Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15 Sermon: You Are Loved

Luke 15: 1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
There’s this scene in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? that I really love. Everett, Pete, and Delmar have escaped from jail and are running from the police, sitting around a fire eating a gopher they’ve roasted for dinner, when they hear singing in the distance, and all these happy people wearing all white walk slowly past them and towards a lake, and once they reach the shore, the people just keep going, making two lines as a minister takes turns baptizing each of them in the lake.
And Everett, who is the leader of the group, looks out over this bucolic scene and says, “Well, I guess hard times flush the chumps. Everybody’s looking for answers.”
And all of a sudden, Delmar, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, takes off for the shore and jumps straight in the water and makes a bee-line for the minister.
And as he comes up from the water after he has been baptized, Delmar runs back to his friends and says, “Well that's it, boys. I've been redeemed. The preacher's done warshed away all my sins and transmissions. It's the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting's my reward. The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.”
Everett says to him, “I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?”
And Delmar says, “Well I was lyin'. And the preacher says that that sin's been warshed away too. Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now. C'mon in boys, the water is fine.”
I think about that scene a lot, because it is true that everybody’s lookin’ for answers, and my goodness, if you want answers, we in the church have plenty of them. There is this liturgy we sometimes use, in which the pastor says, “What do you believe?” and the congregation says, “We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord,” and so on and so forth, as if such an enormous question like “What do you believe” can be answered by repeating a fifteen-hundred-year old creed, as if those words are enough to contain all the power and majesty of God, as if there is any way to answer that question other than fear and trembling and silence.
We love answers in the church, only it turns out that the most important questions don’t have answers at all. What does it mean that God is love? Well, there’s a question with truth behind it, but I don’t have words big enough to answer it. Where does God live? I can say some things about that, but I can’t tell you exactly.
Or, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”
Maybe he should have just asked, “Which one of you has a hundred sheep?” and stopped there, because he was talking to Pharisees, the religious teachers, who were just as likely to have a hundred sheep as you and me. There’s a question that does not have an answer, because the whole premise of the question is flawed. Which one of you, having a hundred sheep! I don’t even like wearing wool because it makes me itch!
And yet Jesus does not wait for an answer to the question, because though answers are what the Pharisees are looking for—and so are the rest of us, if we are honest—Jesus didn’t come to bring answers. He came to bring eternal life.
It’s a good thing, too, because if you happened to find an actual shepherd and bring him to that gaggle of Pharisees and ask him the same question, which one of you having a hundred sheep, would leave the ninety-nine and go after the one, the answer would be, “You would have to be CRAZY to do that!”
Who on earth leaves ninety nine percent of the sheep in the WILDERNESS, vulnerable to wolves and everything else, to find one miserable sheep that can’t even stay in line with the rest of the herd? This is crazy!
Nobody does that, because it is ridiculous on its face. And yet, that is the story. There is more rejoicing in Heaven over the one that is found than the ninety-nine who stayed put.
It is ridiculous, and yet it is the story. And I guess I like it in a way, because it makes me feel better about my own neuroses.
You see, I can know where almost everything I own is. I may have almost everything in its right place, my bed made, my books stacked, my keys in hand, my wallet in my back pocket, almost everything where it needs to be, but if I misplace one single, solitary thing, I can’t sleep until I find it.
Does this sound familiar? Good. I didn’t think I was the only one. And, incidentally, this is how God works. Constantly. Relentlessly. Always searching, always looking for you, for me. Always welcoming us home and rejoicing when we are found. Always.
Maybe it sounds like an obvious thing, and maybe you don’t think you need to hear a whole sermon about it, but you should know that you are loved. God loves you. It sounds basic, but it is not, for love is not a feeling, but a relationship.
No matter what you have done, no matter how much you are disappointed by your family, or how much your family is disappointed in you, no matter whether you have nobody left or whether you find yourself lost in a sea of people, no matter no matter, you are loved. God searches you out. God looks and looks and, without fail, God finds you and loves you, even before you realize that you need to be found.
You know, these days, there seem to be so many messages reminding us that we are lost. There is so much newness all around that is easy to feel that way. Take two steps into the internet and there’s no telling what you’ll find. We’ve got devices to keep us from being lost, one of the most popular shows of all time is called Lost. We have the Lost Boys, Lost Mountain, Lost in Space, Lost in Translation, Lost Causes, Lost Decades, Lost civilizations, even the lost years of Jesus. Nobody likes to be lost, but we sure like to talk about it.
And the more you hear it, the more you start to believe it. We’re lost.
If you think that’s bad, just imagine being a poor woman with only ten coins to your name. I don’t know how you can feel more lost than that, except maybe if you lose one of them. That’s part of the humor of the story, you know. This is kind of a joke, because the remarkable thing isn’t that the woman lost a coin. It’s that she was already so low down that she only had ten coins, probably about ten days wages to her name and then she lost ten percent of her life savings in the couch or whatever.
She lost a coin, but she was lost herself, a poor person in a society that didn’t respect the poor, a woman at a time when women were seen as inferior. And yet even in spite of the fact that everyone told her to just give up, everyone had written her off, she kept looking.
She pulled up the couch cushions, of course, took her hip and bumped the couch so she could look underneath it. She looked in every drawer, pulled open the dishwasher, looked in the glovebox in the car, checked the kids’ pockets, and it was nowhere.
And just as she was about to give up, she noticed from the corner of her eye something shiny rolling out her front door, down the walk and into the street.
Well, she followed it of course, this being 10% of all she had, and every time she felt like she was sure she was about to catch it, the coin would roll around a corner, and she’d hurry towards it, only to have it roll around another corner, all through town, and before long, people started following her, some out of curiosity and some because they’d seen a coin roll out their door, too, and so the search party got bigger and bigger, one person at a time, and when someone would catch a the gleam of the rolling coin out of the corner of his eye, somebody would wave, “come on!,” because, well, the more the merrier, and besides, the more of them there were, the more likely they would be to catch the darn thing, which this point had climbed some steps and was bouncing up and down, as if to taunt those who were chasing it.
And by now the whole town was following the coin as it rolled down the street, and the fastest runners among them started gaining on it, and the woman thought to herself, “We might just get it!” when just as the long distance runner from the high school lunged for the coin, it simply stopped. It quit rolling, kind of circled a bit on its outer edge, and just fell, heads up on the concrete.
And everybody stopped, silent. They had all sort of gotten into this kind of thing without thinking, and then when the action stopped, they looked at each other for a moment, not sure of what to do, and a little embarrassed that they’d been caught up in the hubbub.
And the woman, a little hesitantly, walked over and picked up the coin, and as she did, the place went wild. High-fiving everywhere, hugs all around, shouting and laughing and celebration, because what was lost had now been found.
This is the church, my friends, for each of us has lost something, and each of us is a little lost. We’re not the haughty group up on the hill which stands in judgment of everybody else. We are the ones who run alongside, chasing the coin, helping a poor woman recover what was lost, because it is not so much that when you search, you find what you were looking for as much as it is the case that when God is involved, when you search, you are found.
This is the church, the place in which we don’t hide our lost-ness, but we admit it in the presence of God and one another, and we celebrate that while we may be lost together, we are found together by the God who loves each of us individually and all of us together. Forget the business you’ve heard about how we’re sinners in the hands of an angry God. As far as I’m concerned, we’re found coins in the heart of a loving God.
This is who we are called to be, and so don’t be alarmed if you hear shouting and laughing in the distance, for it is probably just God and all the company of angels making a racket in your honor, for as we rejoice in finding one another, the whole company of Heaven rejoices each time we add to our ranks, each time someone who thought being lost means you are not good enough realizes that being lost just means you are human, which puts us in good company, if you ask me.
And what a blessing to find ourselves in the church. What a blessing to be in God’s house, to be held in God’s hands. May this be a place where the work we do and the people we welcome cause God to delight, for oh, how wonderful it is to be loved. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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