11 September 2022
Year C (Proper 19)
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of Bangladesh
Church of St. Luke and St. Peter, St. Cloud
St. George Church, The Villages
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus persistently seeks the lost and rejoices in their redemption.
December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963, September 11, 2001, September 8, 2022
These dates are inflection points in our lives. Days we remember where we were when calamity struck. what life was like before and after and how our lives have changed as a result,
Today is September 11, 2022. What do you remember happening 21 years ago today. The planes crashing into the Towers and the Pentagon. The first responders flooding Ground Zero searching for survivors. The Little Chapel that Stood at Trinity Wall Street offering hospitality and the love of Jesus Christ during the rescue efforts.
This week I remembered our nations’ unity after 9/11. People bonding together, overlooking their differences, identifying as Americans, pulling together to fly American Flags, hold candlelight vigils, donate blood. patriotism flourished, military enlistments soared, supplies for Ground Zero arrived from everywhere in the country and church attendance surged. But the short burst of patriotism tragically faded and now 21 years later, for instance, America is enveloped in a skyrocketing layer domestic violence. With worry about national security simmers just underneath most Americans would agree on two things.
We are most unified in our being divided based upon partisan views fueled by anger and we are at risk, being egged on by social media, of judging and being uncivil to one another.
We are a long way from the unity in the early days after 9/11. One of the last remnants found in 2001 at the South Tower was a shredded, burned Bible fused to a chunk of rubble. The fused page opened to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer.
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also
Matthew 5: 38-39
God calls us not to repay evil with further evil. Perhaps our anger and desire for revenge against our enemies led over time to us becoming enemies amongst ourselves. We are called, as we shall hear in our Gospel lesson, to be anchored in our love for God and our identity as children of God, to live with radical love and forgiveness. For we can trust, when we do go astray, Jesus is the true FIRST RESPONDER who expands the definition of sin persistently seeks the lost (and That is all of us from time to time) and rejoices at our recovery and redemption.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus is travelling through Caesarea Phillipi toward Jerusalem followed by a large, tension filled crowd. There are the outsiders, tax Collectors, Roman lackeys, who overcharge the populace and the sinners, those who fail to observe ritual laws coming near to the inner circle to listen to Jesus. Knowing they have acted wrongly and need God.
And there are the insiders. the religious authorities. the Pharisees and the Scribes pushed further back in the crowd who grumble, much like their ancestors who complained in the wilderness against Moses and Aaron, that Jesus is eating with these unclean outcasts.
As we have seen in several of Luke’s accounts Jesus hangs out with the outsiders, while stating a fact, the Pharisees are also making a judgement, an accusation, Jesus has violated the law and social customs of the day, conferring acceptance by including these outcasts.
Ironically, the Pharisees and the scribes have just spoken the Good News, Jesus not only welcomes, but he eats with sinners, bestowing dignity and forgiveness upon them. No wonder the outsiders choose to hang out with Jesus, he responds with unconditional love.
With whom do you relate in this scene where the Pharisees and Scribes grouse “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." I suspect, parts of us, identify with the “Them”, the sinners, the lost sheep and the lost coin. While we try to be mindful and self-aware at times like the sheep we foolishly go astray, or like the coin allow ourselves to become misplaced. Distracted without praying or discerning leaning into our own understanding, forgetting to ask for the Father’s wisdom and becoming lost, disconnected from God.
And at other times parts of us identify with the Pharisees which is difficult at least for me to admit, we want to see ourselves as good people who love God, our neighbor, and ourselves.
We usually like to have rules and guidelines but don’t want to be seen as rigid or inflexible or judgmental. But if we are honest there are times we slip into the Pharisees’ and scribes’ behavior
judging others who differ upon their opinions or appearance or values not taking the time or having the interest to hear others’ ideas or views. Trusting that wehave the right and good answer and there can be no other possibilities and sweeping the acknowledgement of our own limitations and God’s possibilities under the proverbial rug.
Jesus reminds us in his two parables that he redefines sin. Sin is not just about misbehavior, what we do and what we don’t do as the Pharisees and Scribes believed and held to firmly. Sin is about going astray and becoming lost from God. Jesus calls us to walk away from being sinful self-centered and toward God, to being God-Centered, for Jesus sin is whatever separates us from our relationship to and with God.
In the two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin the focus is on Jesus’s desire to be the TRUE FIRST RESPONDER, to restore relationship, reclaim the lost and offer forgiveness and love to all unconditionally. For we hear both in the parables that the unclean shepherd and the lower status woman embody God’s important qualities. They search persistently and don’t blame, they find and don’t punish, they rejoice and don’t condemn.
Jesus priority is not about societal and cultural vertical hierarchies who is in or out, right or wrong or even invited to sit at God’s circular table. Jesus’s priority is focused on presence,
who is at the table and who is missing? Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows each of us, every hair on our heads. notices when we are missing and lost, is moved by love to leave the 99 in the sheep pen to search for one of us. Jesus, like the persistent woman, puts aside the 9 silver drachmas, 9 days’ wages, likely a wedding present to search for the 1 missing silver coin.
Lighting lamps, sweeping, searching every nook and cranny to find you and to find me, for even if we have strayed a quarter of the way the apostle Paul did, the writer of the letter to Timothy reminds us that God is our stronghold filled with mercy, grace overflowing, and patience to save us from ourselves and to give us eternal life. For when he finds us Jesus welcomes and listens to us, hearing our confessions and our promises to amend our lives, placing us on his shoulders, carrying us back home, rejoicing with our friends and neighbors we are back in right relationship
Now I know you know as human beings that life, and that we ourselves, are not all good or all bad. . .
"Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth."
~ Henri Nouwen
At times part of our hearts feel centered in God while other parts can feel as if God is million miles away. We can be good, upright people who are concurrently lost in one aspect of our lives at our work, we may be successful but lack purpose or direction with others, we may appear to have it all together hurt deeply inside, being financially secure, we may fear the future, appearing happily married, we may feel unloved, acting busy and productive, we may miss the wonder of beauty and mystery of life..
As human beings we are complex, often filled with a myriad of feelings, history and Jesus invite us not to get stuck into binary thinking, us and them, black and white and miss the wonderful possibilities God invites us to engage in.
This morning Jesus has widened the definition of sin, sin is not just unhealthy, illegal, or deviant behavior, sin is about straying away from God and getting lost. The Good News is that God’s unconditionally loving and forgiving character is revealed both in and through Jesus. Jesus, the true First Responder embodies God’s magnificent grace seeking, finding, and rejoicing all who are lost no matter what. All of us are children of God unique and loved by God with our own place at God’s circular table where Jesus welcomes us, encourages us to let go of our divisions,
the insiders and the outsiders and forgives us when we repent for our sins.
Today we remember, we are all Americans. But at our deepest roots we are children of God
called by God who in Jesus seeks, finds and rejoices that we are at the table with Him.