Luke 15:1-10 “Becoming a Good Loser”

Lost sheepYou can lose a lot of things.

You can lose your mind, your memory or your marbles.

Your confidence, self-esteem or your mojo.

You may lose your way, your place or you can even lose face;

Your reputation, self-respect, manhood or virginity.

You can lose sleep, time or your prime.

You may also fail, suffer defeat or take and licking and keep on ticking.

You can lose an argument, a game or a war.

And if you lose your wealth or your health, you then lose hope.

You can be lost in space, lost without your love,

Jesus said, You can lose your life to save it, or save your life only to lose it.

You might even lose your faith…

We seem to be real losers.

Poor little sheep who have lost their way.

No wonder there is so much joy in heaven when we are found.

Apparently the one thing we can’t lose is God.

Losing is an important part of life.  Our culture is too obsessed with winning, and the attitude of football legend Vince Lombardi who said, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.”  We are a winner take all society, some social scientists have said.  What is winning really?  Its just a game, its fun, we get a charge out of it.  But in the end, so what if you are the best at throwing a football, shooting baskets or sprinting to the finish line.  Most of life doesn’t have clear wins and losses.  The important things-teaching or raising a child, friendship, building a house, growing food, feeding the hungry or making peace-don’t have clear winners or losers.  You share and support, care and give, nurture, plan and create.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but in most of life you are not either winning or losing, just living. 

The excessive emphasis on winning creates a lot of problems, like income inequality in our economy, or an inability to seek common ground or compromise for the social good.  If you want a good marriage, you have to decide if you want to be right or you want to be loved. Sometimes in life we have to let go of something in order to have something else, because we can hold it all.  Learning to lose and let go is an important skill, more important perhaps than winning, because most of us will do more losing. 

Losing is a big part of self-development.  Our first lost occurs when we leave the womb.  You never have it so good again, warm and safe and protected, no major worries or stresses, and never alone.  It’s a loss and we cry.  And if we don’t the doctor gives us a whack to make sure we are alive.  But without that loss we never will take our first steps, draw a picture or maybe even cure cancer someday.  Later we may lose our innocence and we find out how hard life can be, how ruthless and hard-hearted people can be.  It’s a painful loss, but then who wants to be naïve, living with an unrealistic view of the world and missing what is really happening.  When we lose our innocence it is a chance to become wise and resilient.

I remember a book title by Judith Viorst called “Necessary Losses.”  Its fallen out of my library and apparently much of memory too, but the title really says it all.  The subtitle of the book is “The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow.”  Necessary losses indeed!  How many people do you know who go through life thinking that life owes them something.  Some look for love in all the wrong places.  Then they find they were really looking for love at all, but for someone to take care of them, when they really needed to learn more about taking care of themselves. 

Losses and how we respond to them shape us, but it do not make us losers, it makes us searchers.  We become searchers because we want to feel whole again.  There are all kinds of searches, Ahab had his whale, Percival was on a quest for the Holy Grail.  There was an entire time of history we called “The Age of Explorers” as Columbus, Hudson and de Gamma searched to find out what was out there in the world.  They weren’t lost, they were just exploring. 

One of my all time favorite songs is by U2 “I Still Haven’t Found what I’m Looking For.”

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you

I have run 
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

The last verses say:

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

The song ends with four last, forlorn calls “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  That song has such appeal because much of life feels like that.  Searching and feeling like what we want or need is just beyond our grasp.  We keep thinking that the right job, relationship, experience or accomplishment, self-help book will finally be the thing.  Augustine understood this, the theologian who wrote the first real self-help book in his “Confessions.”  He came to the conclusion that most of our fruitless searching was really because we do not realize we are ultimately searching for God.  Until we know that we are dissatisfied with even the good we find.   Augustine believed we have a God shaped void inside, that nothing else can fill and said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” 

It is not easy to be restless.  Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.”  But he did not say when or how long. But it is in the seeking that we find the growing. 

Here is what is most profound and surprising in our Gospel lesson this week.  God is also a seeker.  God is restless too, eager to find us and welcome us home.  What is God like?  Like a woman who has lost her coin-not just any coin-but one of the ten that completes her headdress that shows she is a married woman.  She will not rest till she find it because it is like going out without a wedding ring.  So too God does not rest in a search for us.  God is not content just being satisfied with the righteous who are in the fold.  A good shepherd knows that you don’t leave even one lamb out away from the flock, thinking you have 99 others.  For if you leave one lamb every day you will soon have no flock.  So the good shepherd searches out every single one when they are lost.  I like this image of the restless God that searches for us. 

In a way it turns upside down the way I think about my faith journey and my searching.  The great joy of faith is not so much when I finally catch my great white whale or find my Holy Grail, the right whatever I thought I wanted.  The great joy is that when I felt lost, I was found.

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