This morning’s sermon was preached away from the pulpit using notes. This text is an approximation of the actually verbal text of the sermon.
Do you have any great Hide and Seek stories? Most of us have at least one … and usually those stories involve someone who managed to never get found. Robert Fulghum has just such a story … allow me to share a small part of Fulghum’s story.
As I write this, the neighborhood game goes on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled, “GET FOUND, KID!” out the window. And scared him so bad he probably wet his pants and started crying and ran home to tell his mother. It’s real hard to know how to be helpful sometimes. A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye. He hid too well. Getting found would have kept him in the game. Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found. “I don’t want anyone to know.” “What will people think?” “I don’t want to bother anyone.”
Yes, sometimes in the Hide and Seek game of life, we are foolish enough to hide from everyone … forever. While that seems like a winning formula in this child’s game that we play … it is a losing formula for life. In our Gospel Lesson today, Jesus preachers to us on the risks of “not being found.”
Now I could blah-blah on as usual and do all the talking today, but I thought we might try having a bit of fun together. So … let’s play a little hide and seek, shall we? The good news is that you won’t have to try and find a good hiding spot in our sanctuary today. Because you’re not the “hiders” today … you’re the finders. So look around for something that is usually not present in the pews. You may have to hunt a bit. I’ll give you a hint … I’m looking for colored cards with words on them … one of the words you’ll know, the other two …maybe not. We’ll work through six words from our Gospel lesson, that I hope will give you some insight into these “lost and found” stories.
OK, the first card I’m looking for is the YELLOW card hiding in SECTION 5. Tell me the English word on the card that you know — SCRIBE. The Greek word is GRAMMATEUS – which sounds like? … GRAMMAR … right. It doesn’t surprise us, because we know this group of Jewish leaders from the Bible – transcribed the Jewish law, studied and taught it. Could be nitpicky … could be legalistic … they could be “grammar nitpickers.” So we can anticipate how this story is going to go, with the scribes in the mix. The stage is set.
Next, let’s find the red card in SECTION 1. Can you read out the English word you know? – GRUMBLING And who grumbles? The Pharisees. It’s a great word in Greek, by the way … DIAGOGGUZO … it sounds confrontational. So … how do we think this whole shindig has started off for Jesus? Do we think this whole interchange about those who are lost and found is getting off on a good foot? Yeah, probably not … we’re not surprised, are we? Because if you are familiar with the Old Testament, you might remember the word “grumbling.” Do you remember who “grumbled” in the Old Testament? Right … the Jewish people. And did God like it when the Jews grumbled? Not so much. Does God like it much when you and I grumble? Yeah, not so much. But you know what? That is not going to stop the Pharisees from grumbling, anyway … just like it doesn’t stop us. Let’s see what happens.
I’m looking now for an ORANGE card in SECTION 3. Tell me the English word on the card that you know – LOST. The Greek word is APPOLLUMI … it is an interesting word. It means “lost” as the stories about the sheep and the coins indicate. But more specifically, the meaning of lost has the spirit of losing something by wasting it. And typically, the word is used not to describe things or animals … but people. In short, Jesus is talking about the losing of a life, because it was been wasted on pursuits that are not good or productive or godly. It reminds us that Jesus isn’t just engaged in bean counting here … but that he is concerned about the life of every child of God, that it not be wasted … or kept from the purpose for which God created that life. We’re not talking about a sheep or a coin whose absence may or may not be missed … but a life that has a purpose in life, and must be encouraged to live out that purpose for God and others. It adds a little nuance to the parables of the sheep and coin, doesn’t it?
OK, I’m looking for a WHITE card in SECTION 6. Tell me the English word on the card that you know – FOUND. The Greek word is HEURON … that doesn’t sound like much, right? BUT … one of the Greek versions of that word is EUREKA! Now the word is a little more interesting, isn’t it? So we’re not talking about a situation in which someone finds a coin with a “ho-hum” and drops it in their pocket to be lost again by the end of the day. We’re talking about a “THIS IS GREAT” kind of response, in which you would think this was the only coin you ever possessed. The kind of response a shepherd has when she chases down the one lost sheep, while the other 99 are left behind … or the woman who throws a party because her quarter shows up on the kitchen counter. This is how God reacts when just one of the billions and billions people who have children of God, is returned to the flock of God’s own people. It’s the kind of response we see in our lesson today.
OK, SECTION 4, I’m looking for a BLUE card. Tell me the English word on the card that you know – REPENT. Ahhhhh … we all know that word, right? A Lenten word … a heavy word … an ominous word. Interestingly, the Greek word is METANA-OH … it means “transformation” actually. It is an interesting word. Sometimes you hear preachers talk about “metanoia” …. being forged into something new. It is much more positive and active than the word repentance sometimes suggests. In modern parlance, we might use the popular term, “change agent” as referring to what God does to us. For God wants to change us for the better, so we can more faithfully navigate this Christian life into which God has called us.
OK, last card … SECTION 2, I did not forget about you. Did any of you find a GREEN card? Tell me the English word on the card that you know – REJOICE. The Greek is not a phrase we know very well … it is KAIRO`MAI It literally means “rejoice.” No dancing around unusual translations of this word. Quite simply the word “rejoice” reminds us that God is thrilled beyond measure when the lost ones are found. And “rejoice” reminds us that when that “finding” leads to us being transformed into the kinds of people God wants us to be … well, God could not be happier … and interestingly enough, we will find that we are happier, too. In God’s world, “hiding” is not the goal of the game of life, but “getting found” is.
At the start of the sermon, I asked you if you had a great “Hide and Seek” story. Mine is brief … we were vacationing in Stone Harbor in the early ‘90’s … our son Justin was 4 , soon to be five … and w went to the Wildwood boardwalk to ride the rides. Partway through the afternoon we bought tickets for the Great White Shark Maze … Justin couldn’t wait to try it. We bought tickets … lectured both our kids about staying close … and entered what was a maze of mirrors. And as you no doubt expect … amid the laughter at the ways the mirrors reshaped our bodies … and the surprise of walking into mirrors that looked like pass throughs … and the screaming of both our kids … Justin disappeared. I think it was the most frightened I had even been in my life. We grabbed Jesse’s hand are tried to get out of the maze as soon as we could, but of course, it is a maze for a reason … and it seemed like an eternity until we finally escaped. Nan and I positioned ourselves are the entry and the exit, prying Justin hadn’t already gotten out, and we started screaming his name into the maze, with silence our only response. It was probably only a three or four minutes that passed, but it felt like an eternity, until we heard his laughter approaching from the exit area. When we finally saw him turn the last corner into the exit area we ran and grabbed him, and the four of us hugged and cried for minute or two … well, three of us did … Justin couldn’t shut his trap about how much fun the maze was, and how he wanted to go in it again. I suspect we corrected him and yelled at him a bit for leaving us behind … but mostly we just hugged him and drowned him in tears of joy. I bet each of you have a similar story you could share about the lost being found. Think of your joy and elation over the finding of your “lost one.” And know that our joy pales in comparison to the joy has when you have been lost and are found. Amen.