Sept. 11, 2022
Things Lost and Things Found — Rev. Brent Gundlah

I love the stories Jesus tells – I really do. But as I was reflecting upon this week’s Gospel passage, I struggled with what I was going to say about it today.

I must confess that while I’m generally a nerd for all of the historical context of the Bible, all of the talk about Pharisees and sinners seemed a bit distant and remote to me this time around. On top of that, I’ve never been a shepherd who’s lost a sheep (I doubt many of you have either) and I certainly don’t have any gold coins kicking around at home.

Look, maybe my perspective is a bit off because I’ve been stuck at home sick for the past two weeks — and perhaps I’m a little cranky — but as I was thinking about these two parables, I kept searching for connections between these ancient stories and my own lived experience. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the Bible always calls us to do. In any event, here’s what I came up with.

My daughter Hope had two constant companions throughout her childhood: her twin sister, Tess, and a stuffed cat named Coseie.

To call Coseie a “stuffed” cat is kind of generous because he never had much in the way of stuffing. If I’m being honest, Coseie is pretty ratty; he’s always looked far more like road kill than a stuffed animal. He wasn’t ever a high-end toy; my mom paid a couple bucks for him at some flea market. But none of this mattered one bit because Coseie has always been precious to Hope, and that fact alone makes him one of kind.

As stuffed cats go, Coseie’s seen and done a whole lot over the years. He’s lived in four states and visited a dozen others; he’s vacationed on Cape Cod and the Maine coast; he’s been to Canada and to Europe; and he used to cruise around our house on a blue Vespa motor scooter (that he borrowed from Barbie).

To be fair, though, Coseie’s life has not been all glitz and glamour — he’s experienced many ordinary moments too. He’s kept Hope company when she was sick, he’s spent hundreds of hours sitting in the car; and he’s been to every store imaginable running countless errands. And one of our family’s most vivid memories of life with Coseie was a shopping trip that proved to be anything but ordinary.

We lived in Connecticut at the time and often did our grocery shopping at a well-known local establishment called Stew Leonard’s. It’s kind of tough to explain what this place was like, but imagine the size and inventory of your average supermarket times ten, coupled with the inescapable maze-like layout of an Ikea. Then throw in a petting zoo, and animatronic displays of singing and dancing milk cartons, cheese wedges, farm animals and produce. For me this pretty much added up to hell on earth, but we needed to shop and the kids thought it was fun, so we went.

It was a Sunday afternoon and so the place was absolutely packed. We wended our way along that river of food and people, driven ever-forward by the momentum of the crowd (and, in my case, a desire to get out of there as soon as possible).

The kids, who were two years old, we’re having the time of their lives, reveling in all the sights and sounds (and free samples) — so much so, in fact, that we managed to get through most of the store before anyone noticed that Hope had lost Coseie.

Her screaming and crying soon commenced, and my own blood began to run cold as we all suddenly came to terms with the idea that Coseie was no longer there. As the chaos intensified and the sense of foreboding grew, Val and I strategized about what the heck to do next.

She stayed with the kids as I swam desperately against the tide, looking absolutely everywhere for Coseie. I searched feverishly on and under each display that we’d passed, I peered in every single shopping cart on the off-chance that someone might have picked him up, all to no avail. He was just gone.

And while the possibility of finding Coseie grew more remote by the minute, my resolve to find him actually intensified. If I couldn’t manage to track him down myself, I was going to ask the customer service desk to put out an all-points bulletin, I was going to call the police and maybe even the FBI, I was going to hang-up missing stuffed cat posters on every telephone pole in New England, I was going to advertise a reward for Coseie’s safe return on billboards along I-95 from New York to Boston. All sorts of crazy ideas came into my head. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, I dare say you understand how that feels and know how that goes.

But I was simply not going to give up, not ever. You see, Coseie means the world to Hope, and Hope means the world to me so, by the transitive property, Coseie means the world to me too. Finding him was, quite simply, a matter of love — and it’s hard to imagine a more powerful motivator than that.

As I made my way around the final bend leading towards the store’s front door, I realized that I was running out of both space and time. And all the while, I could still hear Hope’s plaintive cries of “Coesie!” off in the distance.

For some reason, I know not why, I suddenly looked down and right there, next to a display of green vegetables, was Coseie’s tan and white tail peeking out from a small pile of trash that had accumulated in the corner on the floor.

I don’t know what the broccoli and celery with the bright smiles and big googly eyes were actually singing about atop that display but to me it sounded like a chorus of angels belting out “Amazing Grace.” What once was lost has now been found! Alleluia!

As I turned and ran back towards my family, I simply couldn’t keep to myself for another second the joy that I felt. “I found him! I found Coseie!” I yelled, impervious to the stares of my fellow patrons who must have thought that I was insane.

And when I finally caught up with Val and the kids, we celebrated a hope rewarded and relationship restored right there in the middle of the grocery store for all to hear because, like I just said, that kind of joy isn’t meant to be kept under wraps — even if the source of that joy, in everyone else’s eyes, seemed to be trash on the floor, underserving of attention.

The funny thing about joy, though, is that it’s kind of infectious (but in a good way — not like COVID). As people meandered past our celebratory huddle, they looked at us and smiled. It didn’t require a whole lot of detective work on anyone’s part to figure out what had just transpired — the image of Hope clutching her most cherished possession (which was, to her, far more than that) uttering his name amidst tears and peals of laughter, surrounded by her grateful and relieved family, pretty much told them all they needed to know.

Some of them, no doubt, were parents who had walked this road before and could thus relate to the specific situation at hand. But the fear and sadness about things lost — and (hopefully) the joy and relief about things found — are universal; we’ll all experience them at some point because they’re part of being human.

And we can all take comfort in the fact that God never gives up on us;

that God never stops seeking us when we are lost;

that God cares about us, even when others see us — even when we see ourselves — as nothing more than trash on the floor.

Someone loves us no matter what. Someone will move heaven and earth to find us and remind us that we are never forgotten and that we are always loved. That’s the whole point of these stories; that’s the connection to our lived experience.

May that love and the joy it creates be infectious (again, in a good way – not like COVID).

Thanks be to God.