By Lutheran pastor David G. Johnson in The Road Once Traveled, 1991, pages 67-71
The three of us, Bob, John, and I, were so intent on following a turkey that we neglected to pay much attention to where we were going. The car was not far away and we thought we knew the area in the Black Hills where we were hunting. We followed the resonant gobbles of a turkey, eager to get close enough so we could ‘work’ him with our calls. We pursued him, up one hill and down another. When it became clear to us we had lost the turkey, we turned and headed back to the car.
It is always exciting when you go back to the car and there is no car. After each of us had taken a turn in saying, “But I’m sure it was right here,” we began to make circles, each one, we thought, wider than before. No car. “I think we’re lost,” one of us finally had nerve to say.
The extent to which we were lost was not totally clear until we began a debate on which direction to go. Three opinions on where north was surfaced. Nor could we agree on whether to plunge ourselves into a deeper state of lostness by continuing to look for the car, or to strike out in one direction and hold the course until we came to a road. We heard the sound of what seemed like a stationary motor a very long ways away. At the moment that distant sound was the only sure thing we had. Our wits, our sense of direction and our memory had all failed.
We struck out for the motor, which could have been miles away for all we knew. Much later we came upon a trail, which we decided to follow. Then a better trail. Then a road. Then a discovery. “I remember this road,” said John. By now we were a little on the other side of nervous and a little on this side of panic. Our walking pace had quickened and hinted of deep concern. It didn’t help, either, that the weather forecast called for a snow storm that night. We were vulnerable. The slightest suggestion that someone actually knew where he was caused us to fall in line. Fortunately, John was right. This was the road we had taken in, at the end of which was our car.
Lost is a terrible word. When one is lost, his whole world is dominated by that lostness. It controls his life. He has no other goal, no other purpose, no other need than to escape his lostness. Had a turkey wandered into our path we might have ignored it. Once we were lost, we weren’t hunting turkeys anymore. We were surviving.
To be lost assumes we have a place where we belong, which for us was back at our car. Dr. Arndt Halverson, professor at Luther Seminary, once told of how he had picked up a hitchhiker. He asked his passenger where he was from. “Baltimore,” he replied. “Well, you’re a long ways from home,” said “are you lost?” “No, sir,” said the young fellow, “I’m not lost, because I don’t belong anywhere.” Chances are, there was no one looking for him either.
To speak as Jesus did of persons being lost, is to regard them with pity and concern. One doesn’t scold those who are lost; one helps them find their way. While some, in Jesus’ day, chose the pejorative word “sinner,” Jesus chose the compassionate word “lost” to describe those who lived apart from God. God wants everyone to find a home in Him, but some have dashed off on their own, in another direction. Luke 15 contains three of the most wonderful stories Jesus ever told: the parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son. Jesus conveys, in these stories, how intensely the owner of the coin, the shepherd of the sheep, and the father of the son wish to have the lost ones back.
It is easy to lose one’s way in life. We may, like sheep, nonchalantly put our heads down, moving from one tuft of grass to another, and in the process, eat our way away from the shepherd. That was not our intent; we were simply preoccupied with day to day interests. It was not meant to be a revolt. On the other hand, our journey away from God may also be an act of overt rebellion, like the lost son who decided to head for the “far country” where he could be on his own.
In either case, we are lost. At first it may be interesting, even exhilarating. But the time will come when it will catch up to us. The darkness will set in, our own resources will grow thin and we will be alone.
Years ago the poet W.H. Auden was in a 52nd St. nightclub in New York City. He sat and watched the people around him, and then turned over a napkin and recorded his impressions. The result was his poem September 1, 1939, from which these lines were taken:
Faces along the bar,
Cling to their average day.
The lights must never go out,
And the music must always play…
Lest we see who we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night,
Who have never been happy or good.
When the lights go out and the music stops, being lost is not so pleasant.
But there is more. God has already begun the search. Even before we size up our situation, even before we admit we are lost, God is on the prowl, pursuing us. With a flash of light, emanating from the One who is called the Light of the World, he shows us the way home. That is why John Newton, former slave ship captain, could write in his thankful hymn, Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now am found.”
Isaiah 53:6 — We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Luke 15:31a…32 — “‘My son,” the father said, “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Luke 19:10 — (Jesus said), “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Psalm 119:176 — I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
–John Newton (1725-1807)