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The Lost and Found
First UU Wausau – Feb. 19, 2017
Rev. Laurie Bushbaum

First Reading: Salvation, by Lynn Ungar

By what are you saved? And How?
Saved like a bit of string, tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from a burning building already
Singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged like a car part – the one good door
When the rest is wrecked?

Do you believe me when I say
You are neither salvaged nor saved
But salved, anointed by gentle hands where you are most tender.?
Haven’t you seen the way snow curls down / like a fresh sheet/ how it
Covers everything, makes everything beautiful, without exception?
Second Reading: excerpt from the radio program Naked Scientist, a call in radio-show…

I would like to know where socks go when they (are) put … into the washing machine? I made some observation that I put matching socks into the washing machine and I get only single socks back. … Where are the socks going?
Kat: I think you have to give up some socks as a sacrifice to the “God of Washing.” I don’t know.
Chris: I’ve got a theory of this actually. I think what happens is that socks, very often, glue themselves to the inside of the machine so you remove the washing but you might leave one glued to the top so it gets separated from its counterpart. You then go to the washing, hang washing up, process it, put it all back in your bedroom all ironed and stuff and now you got an oddsock. You find the other one and that gets processed separately but by then you’ve got this odd sock in the bedroom and you think “Oh I must have forgotten to wash this one” so I put back in the wash. Its counterpart is probably – or in the wash then the other one comes back from the wash having been found later but by then its counterpart is now in the wash and the two remain separate forever. I think that’s what it is.
Kat – Yeah that’s the same circulating odd socks.
Chris – Actually I just got an email from (someone) and he says ‘I had to take apart my wasjing machine recently and I found 3 socks stuck in the drain tube, so this is where I think they end up’.

Sermon: Life in the Lost and Found Rev. Laurie Bushbaum

Several years ago I took 25 UU youth and 5 adult advisors to Boston and Salem for a week of exploring our UU heritage. We were on a tight budget, of course, so we used public transportation. When we arrived at the Boston airport we took a shuttle bus to the subway, then made several transfers and finally, dragging all our luggage behind us, finally found our way to the Universalist Church in Salem. Throughout the entire week all went well. We never got lost. Except once, kind of. But I’ll get to that.

Each evening of the trip we had a short, simple worship service. It was a time to check in, to talk about our day, reflect on what we had seen. Several of us adults were sitting around a table early one evening and I said, “I’m out of ideas for evening worship. Did anything happen today that would make a good focus for our worship tonight?” Bill said he had an idea. For a minute he reflected back on the day.

That morning we had gone on our whale watch trip from Salem harbor. Because Bill was one of the designated leaders for whale watch day, he glanced at the map the night before and noted it was just a short walk from the Salem Universalist church where we were staying, to Salem harbor. Actually, its really a long walk, I warned him. I remember the previous year when I was there with the youth we walked and walked and walked. It was much farther than we thought and we almost missed the boat. So even though it looked like a short walk, we left early and Bill fearlessly led us through the narrow cobblestone streets. He stopped a few times to get his bearings and continued on. We followed. We hadn’t gone that far when he paused, longer than usual, looked at the street signs for a while, turned the map this way and that. Another pause. Then suddenly Bill perked up and announced, “We’re here! The boat is right around the corner.” I remember thinking, “We’re here already? How could we be here already?

During our conversation that evening, and later at worship, Bill told us that while he was standing at that corner, turning the map this way and that, he was just about to announce that we were lost, when he realized, that in fact, we were standing just around the corner from the boat. None of us thought we were lost. And as it turned out, we weren’t. What I did realize, however, is that the previous year, we had definitely been lost. And I hadn’t even known it.

So it is with life. Sometimes we are walking right along, not even aware that we are lost. Other times we feel dazed, lost, confused, about to toss up our hands when suddenly we realize we are right around the corner from where we need to be.

In our story this morning, Mona’s trip to the lost and found box revealed that this stuff about the lost and found is way more tricky than meets the eye. Here are four things I know about the lost and found.

In the world of the lost and found, it’s good to expect the unexpected. The box in the Office marked “Lost and Found” in no way revealed the actual depth and magnitude of the lost and found. There was much more to it than the eye could see. Wendell and Floyd assumed Mona to be lost when her feet disappeared into the box and she slipped out of sight.

The entire underground world they found was not what they expected, but it didn’t keep them from accomplishing their task. And did you notice that the children got more lost, before they found Mona’s hat? They wandered here and there, turned a few corners, tried a few doors. Sometimes we, too, have to get lost before we can get found again. Expect the unexpected.

Here is a a fun “Lost and Found”story, which has to do with the painting on the front of your OOS and a doorman of a New York apartment building. One day, Franklin Punetes found a painting of a little girl wedged in the bushes near the building. Thinking it belonged to one of the rich tenants of his building, Puentes kept it in his locker for days trying to find its rightful owner. When it wasn’t claimed, he figured it was probably something that had been thrown out so he brought it home. A few friends mentioned that the painting might be worth something so Puentes went to the internet to find out more about his mystery portrait. That was how he found out that he was in possession of the missing Portrait of a Girl, by the famous artist Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, worth $1.3 million. A drunk courier was taking the painting to a prospective buyer at The Mark hotel, but lost it on the way back to the gallery. The lost work and ensuing legal mess it caused – from lawsuits to federal criminal charges – made it easy for Puentes to find information online. He turned in the painting to the cops, who handed the painting to the FBI because one of its owners was being investigated for wire and mail fraud. One of the men under investigation, has gone missing. ( online from NY Times)

Life in the Lost and Found keeps us on our toes.

Here is the second thing I know about Life in the Lost and Found; company can be very good. Though Mona was the new girl, maybe because she was the new girl, Wendell and Floyd thought they better go after her. Turned out for the best, too. In real life it is often helpful to realize that we have companions, all around us in the lostness and foundness of life. This can make the journey more fun, less scary, teaches us more, creates shared history and meaning. In many ways, isn’t this sanctuary a place where we consider how we are lost and found? Doesn’t it feel less lonely to be together?

Here is the third thing I know about the realm of the Lost and Found; we need courage. Our lives can take twists and turns that require strength, resources and courage we didn’t know we had. We sometimes have to face things we would rather not face at all, thank you very much. Sometimes we choose to put ourselves in a position to learn by facing a physical or mental challenge. But sometimes, life is just darn hard, and hearing the stories of those who have gone before, gives us stepping stones for our own path.

The following story illustrates a lot of important points about life in the Lost and Found. It comes from UU writer Robert Fulghum.

In the early dry dark of an October’s … evening, the neighborhood children are playing hide-and-seek. … Adults don’t play hide-and-seek. Not for fun, anyway. Too bad.

Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn’t keep looking for him. And we would get mad back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-UP, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that…

As I write this, the neighborhood game goes on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him…. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled, “GET FOUND, KID!” out the window. And scared him so bad he probably wet his pants…

A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye.

He hid too well. Getting found would have kept him in the game. Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found. “I don’t want anyone to know.” “What will people think?” “I don’t want to bother anyone.”

Better than hide-and-seek, I like the game called Sardines. In Sardines the person who is It goes and hides, and everybody goes looking for him. When you find him, you get in with him and hide there with him. Pretty soon everybody is hiding together, all stacked in a small space like puppies in a pile. And pretty soon somebody giggles and somebody laughs and everybody gets found.

Medieval theologians even described God in hide-and-seek terms, calling him Deus Absconditus. But me, I think old God is a Sardine player. And will be found the same way everybody gets found in Sardines – by the sound of laughter of those heaped together at the end.
( Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”)

The fourth thing I know about Life in the Lost and Found is that it is good to have a lucky hat. The hat, of course, is just a metaphor for what we carry with us all the time; the True North for us; our inner authority, our touchstone or the bedrock of our faith.

What is your true North? What orients you during your days? What gives perspective to your years? What helps you get found when you are lost? How are you “saved” over and over again towards wholeness?

UUism as a denomination, does not give allegiance to any one particular outside authority; there is no one-size-fits-all hat to wear that buys your salvation. And that makes UUism a different kind of religion. Instead, it provides a place and way of companionship as each of us seeks and refines our sense of spiritual truth and authority.

Near the end of her life, UU poet and novelist May Sarton wrote, “Now I become myself. It’s taken Time, many years and places.” Life in the Lost and Found is a long, slow process of traveling to the center of our own soul. It is not a straight-line, as-the-crow-flies kind of trip. This soul journey is more like walking the labyrinth. Each step, each turn is necessary, though the destination is sometimes not visible. And we can return to the center many times, each time a little wiser.

For Life in the Lost and Found, here are four things that I know: expect the unexpected; company can be good; we need courage; and all of us need a way to get found, welcomed into salvation and wholeness.

My favorite line in today’s story is, “You can’t get lost in the lost and found.” It’s pithy and clever. It has a great sound to it. And it seems true. And perhaps this is more likely to be true for people in religious community. We are here to help each other in times of need. We are here to learn together. We are here to celebrate and play together. We are here to help create the world as a better place so that we don’t get lost in our own smallness or prejudice. And we are here so that others might be spared getting unnecessarily lost. This congregation does all that.

On the other hand, it is important not to trivialize the great life journey with simplistic sayings. There are people who seem to me, to be lost. Perhaps lost in an addiction, or a self-destructive pattern of some sort. We can get lost in greed and the accumulation of stuff. We can get lost and steered down a dead-end due by fear. We can let lost by following what seems like the truth but isn’t. We can get lost by following what seems like love, but isn’t.

If we take seriously this idea of life as a Lost and Found, I think we need to recognize that there are systems of oppression whose purpose is to try and keep whole categories of people lost, and without their full power. But this is not how it is meant to be.

Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven’t you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything, makes everything
beautiful, without exception?

Here, in poetic words, is Universal salvation. That the goodness and beauty of the world, of God, of Creation, is, by nature and design, equally for all. Yes, it gets messed up in the process of living. Some get left behind or left out.That is why we are committed to justice. Some are wounded in body or spirit. That’s what healing and compassion are about. But, we honor the worth and dignity of every person, the right of all to life and joy, and imperfect wholeness. We are all meant to “Get found.”