A sermon for Proper 19
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
For months now the prophetic word has been hammering away. We’ve heard about the failures of justice, mercy and righteousness. We’ve heard about sham worship and sacrifices. We’ve heard about perverted interpretations of Torah. We’ve heard how Judah and Israel have abandoned God. According to Jeremiah their depravity is so evil, that now God is speaking judgment against them. God says how foolish, how stupid, how evil, how unknowing they are. It’s so bad, all creation is falling apart. The earth and the heavens are falling into the chaos and darkness as it was prior to God’s creative Word. On top of all that for the last two weeks, Jesus has been on a tear. Two weeks ago, Jesus eviscerated the cast / class system of the 1st century word, Jewish and Gentile alike. And just last week, Jesus excoriated family values, making it beyond doubt that one’s relationship with God is the fundamental value, and has priority over everything! For weeks, it has been one hammer blow after another. I’m beginning to feel like a nail, not one hit cleanly, and driven home, but one hit askew, bent over and pounded in. So finally, finally today we have some Good News, The Shepherd is back! The good faithful people of God have an affirming word! Amen!
Or do we? Listen carefully:
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling
and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: …
Who is “them?” who is Jesus telling the parable to? the tax collectors and sinners? or the Pharisees and Scribes? It makes a difference. If tax collectors and sinners are the audience these parables are a clear word of hope. We hear the extremes God goes to, to find the lost. They know they are lost; they know they are shunned and despised. They recognize the extreme action God takes, no business person leaves 99% of their business in the wilderness, a wild and dangerous place, to go find one stupid straying sheep. Any prudent shepherd writes off the loss. Tax collectors and sinners, who live on the margins of society, who are unseen, unwanted, and often used at anther’s predilection, appreciate being valued, appreciate a celebration thrown on their behalf, as they make their way back into God’s presence. But, the nearest noun, English teachers help me out here, the nearest noun is generally the referent for a pronoun. And here that is “Pharisees and scribes.” And thus we have a different kind of tale, thus we have parables of judgment and stewardship of Christ’s ministry.
I knew of him, as I was growing up. He drove a miracle, an old white pickup truck metallurgist would love to get hold of to discover how that much rust managed to hold together. The back end was always filled with buckets, trowels, brushes, ladders, shoves, a length of hose, a couple of well used 2×4’s with a variety of nails bent over, half pulled back out, a bag or so of varying types of mortar, and an amazing variety of brick. He was a brick mason. Occasionally he’d brick a house like ours, row upon row of straight brick, with carefully placed window and door casements. Most often he laid all that intricate brick work you see around the big homes. You know the delicate fans above windows and doors, inlaid diamond pattern in a three story chimney, perfectly smooth round corners, or inversely curved patio walls. His rag tag clothes, and after a day’s hard outside work odorous effect were all most people ever saw. People would park away from his truck. They’d take a wide berth when passing him on the side walk. They’d let the door go, if they preceded him in.
One day, on his way home from work, he stopped by a branch of his local bank to cash a check. He gave the teller his check, and proper id. The teller, never looking up, just said: That check is not good here. He pushed his id in and pointed to the bank’s name on the check. The teller, repeated: That check is not good here. then turned and walked away. He left.
On another occasion he stopped by the Lincoln dealership to buy a new car for his wife. He waited just outside the show room door. Several sales reps looked at him. A couple pointed at him. None made eye contact. No one came out side to greet him.
What few knew, is the he owned the masonry company. He laid brick because he enjoyed it. He was a superb business man, made several very large fortunes over time, and though you’d never know it he was the wealthiest person around. The morning after his encounter with the teller, he put on his suit, picked up a large suit case, and drove to the branch. He walked straight into the manager’s office, and handed him the paper work to close his account. Excuse me, all his accounts: multiple personal, the masonry business, and several other business accounts. He demanded the balances in cash. (That tells you how old these stories are.) The stunned manger asked why, and he told the tale of the teller. The manager volunteered to fire the teller, and he responded, The tellers behaves as you have instructed them. He left with his suitcases, full.
The day after the encounter at the Lincoln dealership, he got up, got dressed, drove to the Cadillac dealer, and paid cash for a new Cadillac. On his way home he stopped by the Lincoln dealership. The sales reps fell all over themselves trying to get out the door. He got out of the Cadillac, waited till he had their rapt attention and then said:
I’ve driven Lincolns all my life, until yesterday, when I came by on my way home, in my work truck and no one even came out the door. We’ll drive Cadillacs from now on. By the way, I had the cash in my pocket.
He got back in his wife’s new Cadillac and slowly drove away.
The mason’s stories remind us not to make snap judgments about people. There is much more about most folks we know, we don’t know. Jeremiah raises the specter of creation’s devolution into the chaos prior to God’s creative Word. That nudged me to recall Genesis 1:27
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (NSRV)
From the very beginning there is a radical equality; all humanity is created in the image of God. This is the base metaphor for human value. Every person you meet is “the image of God.” Yes, sin has messed things up, sin introduced all sorts of divisions: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu; all kinds of separations: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Eastern European, Western European, Mediterranean; all manner of false values: educated – uneducated, rich – poor, hometown – immigrant. None of them are of God.
So discipleship, being stewards of Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, meaning all things, all people are redeemed, takes us back to the equality of Genesis 1:27. Everyone is worth sharing the Good News with; yes, it is up to them to hear, head, and turn; but, it is up to us to see, seek, and speak.
Christ Jesus really did come into the world to save sinners. I, for one, am grateful. From now on, it’s a matter of sharing stories.
http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/08/27/17-penteco st-pro per-19-c-2013/
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, 17 Pentecost, Proper 19 (C) – 2013, September 15, 2013
This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching,
Proper 19, September 15, 2013
Luke 15:1-10, Scott Hoezee
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Scott Hoezee
Timothy 1:12-17, Stan Mast
Working Preacher, Monday, September 09, 2013
Craft of Preaching, Lost, David Lose
Commentary on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Alphonetta Wines
Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Christian A. Eberhart
Commentary on Luke 15:1-10, Lois Malcolm