Sep. 15, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Sep 15, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19C)

September 15, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I tend to gravitate right into the picturesque shepherd searching for the lost sheep and the woman sweeping for her missing coin, but notice that first we are first told that all of “the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” Why? And why did this then provoke surprise in the scribes and Pharisees? Often tax collectors were corrupt agents of the Romans, and abusive in how they collected taxes for them. They were usually not from the local area and were targets of scorn because of their collusion with Roman oppressors and their callous disregard for the local ethos, people and economy.  Pharisees were set aside to live their devotion to God by ongoing study and Torah observance, and by lives of purity in all facets of life, and in this way,  they too were separated from the average local folk, and ate only with one another so to observe purity laws. They too were not always known for being righteous or without corruption. Suspicion and judgments abound between all of these, and who you ate with was a sign of who you trusted and identified with.

There are a lot of meals in Luke’s gospel, with Jesus often on his way to or from one, usually with people some group considers outsiders or of little value. Here Jesus is called out for eating with tax collectors and sinners (one outsider group) by the scribes and Pharisees, another separate group. What we hear repeatedly in Luke’s gospel is a subtle and powerful message; Jesus seeks to bring sinners to repentance and change of life, but not once does he actually scold or correct a sinner. Instead, he eats with them, he tells parables they can all relate to. Luke reports at least four different meals in which Jesus receives criticism for his relationship with sinners, but in none of these stories does he focus or even comment on the sinners’ behavior. He doesn’t even say who those ‘sinners’ are in fact, since none of them, or us, is exempt. So, we begin this reading by imagining Jesus in this context of being criticized and asking ourselves, perhaps rhetorically, if there’s anyone he wouldn’t eat with? The early church’s answer was ‘no’ as is ours. And Luke’s audience, like us, knew the sacred meal of Christ’s Communion as how we remember Jesus and participate in the promise of the coming of God’s kingdom. It is not in fasting and exclusivity that we find grow our faith, but in feasting celebrating with the Christ we meet in each other.

Then Luke writes of Jesus telling the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Most of our lives these parables lead us to identify with the one lost and think about what it means to be ‘found’ by God. While I was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I chatted with a young girl named Maya, who I noticed was reading a favorite book of mine, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. She was quite taken with the heroine, Claudia Kinkaid, who, with her little brother, runs away and secretly lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Maya was imagining doing the same thing. It was my ultimate childhood fantasy (okay, it’s my adult fantasy too!). At night they sleep in the historic beds of kings and queens, visit their favorite paintings, bathe and collect coins in the fountains, and spend the day tagging along with school groups and taking tours with the docents in a different wing each day. As she and I talked about the book I realized that while, as a child, I had always wanted to be Claudia, I now imagined more fully the horror any parents would go through with their children missing! They return unscathed eventually, and in the end,  they are far wiser and happier to come home than they could have imagined when first they ran away.

Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in these parables? That at times we are all ‘runaways’ or lost? We wander away from God in anger over a tragedy that has happened, or hide in harsh self-judgement that we are too far gone, or get lost while being too busy to make time for God, pouring our energy into chasing some lessor idol —we may even leave slamming the door behind us vowing never to return or that there is no God. This parable gives us pause in such times; God is the woman sweeping her house by lamplight, searching diligently for even one coin she values, God is the shepherd wandering the hills listening for our lost lamb cry in the dangerous places. And when we feel found (and sometimes this is a gradual thing, this being found), we are drawn from the darkness of that fear or isolation into the joy of being retrieved into the Body of Christ. We are led to a place at Jesus’ table with all of the other once-lost souls. Readings like this tell me God knows sadness over the ‘lost’ state of the world and for us as individuals, and yet is still abounding in love for us no matter what. We see the shepherd or the woman rejoicing in their finding and can imagine the Holy One in the same celebration when we are found, as we turn or re-turn. Yet, as you know, parables never have just one way to understand them.

As I reconsidered the parent’s feelings in the children’s book it made me wonder; do we ever see ourselves as the shepherd or the woman searching for the coin? Imagine the parent’s hearts at seeing their children again! To find and be found is perhaps a greater gift to God and to ourselves than we realize. That elated relief like none other, that “joy in the presence of the angels …over one sinner who repents” is real when we put ourselves into the other roles in this parable. What are the metaphorical ‘sheep’ or ‘coins’ we are missing, that you search for and pray about? How do we find, love, help, one who is ‘lost’ to us or has turned away?

Today and for the next few weeks we again offer our “My St. Michael’s Story” series, (and sermons are shortened to allow for this).  We’ll get to hear from people who ‘found’ something special here as part of their spiritual journey. Last year these stories sometimes cast us in one role, and sometimes the other. It is part of spiritual maturing to discover ourselves growing, to move from always being the one lost and then found, to then at times ourselves doing the seeking, finding, helping, and welcoming all to our Lord’s the table, just as he taught us to do. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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