Lost but Found

 

A sermon for Proper 19: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Psalm 14, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

Jesus’ parables of the one sheep and a coin are parables of lost and found. Years ago, before seminary was an idea, I got a phone call from Angie. The daycare had called, and our oldest daughter was not a school. They were checking because we had not called to say she was home that day. She wasn’t home. She should have been at school. They sent a driver back to her school. Angie called me; since I had a car phone, I left a client’s office, my briefcase on his desk, and headed to the school. Angie stayed put to coordinate. It turns out a substitute teacher had put G in the wrong place, and the van driver could not see her. Before I got to the school, the Day Care driver had returned to the school, found Ginny, and she was already playing with friends. She was found, and there was joy to go around. Not every story, of missing loved ones, ends like this.

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9-11. Do you remember where you were when you heard the story? I do. It started at home listening to the news as I dressed for work. I kept listening as I tried to work. After a while, I could not stand to be alone, so I went to the Sr. Warden’s office. Together we watched the South Tower collapse, and later we watched the North Tower collapse. Three thousand people died that day. Eleven hundred bodies have never been recovered (Hoezee, Luke). All week I have been wondering what we as individuals and as a nation lost that day, and in the immediate days and months that followed. With that has happened between now and then, I wonder what we have lost in the many, many years since. At times it has the feel of Jeremiah’s prophecy, which is a real bummer (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

Each verse from Jeremiah strips away an aspect of creation (Ellingsen). First water, then the wind, or spirit, the breath of God, followed by the light, and the land, and the people, and the birds, and fruit of the earth, one by one everything is laid waste (Portier-Young). Likewise, every event of that fateful morning: flight 11 crashing into the North Tower at 8:46, flight 175 crashing into the South Tower at 9:03, flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon at 9:37, the South Tower collapsing at 9:59, flight 93 crashing in a field in the Pennsylvania countryside at 10:07, and the North Tower collapsing, at 10:28; each event stripped away some aspect of our common identity (The History Channel).

This event, and those like it, compel us, almost force us to see the evil, we don’t want to see. And when we cannot, we are coerced to look again, this time, more closely, more critically, so that we will see the complexity of justice and discover “that evil is greater the sum of its parts” (Bratt) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). There were some who pondered if such events are a sign of our not knowing, our abandoning God, as ancient Israel had (Jeremiah 14). Some pronounce that we are the fools who no longer believe in God, or at least that there are no consequences for ignoring God (Psalm 14), (Ellingsen). But, even as there may a truth in such doom, neither Psalm 14 nor Jeremiah’s prophecy leaves us in despair.

The Psalmist notes that the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of his people, and Jeremiah reveals God’s word “yet I will not make a full end” (Jeremiah 14:27). These words are reminders that as lost as we may get, we, and all of creation, are precious to God who will not allow us to completely destroy ourselves, each other or creation (Bratt). God, who promises this is not the fate, the destiny of human experience, continues doing what God does, even when it doesn’t look like it (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And so we come to Luke’s recounting Jesus’ parables of the lost and found.

The story begins with Jesus is talking to sinners and tax collectors. The nearby Pharisees and scribes object. Sinners we understand, all of us can relate to sin. Tax collectors are more difficult; I like our tax collector. In 1st century Palestine, they are enemy collaborators, working for the occupying Roman Empire. They are also frauds, frequently collecting more than prescribed by the Empire (Ellingsen). Hence the objections to Jesus welcoming them.

There are some subtleties in Luke’s story. The emphasis of the parables is finding. It cannot be repentance because sheep and coins can’t repent (Hoezee, Luke) (Jacobsen). The action verbs reveal God’s agency; the sheep and coin don’t act, God acts (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). They story of the lost coin reveals that God is a relentless seeker. There is the story of Allan. Allan has been wandering from doorstep to shelter, to hostel and no one knows for how long. One night he stumbles into a Salvation Army Shelter. Someone comes through calling out for Allan Roberts. He looks up “I am, or I used to be.” “Your mother is on the phone.” “How, she doesn’t know where I am? “I don’t know, but if you are Allan Roberts your mother is on the phone.” She has made arrangements for him to fly home. “She hadn’t known where he was, she just called every shelter and hostel for months until she found him” (Hoezee, Luke). Allan’s mother is persistent; God is relentless. But why is God so relentless? One coin, one sheep, one person cannot be that a big deal? Or can it?

Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, teaches that neither the flock nor the sheep can be whole when separated. When we are separated from God, we are not our whole self (Epperly) (Benoit). The woman looks for the coin because all ten matter to her. Likewise, everyone, everything matters to God (Epperly). God is the champion of the lost (Hoezee, Luke). God is a seeker, everyone counts, you count. God wants to find you; God misses you when you are missing  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). But unlike you and I, who have limited resources, tire out, get distracted, or lose hope, God is limitless; the divine can seek all the lost at the same time, without distraction, and with eternal hope.

 

So, to those eleven-hundred families, to any family, whose loved one’s remains have never been found, to those who are lost, you are not alone; God seeks your beloved, God seeks you. And yes, events like 9/11, and other tragedies, do reveal the existence of evil. They do expose the complexities of justice. And yes, the causes that are part of such catastrophes are interweaving. They reveal something of our and the other’s relationships with God and each other. But such darkness is not the end of the story, God seeks, you, God seeks all of us in the knowledge that everyone, everything will be found, and creation will be complete, will be whole once again.

There is a calling in all this. my colleague, Steve Pankey points out that when Jesus ‘welcomes’ sinners and tax collectors, the deeper meaning of the word is ‘receives,’ a far for intimate word. Jesus puts his purity, which today we would understand as reputation and or social respect at risk. Steve ponders if we should go beyond being a welcoming church and be a receiving church. He ponders if we are willing to follow Jesus and risk our reputations, are we willing to risk being changed by those who just might be lost (Pankey). I ponder if such a risk creates moments for all of us to find God in the other, only to discover, that through the eye of the other, God is in ourselves, and thereby recognize that together we are known to God, that we have been found and that there will be, there already is, great celebration here and in heaven.


References

ABC News. “Heroism of ‘Man in the Red Bandanna’ Detailed in New Book by.” n.d. abcnews.com. 11 9 2016. <http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/heroism-man-red-bandanna-detailed-book-tom-rinaldi/story?id=41864981&gt;.

Barreto, Eric. Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:1217. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

BENOIT, ARLETTE. “Will you seek God today? Proper 19(C).” 11 9 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 19C Jeremiah. 11 9 2016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 19 | Ordinary Time 24 | Pentecost 16, Cycle C (2016). 11 9 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventeenth Sunday after. 11 9 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 119 C 1 Timothy. 11 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. Proper 19C Luke. 11 9 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 11 9 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Lost and Found. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 17 C: Joy! 11 9 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “More than Welcome.” 11 9 2016. Draughting Theology.

Portier-Young, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The History Channel. “9-11 timeline.” 11 9 2016. http://www.history.com. <http://www.history.com/topics/9-11-timeline&gt;.

 

 

 

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Despair, recognition, sacrament

A sermon for Easter 3 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

 

It was done, finished. Months of hard work, disparu; weeks of carefully crafted questions, and assiduous listening, kaput; days of creative endeavor vanished; hours of negotiation within the company and with the customer extinct. Walking in the door he noticed unfamiliar workmen, running far too familiar cable. The simple question “What’s going on?” lead to the customer revealing they’d decided his company wasn’t delivering as promised; and they’d moved on. In a week, they’d be returning his company’s system as the contract allowed. He had hoped, everyone had hoped, this would be the break into a heretofore inaccessible market. Not now. It was done, finished. And he does, as I have done, as I expect you have done, when all is lost, he leaves, and heads back down the road, from whence he came. 

And so to the disciples, are heading back down the road from whence they’d come sometime ago. As had so many others, they had hoped this intenerate rabbi would be the longed hoped for, prayed for, messiah, who would drive the Romans out, and reestablish David’s throne. But Friday he was crucified; and now all that’s gone. 

So they are head back down the road. Perhaps they hoped leaving it all behind, and staying away from the places they seen and heard Jesus would mitigate their grief. So far, not so much, their grief was everywhere [i] or at least their experiences kept popping up, and so they talked about everything. Perhaps in time they would return to Jerusalem, perhaps they could follow the psalmist lead and go to the Temple, the home of God on earth, to pray and offer sacrifice that God would hear the distressed cry of his chosen people. [ii] For now, they talked. 

Then there is this stranger with them. He asks what they are talking about, and with some incongruity they wonder where he’s been but recount the last several days including Jesus’ death, and tales of an empty tomb. “Foolish” he replies, and then continues to speak with wisdom they never heard, but rings of truth so vaguely familiar. We’ve no idea how long the conversation goes on. But when the disciples get to where they are going the stranger continues, it’s an act of politeness, you never impose yourself. [iii] In a reciprocating act of hospitality the disciples invite the stranger to stay with them, and to share dinner. At dinner the stranger becomes the host he reaches for the bread: takes it, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it to them. Then nearly simultaneously

      • they recognize Jesus,
      • they wondered why they didn’t on the road as he spoke with such revealing wisdom,
      • Jesus vanishes, and
      • they get up and sprint back to Jerusalem; [iv] covering that dark and dangerous road in a whole new light.

When they get there before customary greetings can be exchanged, before they can say anything, the other disciples blurt out: Jesus appeared to Simon; and in reply they share: He revealed himself to us in the breaking of the bread.

In the opening gambit, I referred to C.S Lewis’ effort to escape grief by staying away from things that remind you of your grief, only to discover grief is everywhere. Fredrick Buechner wrote:

Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred.

There is great hope in knowing that Jesus comes to us on our Emmaus roads, no matter our grief, Jesus is there, Jesus is everywhere.

And there is a lot to be learned about in this story:

      • strength that comes from sharing similar experiences; [v]
      • how divine presence, divine transcendence is always fleeting, always at the edge of our perception; [vi]
      • about the primacy to go, and
      • how all this is made known to those of us who are not first-hand witnesses, which is pretty much everyone not 2000 years old.

But this morning I’m intrigued by the stranger.

From cultures all over the world there are stories of people “entertaining angles unawares.” [vii] In scripture Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and others all are unknowingly in God’s presence, [viii] so the disciples are in good company. This divine stranger theme teaches us that God’s or Jesus’ or the Spirit’s presence is never coerced. Our coming to recognize the divine, our moving from ignorance to knowledge, from unawares to perception, [ix] is always through revelation. [x] Fred Craddock writes:

[It’s] After instruction in Scripture [that’s Jesus talking on the road] and the Lord’s Supper, the two disciples recognize Jesus. Christ [always] appears to disciples, not to unbelievers. [xi]

He continues:

The meal begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger [Jesus]  …  it is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament.  [xii]

 The psalm speaks about going to the Temple to be in God’s presence. Though it always been an element in scripture, the Emmaus road story tells us we can meet Jesus, we can be in Jesus’ presence anywhere,  any ordinary, or out of the way place, in the guise of any stranger, perhaps every stranger, perhaps anyone.

You are used to hearing me transition from the offering to communion saying:

This is the Lord’s Table; all those so called are welcome to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

In part I am inviting the stranger to table with us, just as the disciples invite the stranger to table with them. But I never know who in the congregation Jesus is. I never know who transforms our simple gathering into a sacrament.

All of this is reshaping my thinking about evangelism just a bit. For while it is about sharing our experience, evangelism is also about hearing the other’s experience of the divine. Such an exchange strengthens, perhaps transforms our relationship with God. Evangelism is about always seeking our risen, living, though transitory Lord and God.

For, we never know who

      • takes us into their heart
      • thanks God for us
      • breaks us away from corruption of worldly ways of death and
      • gives us to a hurting and longing world.

 


 

[i]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Luke 24:13-35
[ii] Author: Doug Bratt , cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19 
[iii] R. ALAN CULPEPPER, The New Interpreter’s Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND EFLECTIONS
[iv] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation,  LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[v] Richard Swanson Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Richard Swanson – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on Luke 24:13-35, 4/28/2014 
[vi] Culpper, IBID 
[vii] Hebrews 13:2 
[viii] Culpepper, ibid 
[ix] ibid 
[x] Craddock, ibid
[xi] ibid
[xii] ibid

88 to 9

The psalm appointed for today’s Morning Prayer is 88. [i]  The psalmist starts off complaining about his life; how it’s full of trouble, close to Sheol, and there’s no one to help, in spite of prayers for help.  The psalm continues:

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
  Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
  or your faithfulness in Abaddon? [ii]
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
  or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

The implied answer is no; so the psalmist continues questioning God about the miseries of life.

However, the implied answer is incorrect. God does work wonders for the dead; the dead will/do praise God, God’s love is declared in the grave, in Abaddon, God’s wonders will be/is known in darkness, among those who have forgotten.  Were it not so, there would be no hope; however, by God’s incomprehensible love there is always mercy, therein there is always hope. The irony is the psalmist knows this, after all the psalm being addressing God of my salvation.

And now I find myself thinking of the man born blind in John 9. His accidental [iii] encounter with Jesus leads to him becoming a child of light.

I suppose 88+9 = 15 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [iv]

 


 

[i] http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Psalm+88
[ii] angel of the bottomless pit, parallel with Sheol and death, Holman Bible Dictionary.
[iii] accidental in that he does not ask Jesus for healing, the disciples see him, wonder about the source of his blindness, and the rest his biblical.
[iv] John 1:5