Lost and Found

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10 (This is one of the three parables in Luke 15, the other two are about a lost sheep and a lost/prodigal son.)

Somehow yesterday I committed the unforgivable sin for those of us living in a 5G world. I lost my phone. It was not in any of the usual places I put it in the house, not in my office, bedroom, bathroom or kitchen. I wasn’t expecting any important calls or texts, but I was still feeling lost without that device which has become my constant companion and link to 24/7 news of the world.

After trying several times to call my phone with no luck I remembered that I had taken a walk earlier around our small pond and out to the mail box; so my wife and I made several trips retracing my steps. Since we looked everywhere inside we were sure the prodigal phone must be somewhere outside.

Finally I decided to try the “Find My Phone App” on my iPad to locate the wandering phone. That app gave me some confusing information that said the phone was anywhere from 40-800 feet away. Not helpful, iPad. As darkness began to descend on our outdoor search we retreated indoors. I switched the map on my iPad to a satellite view of our property, and on that map the location of the missing phone appeared to be in the house.

If you haven’t used this app you may not know that there is a button on it labeled “play sound.” I initially thought that meant it would like a gps verbally direct me to my phone, but each time I tapped that button I heard nothing. Then finally I learned by accident what “play sound” meant. I hit the “play sound” one last time and saw a promising sign when it said “connecting.” Not optimistically I went back down stairs to look one more time.

As I got half way down the basement stairs I began to heard a faint beeping sound, and it got louder with each step I took. It took a few minutes before I zeroed in on the exact spot which I had gone several times thinking I had not been in that room all day.

But then I looked down under the ping pong table, and there was my phone. And of course as soon as I saw where it was I remembered walking by there and hearing something drop to the floor, but I was in a hurry and after a quick glance back I didn’t take time to see what had fallen.

And then I remembered the parable of the lost coin, and I had a little better insight into what the joy of finding things and people who are lost feels like. Years ago I played Jesus in a children’s musical called “The Storytelling Man.” I still remember the song the kids sang after hearing the parables about the lost being found. The punch line of that song was, “Let’s have a party, let’s make a racket.”

That’s how I felt when I found something as ordinary as my phone. Can you imagine the joy God feels when a lost soul is found? Remember these parables are an attempt to give us a glimpse of what God’s reign is like. My favorite image from those parables is when the Father of the prodigal son goes running with arms wide open to meet his beloved son and welcome him home.

What or whom have you lost that is worth the effort to search diligently to find? It could be a friend or relative; it could be your passion or purpose in life. Whatever it is are you willing to put forth the effort and not stop searching until the lost is found. And if you are feeling lost yourself, drifting through life’s routines with no direction, please know that the source of all being that we call God is searching for you and will not give up until you are found.

Welcomed In, Sent to Serve

I was privileged to be invited to share some memories of my time as a student at the Wesley Foundation at Ohio State University recently. The occasion was Alumni Sunday at Summit United Methodist Church as we celebrated 60 years of ministry to students and the university community in the building at 82 E. 16th Ave. in Columbus. Summit church was created in the late 1970’s by a merger of the Wesley Foundation, Indianola UMC and University UMC. The Scripture for the day was the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15.

I identify with the prodigal son because my first memory of visiting this building when it was the Wesley Foundation was as a scared little kid lost on a huge campus. OK, I was 20 years old and a junior – but it was my first quarter on main campus after two safe years of living at home and attending the Lima Branch, as we then called it, of OSU. The year was 1966, and less you think I was a total wuss, you must know that my lecture classes that quarter in University Hall were bigger than my entire high school student body, and the number of students at OSU was about 6 times the population of my home town.

I was homesick for my mommy and without being able to name it also for a God I felt at home with. Having grown up in a loving United Methodist congregation, my parents had told me the Wesley Foundation was a place I would be welcome. Had my parents known what radical ideas and people I would encounter here they would probably have sent me to the Baptists – but thanks be to God, they didn’t know any better.

So, what was the first thing to greet me at the front door of this building? A warm smiling face? Not really. Instead there was a huge statue in the foyer of a 10 foot Abraham holding a big knife about to kill his son Isaac because God had told him to do so. Not exactly the kind of father figure one would rush home to. I realized later that that story of how God saves Isaac is a great metaphor for how God redeems us from very frightening situations in our troubled world, but at the time it was intimidating and too much like the wrathful God I had been taught to fear as a child.

My understanding of the nature of God began to change the next quarter when I got a phone call from Glenda Cail, a member of the Wesley Foundation staff. She invited me to a student gathering at her apartment on a cold January Friday night. It would be a gross understatement to say that no other women were inviting me to their apartments, and it sounded better than another night of bowling with my roommate. So I went to that gathering, and Glenda’s simple act of hospitality changed my life.
I met my future wife at that gathering, and I found at the Foundation a new home where I felt welcome and safe to explore the first serious theological challenges in my life. I remember in particular a book study led by Bill Trudeau on James Michener’s book The Source that introduced me to new and exciting ways of thinking about the nature of God, fellowship with guys in the Methodist service fraternity, STE, and my senior year living in Wesley House where everyone made a commitment to practice living as best we could according to Christian values.

Wesley House was exactly the kind of experience I needed. I grew up in a good Christian family, but one where the motto was, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It was quiet at our house a lot. Wesley House was a 180 degree turn where the philosophy was more like Ephesians 4:5 where we are encouraged to “speak the truth in love.” It was a place where it was not only ok to disagree and express our feelings, it was required. All 20 of us met every Sunday night up in the Hackler Lounge with “Whitie” (Lloyd White) and Jack Shepherd, a chaplain from Riverside Hospital who may have invented tough love. They facilitated open, honest discussions of whatever issues were going on at the house and how they could be resolved in a collaborative way that was fair to everyone involved.

Maybe the President and Congressional leaders should try living in that kind of covenantal arrangement? There must be room at the White House for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to move in. But seriously – the atmosphere of hospitality and honest safe communication we experienced here in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s wasn’t just good for personal faith development, it was critical for helping us become engaged and active citizens in a time of social transformation.

The Wesley Foundation was a safe place where we were nurtured, but also challenged to go out from this place to witness and practice our faith in ways that helped create a more just society and world for all of God’s children. Wilfred Cantwell Smith defines faith as “feeling at home in the universe.” The Foundation helped me feel at home in this big university, it introduced me to the social gospel, and prepared me to move on to the challenges waiting for me in seminary at MTSO and beyond.
I think what my years at the Foundation meant to me was best expressed by Jason Leighton, one of the MTSO students who helped plan this service. Jason said that without the theological challenges and growth he had through his campus ministry experience as an undergrad he thinks his head would have exploded when he got to seminary. Thanks Jason, I can’t sum it up any better than that.

I mentioned the Hackler Lounge earlier, and I want to pay a special tribute to Darold Hackler for whom that room is named. “Hack,” as we called him, was the founding director of the Wesley Foundation who served in that capacity for over 20 years. He was critical to the very existence of this place even though his name doesn’t get mentioned as often as others. That’s because “Hack” was a quiet, behind the scenes leader. He took care of the administrative details – kept the bills paid the Bishop happy so all ministry and programs could happen here.

So as we celebrate 60 years of student ministry in this building, I’m grateful for Darold Hackler and all the other leaders who have and continue to serve here. And I am thankful that after 60 years Summit is still a place where all of us prodigals are welcomed and nurtured and prepared for the challenges of being agents of transformation in the world.