The Gift of Being Lost

This week we have a guest blogger, and guest speaker:  Bobby Langhorne

Bobby is a candidate for ordination through the United Methodist Church (UMC) and a member of the UMC of McMinnville, which is a part of McMinnville Cooperative Ministries.  Read on to see how Bobby finds being lost a gift, then come to service this Sunday (9am Traditional or 11am Celebration) to hear him preach!

Scripture – Psalm 42 (NRSV)

To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,  so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Notes on the Text

  1. The psalmist used to lead hundreds of people in rowdy celebrations of God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now he is banished hundreds of miles away in Babylon – one of the Exiles.
  2. Historically – it was a time of great upheaval for the Jewish kingdom. The kingdom of Judah had been a client state of Assyria, which was torn apart by Egypt and Babylon, a former province of Assyria. In the first battle, the King of Judah was killed. Tithes were set in place by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, including some noble youngsters. When the next king of Judah revolted against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem for three months, culminating in the city and Temple being pillaged, the death of the King, and a much larger Exodus. A new King revolted a second time, leading to the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.
  3. This psalm mirrors a path through depression – it goes through two cycles of despair and hope.
  4. It’s a beautiful metaphor – comparing how the animals thirst for water just as our hearts thirst for God – without ever giving any practical solutions on how to quench that thirst.

Gospel Reading – Luke 15:1-7

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Devotional

Our series in Gift of The Dark Wood continues this week, with a theme that seems appropriate to the Dark Wood – getting lost.

When was the last time you were lost – really lost? I don’t mean temporarily displaced because you missed your turn and are now in a part of town you are unfamiliar with. I mean the kind of lost that a child experiences – the first time they turn around and realize they have no idea where they are, where their parents are, and that they are surrounded by an ever shifting mass of unfamiliar faces and places with no clues on how to get un-lost. The gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, terrifying feeling of befuddlement when you are irrevocably lost.

You can also be lost in your faith. Have you ever experienced a time when you felt so lost from God that it was a physical ache? This is the pain the psalmist feels – his entire being is crying out for God.  How did you realize you were lost – was it a sudden flash of insight? Or was it a gradual realization, a small twinge that started so low it was unnoticeable at first? How do you recognize that you are feeling lost? What do you do when you are lost?

The temptation many have when they are feeling lost is to stay still – don’t make any changes, don’t move away. Just wait until something familiar comes along to help us find a new anchor in the world – something to help pull us out of the mire and muck. But what if nothing comes along to help us out – or what if we don’t recognize it when it goes by?

If we have someone who is with us, even if they are just as lost as we are, the befuddlement doesn’t seem quite so bad. That’s why a phone call from a friend can bring you out of a dip into depression. It is why a small act of kindness from a neighbor can mean so much to someone who is feeling lost.

Even when we do not have a friend with us, we are still not alone. Even in the depths of the most destructive despair, even when our faith has turned into faithlessness, God is still by our side. “Deep called to deep” says the psalmist. At the darkest, lowest points of our lives, God will still reach out and bring us back home. How will we know that God is reaching out, calling out to us, so that we can be found and saved again?

God has given us the tools to listen – prayer and Scripture, plus a wide variety of teachers and reminders of God’s love – preachers, Sunday School Teachers, friends, books, hymns – What a friend we have in Jesus, cries the hymn, and oh do I believe it! There are so many tools to use, everyone will have one they can find that will help them hear how God is bringing us back to the light.

What about something practical, that we can do right now? Here is a simple exercise, from Debora M Coty’s book Fear, Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate. When you are feeling paralyzed by fear or worry of being lost:

  1. Postpone worry or fear – have a worry notepad. When a worry or fear is stressing you out, jot it down on the pad.
  2. Transform worry into prayer – make a point to spend some time in prayer each day over the items on your pad.
  3. Rest in the Word – find a time each day to read the Scripture, listen to hymns or whatever tool works best for you to hear the message of God
  4. Exercise intentional gratitude – spend some time each day deliberately thinking about the blessings that are in your life.

You will get lost in your life and in your faith at times. The world throws too many obstacles in our paths for us not to get lost sometimes. But being lost in faith will not lose you permanently – God is still at our side at all times, even in the deep dark woods. God has given us the tools to realize that love is always beside us – we can practice our faith deliberately. A musician has to practice 10,000 hours before they are proficient in their instrument. A person has to speak 100s of hours before they are fluent in a new language. A person is not proficient in their faith in an instant. Accepting a faith promises many things – being saved, adoption into a church, transformation into a new life in Christ. It does not promise that we will be immediately perfect in our faith, however. Like the musician or the linguist, we must practice our faith. Then, when we do get lost, we will be able to use the skills we have learned to help us get through the dark woods.

 

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