We have all lost something from time to time. I could sure identify with my dad this last month. I remember that we would scour his bedroom hunting for a lost hearing aid. The search would soon move into the bathroom, the kitchen and then encompass the entire house.
Well, on my last trip to West Virginia, when I was on my connecting flight from the Denver Airport, heading back home to Ontario International, I realized that one of my hearing aids was missing. The only thing I could think of was that I had been listening to a recorded book through my noise canceling headphones. While waiting for our flight back to Ontario, I had received a call and took off the earphone on one side. I must have pulled one of my hearing aid off in the process. Back home, when I asked the hearing app to find my hearing aid, it duly displayed it on a map of the Denver International Airport. Unfortunately, no one at the airport had found it.
To compound matters, it wasn’t but a few days later I lost the other one. At this point I was ready to have myself committed to our memory care unit. I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house with anything more expensive than a pencil or a paper towel. However, on Saturday Jai found it…in a bedsheet she was removing from the washing machine. Fortunately, grace abounds. Or maybe just dumb luck. When I installed a new battery, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It worked. And is still working. And maybe it’s a bit cleaner. Maybe the grace is having such a wonderful wife who notices such things.
Of course, all of us have had much more serious losses. Like the time Jonathan and Christopher decided to go on an “Explore” late one afternoon. Behind our house in Petersburg, Alaska, it was all forest. It was only when we called them to dinner that we realized that they were nowhere to be found. As it became darker, our worry increased exponentially. A friend had come over for dinner. He, Jai and I were scouring the neighborhood and the forest behind the house. Finally, I spotted them coming back on the walking path that led from the airport into town. Fortunately, they had stayed together and were as relieved to see us as we them. I can’t even begin to describe our relief. I didn’t know whether to bawl them out for leaving like that or just to hug them and cry. We all had a very grateful dinner, a bit late, a bit cold. But the family was together.
Now this was serious loss. The kind that drives parents and friends out of their minds. I believe it must be as close as I can possibly imagine to the loss God must feel. The only worse loss I can imagine would be that of a kidnapped child or the loss so many experienced on 9/11.
When I see pictures of the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation, I am dumbstruck. The section of the Bahamas called The Mud is where many undocumented Haitians had been living. It is a jumble of splintered wood and crushed cars and other debris. As far as the eye can see. It’s hard to see how any searchers can even move through that pile of splintered wood and twisted metal. The overpowering stench is witness to the many lives that must have been lost there — bodies that no one can get to until the water recedes. And those who managed to survive? They have no idea as to where their loved ones might be, or if they’re even still alive.
But we, the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave — we’re going to deny the stragglers from this hellish landscape entry into our country because they don’t have the proper papers? Please, pray tell me — where are these poor souls with nothing but the ragged, filthy clothes on their backs – just how are they to obtain get proper documentation?
God must be weeping a river of tears. That magnificent Lady who bids wayfarers welcome out there in New York harbor – who offers sanctuary to the tempest tossed, she must be sick with grief. A lot has died, not the least has been compassion. America is being lost. The Author of our sweet liberty must be so grievously hurt at what we have done with our promise. Like a distraught woman hunting for a lost coin, God searches in vain for a shred of decency in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
Such overwhelming loss is numbing. Such loss blocks out any rational thought. We’re overwhelmed in shock. Unfortunately, one response to overwhelming loss is denial, or the resort to magical thinking.
The children of Israel, left behind at Mt. Saini completely lose it when Moses fails to return. They’re blaming Moses. “Why didn’t you just leave us out there to die in Egypt. Didn’t they have enough graves back there?” They’re blaming God. They decide, in the absence of Moses or God, to make their own god, a golden calf. Just like we are prone to look to magical thinking when faced with disaster and loss. Just as I resorted to irrational thought when I lost my second hearing aid, hunting in places where I’d hunted before, where I knew it couldn’t possibly be. Magical thinking wouldn’t be too far back.
Like this poor woman seeking that coin, turning her house upside down, God is every bit as desperate and distressed at loss as are we. How do we know that? We know it because the God dwells within the human breast that heaves with such great sobs at loss and ruination is the same God who is as near to us as our beating hearts and the fleeting thought of mind. Our anguish is God’s. Whether it’s the loss of a child who’s wandered off or a loved one who’s drowned in the floodwaters of a storm. This very one and same God who bears up our grief and cradles us in despair. Like a shepherd seeking out a lost sheep, I imagine God searches through the wreckage of our loss.
This very same God is equally distressed when an entire people, an entire nation, has lost its way. Lamentation is real. God crying out from the distress of our people. I fear we have desperately lost our way as a nation. Is tragically divided. Our farmers are committing suicide at unprecedented rates. The average family is barely making it anymore. We bury our pain in addiction.
In the previous Atlantic Magazine, there was an incredible article on how some of our biggest businesses and their CEOs are gaming the system. If anything is to destroy our capitalist system, it won’t be the likes of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, or my son and his girlfriend who are Democratic Socialists. It will be the greed of the so-called captains of industry themselves. I’m not talking about the Mom and Pop Grocery, but the huge multinational corporations that, though once American, have no loyalty to their workers here. This outlandish, self-serving greed must surely cause a flood of tears to flow from the divine Author of our liberty. We have lost our way. God’s heart surely aches.
Here’s the story. It’s not sexy. It’s pretty into-the-weeds economics. It’s junk-yard-dog ugly. It’s not a story that would spark not a bit of interest from most of us. Its far from our minds as we are concerned with getting to our usual morning chores, the stuff you have to do to get out of the house.
The money we worry about is that little bit in our bank account that will, hopefully, get us through to the end of the month. But as I’ve said, while we may vote at best once every two years, money votes every day. BIG MONEY, that is. Corporate money.
Someone has begun to look into the huge windfall many large companies have reaped from the recent tax till. Oodles and oodles. Take Home Depot, for instance. Well, did their CEO, Craig Menear, share any of that bounty with those “what brung him to the dance?” Did he give his employees any well-deserved raise? Did Home Depot lower prices? Did they build more factories and hire workers? No. None of these.
They bought back their own company’s stock. So why should we care? Let me connect the dots for us. As a result of this buyback, the remaining shares on the market became worth more, much more it turns out. There were now far fewer of them. Basis econ 101. The less there is of something, the more valuable it becomes. Including the shares owned by a CEO, who often gets a big – a very big – chunk of their salary in company stock.
Yeah, I bet you didn’t expect to get an econ lesson this morning. In fact, one of the most frequent themes in scripture is the wise and just use of wealth and privilege.
Soooooo. To continue…This president and CEO of Home Depot, Craig Menear, went off on a buying spree of their own Home Depot stock – four billion dollars’ worth – 35 percent of all outstanding shares! President Meanear’s stock, in the process, became worth a whole extra bunch and he promptly sold a lot and netted a nice $18 million. Not bad for a day’s work. To reward him, Home Depot turned around and gave him another gift of stock, over 24 thousand shares. On the spot, he unloaded another batch of that payout. And, KA-CHING! He walked away with somewhere around $4.5 million. It’s amazing what a little bit of hard work will get a fellow. I’m sure president Menear’s worth every cent of it.
But what about his workers? You know, the helpful folks with those orange aprons who are there to assist you in finding things and will check you out at the register? What about these workers making only $23,000 a year? What if that money, instead of being used to line the pockets of the very wealthy, had been used to provide a living wage for the folks what make Home Depot happen every single day? The folks who struggle to pay rent and scrape together car payments. Those who live on the ragged edge? The ones who collect up the shopping carts we leave strewn about the parking lot? What about them? The Roosevelt Institute and the National Employment Law Project have calculated that every Home Depot worker would have an additional $18,000 a year in their paycheck IF Home Depot had made a different decision about their pile of cash. IF – such a small word and such a big potential difference.
But the story doesn’t stop there. One more dot to connect. What do these folks do with this ill-gotten lucre. They use it to corrupt our political system. They invest that money in politicians at all levels of government. And that is why the stuff the ordinary voter cares about never happens. America, you are better than this.
As our democracy is increasingly financialized, I’m sure the Author of liberty must weep most grievously. The idea of America is on the verge of being lost. Sold out to the highest bidder. We should all weep. With such disparity of opportunity, we have indeed lost our way. Our workers are shoveled into impoverishment. Addiction rates continue to climb. God is saying to each one of us, “America, you are better than this.”
You ask, but what can we do? Well, we can do something. It may not be much, but if a lot of folks do it, it adds up to a lot. We can vote for leaders with integrity. Leaders who have a record of serving the public interest and not their own pocketbook. We can pay attention. Democracy is not a spectator sport!
It’s time for all of us, for this nation to be WOKE. It’s Mend-Thine-Every-Flaw time.
Look how we got through another time of despair in our nation’s past. People pulled together. Churches and voluntary organizations pitched in. We had political leadership. And the Greatest Generation did get us through the Great Depression.
Different folks learned different lessons from that searing national experience. My dad learned that a person could never have enough. So, he saved up a huge pile of money. My mom’s parents learned that, even if you weren’t personally struggling – Grandpa had a safe, pretty high-up job in the Lodi Post Office – there were a lot of desperate folks out there on the verge of starvation. Give a care.
I heard the story growing up of how every evening Grandma would make an extra amount for dinner. She would set it in a big pot with paper dishes and spoons for the destitute who wandered through their back alleyway. It wasn’t much, but she did what she could. Grandpa, like thousands others, planted a Victory Garden during and gave away vegetables.
Hundreds and thousands of Americans did similar acts of charity all across the country. Churches of every stripe and denomination pitched in. Synagogues and mosques as well. Grace abounded for the distressed. The nation voted for political leadership that devised national recovery programs, putting its idled men back to work.
It is no coincidence that the leadership — that FDR — came right out of the of the church. The Episcopal Church. FDR served on the vestry, the ruling board of the congregation, and even through the duration of that war, he never missed a single meeting. Not one! And many of our other leaders in both the administration and in Congress exercised the same bold leadership reflecting the values they had learned in Sunday school or Sabbath school.
By the grace of God, a lost nation found its way. Yes, some would argue that it also took the tragedy of a world at war to get the nation moving again. But in the progress, we stood up against some of the most murderous regimes history has known and liberated a world.
All is lost. All is found. Yes, we can do this again. We can find our moral compass. Again, arms are strong.
How does Jesus’ story of the Lost Coin end? The story becomes the celebration not of one woman, but the joyful victory of her entire community. Ultimately, it’s a story about us, not me. “See, I set before you the ways of life and death. Choose life, that you and your children may live.” That your nation may live and flourish.
It is the inner urge to tirelessly seek what has been lost. – just as my son some time ago scoured his Portland neighborhood when their orange striped cat Morris didn’t come home one night. For days, he walked the neighborhood calling. He and Rachael truly mourned that beloved cat’s loss. At odd moments they would imagine they had heard his license tags jingling, when it was only a passing kid on a skateboard or maybe a car going by. That is surely how the heart of God must ache for us when we’ve lost our way.
God plants within each one of us the restless need for restoration and connection. We feel that painful sense of loss when one is missing around the table at dinner, even if it’s only Morris the Cat. God seeks us out when we’ve gone astray with the same dogged (excuse the poor choice of words, Morris, wherever you may be) persistence, as of a woman scouring her home for what is missing — Just as God seeks out a crooked tax collector and remorseful thief on a cross at Golgotha. Or a repentant member of the NIMBY crowd.
In the sentiment of that beloved song, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches over me.” He watches over each and every one of us frail creatures, ever searching us out. And His – Her eye — is over our very endangered democracy. Yes, His eye is on our good, old US of A. AND on this frail and dying planet, our island home. Dear Lord, give us eyes to seek out the Right and the courage to do the Right. Amen.
Preached at St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach, San Bernardino
Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Proper 19, Year C, September 15, 2019
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney