I suspect almost every museum, art gallery, school, and church in the world has a place where they store their lost and found items. I know the four congregations I was privileged to serve certainly did. I have often thought that the “lost and found” name is a complete misnomer. Nothing presently in that box has yet to be “found” certainly not by its true owner and nothing in that box may ever be found or claimed. Every item sits patiently and quietly, week after week, hopelessly separated from its rightful owner. Of course, most of the items are articles of clothing that have been lost or left behind. Gloves, jackets, sweaters, that sort of thing. Sometimes glasses, umbrellas, earrings, sunglasses. Hard to believe, but one colleague told me someone had lost their dentures in his church. Frankly, I think he was just pulling my leg.
I read a few years ago that the Edmonton Public Library’s stash of lost items grew so large that one of the librarians there took it upon herself to begin logging all of the objects found sandwiched in the pages of returned books. Her inventory was fascinating. Everything from a slice of cooked bacon to a flattened silver turtle made the list. She has found two magnetic hotel door keys, one pair of 3-D glasses, one chicken bone, one French fry, one gummy worm, one St. James Place mortgage card from a Monopoly game, and one cigarette. There was even a colour photograph of Ex-Lax products. Go figure.
This librarian’s greatest find, however, was a 3x5 inch card with five words printed in pencil on it : “ Thanks for all you do. “ Now that is a treasure. Maybe it was just a bookmark, accidentally left behind. But equally possible, maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps that little card was one library user’s gentle appreciation for the poor soul who has to peel a French fry off the page of a tender novel, or scrape a flattened turtle from inside a dictionary. Who’s to say? I can think of plenty of people doing other thankless work who would love to stumble upon a similar sign of grace, just as modest. The restaurant custodian who picks cigarette butts out of the urinal is one. The utility linesman working the night shift to restore power through the latest ice storm is another.
Thanks for all you do. Words on a lost index card that meet the eye of a finder – a message of grace in a sometimes grace-less world – precious meaning received in the index of monotonous routine. How wonderful to feel noticed when we’re down on life or lost in a maze of mundane tasks. Hearing a gracious word from another is almost like being found – being rescued. When we get off track and lose sight of meaningful things and important relationships, to be retrieved is the most wonderful feeling in the world. The blessing of having someone find or notice refuels our hope. We start to regain our bearings.
I think of the Corinthian Christians trying to form a congregation in the midst of a worldly culture. Excessive eating and drinking and sexual promiscuity were the norm for many in Corinth. Imagine how encouraging it must have felt to receive a hand written note from the Apostle Paul far away, especially when the opening line read : “I always thank God for you.”
The important thing we want to keep in mind is this. Whenever we get lost in some inglorious duties of a given day or find ourselves bereft of meaning because of mindless tasks or unbelievable challenges, we have a God who keeps watch. This God tends to us in moments when we feel forsaken, like unclaimed items in a lost-and-found box. Faith tells us that God does not wait for someone else to reclaim us and get us back on our feet. God initiates the reclamation project and pursues us. Every so often we notice this strong behaviour of God and we say : “Thanks for all you do.” Oh, how those five words must gladden the heart of God!
Peace and Joy be with you,
Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop
Eastern Synod, ELCIC