographic cure,’ hoping a move to a different place would enable us to leave our problems and pain behind. It does not. The painful reality is that if we do not deal with our pain and problems they will deal with us. It’s easy for any of us to think of examples of this.
It is good to think about where we are going in life. It’s imperative that we deal with our pain and problems. This is good advice, the kind Thomas was looking for as he moved forward in life but this is not the advice Jesus gave him. More important than knowing where we are going, or dealing with what we hope to leave behind, is dealing with our “lostness.” The most difficult part of being lost is not knowing where we are because without knowing that we cannot determine anything else.
Jesus does not tell Thomas and Philip how to find their way but says that he, Jesus, is the way. Like most of John’s gospel this sounds mystical and confusing. The author Henry Nouwen, reflecting on the story of the prodigal son helped me understand this when he wrote,
“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. God wants to find me as much as, if not more than, I want to find God. …I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.”*
The truth is that you’ve already been found by Jesus. Some of you, before you were even able to wander. When the pastor said your name and marked the sign of the cross on your forehead, saying, “…you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.”
You have been in the wilderness before and you will find yourself there again. Jesus has been in relentless pursuit of you your entire life, on your trail like a bloodhound. Jesus found you before you were ever lost. He’s found you every time you’ve wandered. He has you in his grasp and He’s never going to let you go. This is the gospel of the Lord.
*The Return of the Prodigal Son, Image Books
- How is it we can be hiding from God when we really are trying hard to find God?
- The author switches from giving advice (make certain the place your are going is worthwhile, deal with your pain or it will deal with you) to proclaiming the gospel: Jesus has you in his grasp. Do you prefer good advice or gospel proclamations in sermons? Which does your pastor offer more of–advice or proclamation?
- How can we “get found” when we are lost? This is the place where advice and gospel meet.
- Ask someone you admire to tell you about a time in life when they were in the wilderness and how they found their way out.
- What are the most tempting wilderness places today; places that promise happiness but deliver despair?
- Recall a time when you were lost and God found you. Were other people involved? the church? Looking back is it more a painful memory or an experience you cherish for what you learned.
Jesus, we do want to be your disciples but, like Thomas, we sometimes find you cryptic and confusing. We get so worried and preoccupied with where we are going and what’s ahead that we miss living life today. Give us the peace you promised your disciples so we can let go of our anxiety about the future. Amen.