Lost and Found
Friday’s paper proved to be interesting reading. First there was the report offered by the Associated Press about a woman by the name of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick who died on August 30 in a Reno, Nevada nursing home.
The daughter and son of Marianne submitted an obituary to the local newspaper about the painful legacy of their mother which has become an Internet sensation. The obituary opened with the following statement: On behalf of her children who she abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty, and shame that she delivered on her children.
The obituary continued: Everyone she met, adult or child, was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.
The horrific stories told by Katherine and Patrick about their abusive mother prompted the state of Nevada to become one of the first states to allow children to sever parental ties.
In addition to this story, the front page featured an update on Russia and the United States trying to figure out how to secure chemical weapons in Syria. The news on page five alerted us, members of the general public, to lock our car doors at night in response to a rash of recent break-ins from Bluffton to Lady’s Island. And then on page nine I read the sad story about an 18 year old who was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting a baby in a stroller while trying to rob the baby’s mother. After a while, I quit reading.
I have wondered the last few days why Marianne was so cruel. I have also wondered what may have contributed to her behavior and I have wondered how her two children Katherine and Patrick look at the future. I wonder this morning if they feel secure and loved.
I have wondered about what goes on in a man’s head that causes him to approve the deployment of chemical weapons against men, women, and heaven forbid, little children. I wonder this morning what he thinks about the people who gasped for breath, foamed at the mouth, and died. I wonder what he thought about this morning as he sipped tea in Damascus.
In the last two days, I have wondered about the person who has lost a sense of self-respect, who no longer knows how to practice self-restraint, who has lost sight of boundaries and decides there is nothing else better to do than steal something that doesn’t belong to him from a dashboard or front seat of a car? What makes a person rob and steal?
I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be eighteen years old and have to live with the harsh realization that you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison because you shot a baby in a stroller. I wonder this morning what it’s like to walk across a prison yard, eat in a mess hall, or take a shower always having to look over your shoulder, afraid that someone is prepared to thrust a makeshift knife into the middle of your back. How do you go to sleep at night? What are in your dreams?
Reading bad news and contemplating sad stories invites me to ponder my own life and some of the mistakes I have made that could have ended up on the front page. It is hard to believe I was only eight years old when I arrived home after school, grabbed a snack out of the kitchen and heard the door bell rang. A local policeman stood at the front door step visiting with my mother. He wanted to know why I had vandalized a vacant house nearby. I don’t even remember what happened next. All I know is that I was alive the next morning and well enough to walk to school.
I think and ponder about people in all sorts of churches who are frustrated and angry because the church gives expression to the Christian faith in a manner they do not understand or believe is right. I hear raised voices and strong words, read a few sad letters and see physical gestures from neighbors and friends that suggest to me they no longer want to be friends.
A few days ago I was passing through our family room spending a little time with Hannah and Mississippi, our family dogs, and happened to see an old film clip of Vince Lombardi standing on the sidelines in Green Bay shouting at his defense at the top of his lungs, What in the (tar) is going on out there!!! And for those of you who are familiar with Vince Lombardi, you know he did NOT say tar. I read the paper, listen to the news, walk the street, listen and watch people, and in the spirit of Vince Lombardi I wonder silently, What in the (tar) is going on out there? As the lyrics of a popular country song remind us – God is great. Beer is good. And people are crazy.
A few minutes ago we read and listened to the Lord say something by way of the prophet Jeremiah. If what you heard didn’t jar you a wee bit and cause you to think about life and your place in the world, I would suggest that you first check your pulse and then your hearing. The passage is a hard one for the prophet speaks of a time when the Lord leveled a very serious charge against his people: My people are fools. They don’t even know me.
Well, the truth is, people live and act every day like fools and all of us at some time or another turn our backs on Abba Father which is one of the reasons why the world remains a mess. But then there is this thing called the Gospel of Jesus Christ which has been preached for two thousand years. The gospel proclaims and declares startling and shocking good news. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Abba Father put on a human face and began the holy work of rounding up stiff-necked people like you and me, and everyone else who may act like a fool.
When Jesus ate with tax collectors and “sinners” it drove religious people nuts. But let me tell you a little secret. This story teaches us that Jesus will go to the ends of the earth to find lost people like you and me, hypocrites and sinners, roaming children and rowdy ragamuffins, and offer God’s mercy. The next time you find yourself in the far country, unable to find the way back from where you have come, or your shame and embarrassment keeps you in a dark place, remember: Abba Father honors a broken spirit, and that is the miracle and mystery of the gospel. In Jesus Christ, God finds us and welcomes us home. May the Lord have mercy on abusive parents and mean-spirited dictators, petty thieves and heartless murderers, reckless people like you and me. You may not realize it but Jesus is getting ready to put you on his shoulders, here and now, and carry you to a place of refuge and safety. The angels in heaven prepare to sing and dance. We were lost fools, but now we have been found. We are God’s beloved. Amen.