It was just a throw away pot of succulents that my spouse had "rescued" from a Walmart clearance shelf. The pot was a multi-tiered pot of hens and chicks and when they brought it home, I thought, "Oh great, just what we need, another lost cause." The pot sat inside for a few weeks until, one day, I came home and the pot was empty sitting on the counter by the kitchen sink. I figured our "lost cause" had finally decided to lose, so I went about my day.
A little later on, I heard the water outside turn on, and went out to find my spouse planting the hens and chicks in an empty bed on the west side of the house. I asked what they were doing, and my spouse responded that as they began to take the pot apart, they saw how root bound the little hens and chicks had become. They were unable to grow and thrive any longer in the pot. They needed more room and better soil, and my spouse was going to ensure they had it.
That was just under three years ago, and those throwaway hens and chicks from that cheap, tiered pot have not only not lost their cause, they have turned into an ABSOLUTELY gorgeous array of flowering succulents. In fact, that bed has become one of my favorite beds on our property, reminding me of my Grandma Katzer's bed of hens and chicks that she had when I was a child.
That's the thing about "lost causes"--often they're only lost if we give up on them. Throughout his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth ran into a lot of "lost causes" --people whose families and communities and synagogues had written them off for some reason or another--because they were different, because they were sick, because they were "unclean" according to purity codes of the day, because they were female and outside of the many rules laid out for females at the time. Whenever Jesus ran across them, we read that not only did he not write them off, he "healed" them.
Often times when we modern day readers hear the word "healed," we think "cured." But that wasn't what Jesus did at all. Healing them, "casting out their demons," wasn't about cure or magic or unicorns. It was about restoring them to community, to relationship, and to fullness of life. Jesus' entire ministry to "lost causes" was about removing the barriers each person had in front of them that kept them from being whole. It was never about taking away someone's disease, it was always about taking away the stigma of the disease and the segregation instituted by families and religious leaders that kept the person living with the condition from community and relationship.
While entire communities and families wrote off people they knew and loved as lost causes, Jesus demonstrated how no one is truly "lost" unless we give up on them. And I don't mean converting them to Christianity either. I mean converting damaging systems and legal and religious strongholds that keep people separated, isolated, marginalized, and oppressed into places where people matter more than ideology. And into places where wholeness matters more than some generalized sense of "respectability."
Our hens and chicks are living proof that a little attention and tender loving care are all many of us need to thrive and move from the clearance shelves of our lives into something BEAUTIFUL. In a very real way, we are all just one act away from healing, wholeness, and life--we just need someone to notice and give us more room and better soil in which to grow. Which begs the question, who or what aren't we yet noticing? Where are the "lost causes" in our midst?
Learning to open my eyes and my heart with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.