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;.

 

 

 

Really, who is God? – what are divine expectations?

A sermon for  Proper 19

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

David Brooks’ column Friday is titled The Russia I Miss. He notes how debates that raged in the public square in the west, raged within individuals in Russia. That internal debate produced great intellectual and artistic expression. Brooks writes that as America brought a vision of happiness into the world, Russia brought a vision of spiritual commitment. Building on Isaiah Berlin’s thought  “That man is one and cannot be divided.” He wrote:

You can’t divide your life into compartments, hedge your bets and live with prudent half-measures. If you are a musician, writer, soldier or priest, integrity means throwing your whole personality into your calling in its purest form. The Russian ethos … saw problems as primarily spiritual rather  than practical, and put matters of the soul at center stage.
Brooks laments that it is now all gone. (Brooks) And while he does not say so, I believe he longs for such a depth of spiritual commitment to return.

Such lament and such longing is a way of understanding scripture. When God learns that Adam and Eve have fallen to the temptation to be like God the initial response is: What have you done! (Gen 3:13) It sounds of surprise and dismay. From this moment through the end of Revelation there is a sense of longing for the relationship that has been lost, and a longing, a hope, an active effort to restore it.

This morning’s reading from Proverbs presents wisdom as a woman. The are numerous explanations. One tradition understands feminine wisdom to be one expression of the reality of God. (Sakenfeld) The feminine wisdom reveals God who always seeks relationship, and is always multi gender. Proverbs presents a God self revealing in vastly counter cultural ways. (Jacobson) On the surface this reading come across as a bit of a rant. However, when we realize city squares and city gates are locations for courts and the market place we begin to understand the underlying concern is for social and economic justice (Jacobson).  Here Woman Wisdom express lament for Israel’s behavior to God and toward each other, especially the least of these. Here Woman Wisdom longs for a return to relationships between all people as all humanity was created.

In the last few weeks Jesus has traveled from Tyre, through Sidon to Decapolis, through the wilderness, and Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. Here Peter gets it right, recognizing that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Then he gets all wrong when Jesus starts talking about betrayal, death and so on. Beyond the fact that none of the disciples ever get it right when Jesus starts telling the truth about what it means to be his disciples, the location makes a difference (Lewis). They are in Caesarea Philippi, which is at the furthest edges of ancient Israel. More significantly, it is the home of multiple temples to multiple gods. One temple was built by Herod in honor of Caesar; which was later enlarged by Philip. Who then renames the town after Caesar and himself – Caesarea Philippi (Easton). In short, they are in the heart of Roman territory. Think ISIS, only with no possibility of drone attacks, or friendly forces rescue. And here ~ is where Jesus chooses to begin revealing who he is, and what following him will mean. Of course Peter tells him to hush. Jesus is challenging Rome in a center of Roman power. In much the same way as the wilderness experience reveals who Jesus is, we are sharing, with the disciples, a further unveiling of Jesus’ identity, which evokes the question: “Who is God?” (Jacobson) Beneath the details, one more time, we see a God who is not expected. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is a lament of the lack of understanding and the lack of trust. His continued explanation of discipleship, is a longing for what was created.

How often  have you heard “If you don’t want everyone to see it, watch it, hear it, or read it, do not post it on the internet!” In midst of an ugly seminary kerfuffle one of our professors said: “Unlike other injuries, what has been said can never be unsaid.” James is battling similar troubles. It is likely he is expressing concern about false or misleading teachings when he writes about the tongue. James writes that we can not curse those made in the image of God with the same tongue that blesses God (Jacobson). James laments this egresses behavior. Yet the fact that he wrote the letter is an expression of a longing for right teaching, but more importantly for right relationships, between each other and between our selves and God, to be restored.

Scripture reveals God laments the loss of the created relationship between the divine self and humanity and longs for, hopes for, continually works for the created order to be restored. Those whose faith life comes from the Judeo – Christian traditions lament what was lost in the garden and we also long for, hope for the created order to be restored. Those who follow Jesus believe Jesus has started that process. In the millennia that have followed, the revelation of God’s self has been difficult to perceive. We have trouble agreeing on who God is. We have trouble agreeing on what God would have us do. So, do we really know God? Do we really know what the divine expectations are? The answer is sort of, but not completely. I have and I expect you have, seen God in unexpected places. I have and I expect you have, unexpectedly been a blessing in the life of another. We know and cherish those moments.

One of the gleanings from all today’s readings is that God and Jesus never conform to cultural expectations. One of the continual threads in the bible is God is always showing up in the midst of adversity. Insomuch as we look for God in the glitz and glamour, and so rarely encounter the divine there perhaps lets us know we’ve got it wrong. What would we find if we look for, listen for, ask for God in the wilderness and the broken places and people. We expect God and Jesus in particular places, at particular times, in particular ways. Curious how it so rarely works out that way (Epperly). We harbor secrete doubts about the Jesus story, about the cross; may be because we fear or dislike the self denial implicit in the cross (Ashley, Lose). What we misconstrue is that the self denial of the cross is not about less happiness, it is about discovering real and abundant life, an abiding spiritual commitment. In giving up the traditional and the expected  particulars we probably won’t find the life or God we want, we will find the God we need (Lose).

——————-
Brooks David, New York Times, The Russia I Miss 9/11/15
Sakenfeld,  Katharine  Doob.  New Interpreter’s Dictionary  of the  Bible.  Nashville: Abingdon,  2009.
Jacobson,  Rolf,  Karoline  Lewis  and  Matt Skinner.  Sermon  Brain  Wave.  9 13  2015.  
Lewis Karoline. Location Matters. 9 13 2015
Easton, Matthew George, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Epperly,  Bruce.  The  Adventurous  Lectionary.  9 13 2015. .
Ashley, Danae, God’s Story, Our Story  –  Proper  18(B).”  9 13  2015.  Sermons  that Work;
Lose, David, Intriguing, Elusive, Captivating, and Crucial, 9 13 2015 In The Mean Time