When I was little, I went to a department store of some kind with my grandparents. I know it was a department store because it had those racks of clothes that were a circle---remember those? Usually they were hung with shirts or dresses…..and since I was small for my age (hard to believe, I know), I used to love to go into the middle of those clothes racks. Not quite sure why. I think I liked the feeling that it was my own space. So, I know the store that I was in with my grandparents that day was a department store because I remember being in the middle of one of those clothes racks---hidden from view---and then coming out. And quickly realizing I was lost. My grandparents were nowhere in sight.
Suddenly the world in which I had been safe and happy just a moment ago became a world in which I was lost and afraid. The environment around me quickly turned unmanageable without the safety of my grandparents. I started to cry.
Luckily, someone came and helped me and then there was an announcement over the loudspeaker saying that whoever belonged to Jane should come to the customer service desk. And then…..then I saw my grandparents hurrying over. My grandmother wrapped me in those grandma arms and I knew I was safe. The world became manageable again. Nothing had really changed. I was in the same place. But now I was found. And my grandmother’s hug, followed by grandpa’s, told me how valuable and loved I was. Found.
And I am certain that we all have similar stories. And we chuckle at our silly, childish stories as we retell them. But do we recognize how profound these stories are? This moment has stuck with me for my entire life. I mean a thousand things probably happened to me in that year of my life---but it is this memory I carry. Because this moment, this story, shaped and formed me. This seeking and finding, this moment of joy when they saw me and wrapped me in their arms----it was one of several moments that has defined me----helped me to see myself as someone who is loved and valuable---someone who would not be allowed to stay lost. Can we even begin to understand the indelible mark this leaves?
And Beloved, that Cross we mark on those who are being baptized, when we say the words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and Marked as Christ’s own forever,” that cross means that we are found. That cross is like a branding, an imprint, an indelible mark that declares we are loved beyond measure, valuable beyond price, worthy of relentless seeking. Like the shepherd and the woman, God knows our value---even though we ourselves may doubt it or others doubt our worth. Let’s face it; most of us wouldn’t leave the 99 to find the one or get down on our hands and knees, sweep the house and search carefully, turn on all the lights to find one coin, a tenth of what we have. We have a term for that 1 sheep, that 1 coin: Collateral damage. We believe that the effort required to gain back the loss is not worth it. Like those Pharisees and scribes we complain and murmur about folks we have judged, become filled with resentment, become blind to the inherent value of other humans, and are content to ignore their lostness. But God knows our value and refuses to give up on us, refuses to allow us to remain lost. God is the relentless seeker who never stops looking. For each and every single created thing, every human who ever took breath.
And we are all lost, let’s just be honest. Some of us are lost because we are possessed by our possessions. Some of us are lost because we disconnect and divide ourselves from our siblings and fellow beloved. Some of us are lost because greed is driving the bus. Or our resentments lead us astray. Some of us are lost because of the voices we listen to that are not God’s or because the idols we worship (power, fame, status, beauty, wealth, comfort and preferences) are actually not worthy of our worship. We are lost because we forget where home base is, who our home base is.
Remember playing those games---maybe some of you still do play them---like Kick the Can or Hide and Seek? When we used to play in my neighborhood, someone would yell: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free---Come out, Come out wherever you are! And then we would all know it was safe to come out into the open without losing the game. And we would all run in to Home Base.
Beloved, we are lost. God is seeking us. And Jesus is our Home Base. In Jesus is where we are safe; where we are home and whole. We gather as the Body of Christ so we can touch home base. We come in order to hold Jesus up in front of our eyes, through Word and Sacrament, to proclaim, witness and experience Jesus. Jesus, who is our mark, our target, the model of our truest nature. Jesus whose life, ministry and ways show us what our life, ministry and ways should like. Jesus who worships God and glorifies God by living the truth that God so loves the world. And what follows this truth is an outpouring of love, mercy, forgiveness, second chances, reconciliation, renewal, makeovers and re-dos. Return. Being found. Made whole. Shalom.
God calls us together for this Eucharistic meal not because God has some need or desire for us all to be in one space at the same time. God calls us to gather together each week because God knows we need it. We need this liturgy, these prayers, this music, this Sacrament, this Body of Christ. We need to re-member whose we are and who we are----holding ourselves up to Jesus. And then recognizing and claiming where and how we have become lost.
Without this recognition, we will continue going on our merry way, still believing we know what we are doing---saying to ourselves: I am not lost. I got this.
Remember that relay game where one person on the team puts their forehead down on the top of a bat and spins around and around the bat until someone yells stop and then you have to try to run to the other side of the room and tag the next person on your team? But of course, you are so dizzy from spinning that you fall all over yourself and the path between you and your teammate becomes a stumbling comedy. Well, the world has the same effect on us because the world is constantly leading us in different directions. The world spins us dizzy, and we become dazed and lost. We can’t walk in a straight line---we lose sight of home base.
But then, Beloved, if we listen, if we pause and take a deep breath and lean into the silence of prayer and Word, we will hear God calling out: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free! Come out come out wherever you are. It’s safe. In fact, you are already saved. So come home. Come home.
And as we come in, running with our hands outstretched, and touch and taste home base, we are liberated by love and then it’s our turn. Our turn to look up and out as the Body of Christ and call out: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free. Come out Come out wherever you are.
In her book One Coin Found, Emmy Kegler, a one-time Episcopalian but now an ELCA pastor, writes: “We too are lost and dusty coins. We have gone unnoticed, rusted from others’ indifference, misspent and misused, and our friends and leaders did not see our neglect. But God, in big and little ways, has picked up a woman’s broom and swept every corner of creation. God, in big and little ways, has tucked up her skirts and flattened herself on the floor, dug through dust bunnies and checked every dress pocket. God has found us, dustier and rustier and without any luster, and held us up to the light to say: No matter how you rolled away or what corner you were dropped in, you are mine.” (8)
Ollie Ollie Oxen free! Come out, come out wherever you are.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.