Genesis 3: 8-13
This week, as I spent time with all the being lost and then being found, of all the hiding and then seeking that we find in the Scripture passages for today; I found myself remembering the expansive summer evenings of my childhood.
As soon as the dishes were drying in the dish rack, the screen door would slam behind me, as I headed out to my friend, Martha Tierney’s back yard. I’d arrive as others were wandering in from the alley, rounding the front yard and jumping the hedges that separated her yard from the next.
And then, as the bats began to circle the night sky, we’d start an elaborate game of “Capture the Flag;” a game that took hours and that rippled out over a half dozen blocks of back yards in all directions, involving numerous and ingenious hiding places.
How many of you too have played this game,“Capture the Flag” ? Ok so you know how it goes? One team was seeks and guards the flag while the other hides and when the time is right tries to seize the flag, which for us was a bandana tied to a stick stuck in an old Folgers coffee can filled with dirt.
And you remember, when the hider was successful, when she left her spot and sneaked through the darkness and grabbed that flag? Do you remember her victory cry? For us it was “Ali Ali in come free!” And as a hider that was thrilling to hear, for it meant that all of us who were hiding could safely come in. The threat was gone! One of our own had captured the flag!
Then, the hiders would then become the seekers and the seekers the hiders. And so it would go; until our parents would call, our sweaty and inevitably, mosquito bitten selves, in for the night.
But before we go any further, will you pray with me, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts help us hear the word you, Our God, are calling out to us this day. Amen.
“Ali, ali in come free!” If the Gospel could be summed up in one phrase maybe that should be it! “Ali, ali in come free!” Come in. Come out of your hiding! The coast is clear. Jesus has captured the flag!
Maybe I am wrong, but I have this sense that for most of us, there is something about us that we keep hidden, still. That we are still a bit like Adam and Eve, ducking, metaphorically under the cover of some tree so that some part of our selves won’t be seen?
When Adam and Eve eat of that fruit, their eyes are opened and they know that they are naked, they cover themselves with loincloths and hide themselves in the bushes. They hide themselves from God. Though not explicitly stated, the story nonetheless evokes a sense of loss, of sadness, of shame. For their they feel now that there is something wrong with them. And for the first time they feel fear. Listen to the pathos in this exchange.
“They heard the sounds of the lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him “Where are you?” He said “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
I wonder how we too may be are hiding? Is there some hurt or need or hunger that we have kept hidden because we think if revealed it will diminish us, make us less than in the eyes of those around us? Make us less in the eyes of God?
I do not presume to know the wounds that we may carry and that we may hide, but I wonder. Are we perhaps, hiding pain at not having received the kind of love and care we so desperately needed when we were little, are we hiding it underneath our quick temper and need for control? Are we hiding a low sense of self worth because no one attended to our needs when we needed it most, under a constant and relentless attentiveness to the needs of others? Are we hiding our soul’s deep longing for connection and meaning under an insatiable hunger to consume the latest this and that?
Is there perhaps something of our own essential nakedness, vulnerability that continues to make us afraid ?
“Where are you?” asks God. Could that be God’s question still for us this day?
I believe that much of spiritual development — of growing in love of neighbor and God — begins with the courage to come out of our hiding. Sandra Maitri, in a really fascinating book entitled “the Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, writes “the work of spiritual development is to be present within our bodies, our emotions and thoughts and to experientially explore and inquire into what we find. Through being present in our moment-to-moment experience with an attitude of exploration and curiosity, taking nothing we find within our inner world for granted or as an ultimate given, the contents of our soul begin to reveal themselves.”
But coming out from our hiding is not as easy sometimes as simply crawling out from that musty old leaf barrel in the corner of the garage or out from under that rose bush, two of my favorite child hood hiding places. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we may not even fully realize the degree to which we are hiding. Sometimes we may not be able to conceive of a way out.
But the good news in the scripture today is that we have a God that goes looking for us! God, Jesus tells us in the Gospel passage for today, does not just shout out a joy filled “Ali, ali in come free!” and then stands back waiting for high fives at whoever shows up. Instead, God takes a head count and when God finds that all are not accounted for, God puts on his boots and grabs his staff and goes out searching, looking in every leaf barrel and under ever rose bush until that sheep, until we are found. The good news for us in the scripture today is that we have a God that drops to her knees, and with oil lamp in hand goes searching in every nook and cranny until that precious coin, until we are found!
And when that lost sheep is back with the other 99 and when that one coin is back safely again that purse with the other 9 coins. When that prodigal son, in that other parable about being lost and found that follows the Gospel reading for today, when that prodigal son is back in the arms of his father again, what comes next? A party! The shepherd calls together all of his friends and neighbors and says to them “rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost”. “The woman calls together her friends and neighbors and says “Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that I had lost.” The father calls for the fatted calf saying “we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found.”
Joy is essential! We are all to celebrate the healing and wholeness that is what it is to be gathered in and loved by God, gathered in and loved by God’s people, all the way down to the very depths of our souls. And it was at this table of rejoicing that the so called sinners and tax collectors sat in Jesus’ day. At this great party of healing and wholeness, the foretaste of the kingdom of God, is where all are seated at the great banquet of celebration is where the passage from Luke for today begins.
Well not exactly where all are seated. There are some who are holding back, unsure of the seating arrangement. For Luke writes: “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Turns out, Jesus tells this parable not so much to those termed the sinners and tax collectors. They seem to be doing just fine. They seem to be having a great time at the party. But to those who are hesitating at the perimeter. To the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus speaks those righteous ones who were grumbling, who like the elder son were refusing to come in, to sit down at the table, to join in the party.
Jesus words the extravagant love of God that searches out the lost are for them as well. Challenging them to take up the invitation of reconciliation among all people.
Following Jesus is messy. Forgiveness and grace makes things messy. Perhaps our work is just to try to take up our seat at the table of God’s grace and not to worry too much about whether we or the one seated next to us deserves to be there.
So wherever you may find yourselves in the parable for today, be assured there is good news for you. Good news for those of us who hear Jesus’ “Ali ali in come free! And we go running in with a high five and a joy filled heart.
And there is Good news for those of us who may be stuck in our places of hiding. Be assured, God is even now putting his boots to go looking for us. God is even now dropping to her knees to search diligently until we are found.
And there is good news for those of us who may be lost in judging the worth of ourselves or others. God is inviting us into a kingdom of mercy not merit, where healing and wholeness are the names of the game and where celebration and love and joy ripple out in ever widening and embracing circles.
So perhaps, instead of my words of welcome every Sunday, we should consider throwing open the doors and the windows and in one voice as God’s people raise that joy-filled shout to all that are hiding out there. Maybe we should shout out “Ali, ali in come free!”
Perhaps after every service as we head out again into our days we ought to go with the express intention of looking for that lost sheep, of searching out that one precious coin.
And perhaps every time we gather, whether that is for worship, or a council meeting or to plan our upcoming trip to Nicaragua, we ought to make it a celebration, a great rejoicing where all, all are welcome to partake — even those of us –especially those of us –who may be hiding or feeling lost.
“Ali, Ali, in come free! That which was lost has been found! Join us in the celebration, won’t you?” Alleluia, Amen