This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on September 15, 2019.
The texts were Psalm 51: 1-10, 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, Luke 15: 1-10
Children’s sermon: gather the children and have them stand in a line. Invite them to link arms and then have them pass a balloon using their hands. When they pass it all the way down rejoice! Then remove one child in the middle or so. Have them pass the balloon again. What happens when there is a gap? You can’t pass it! Being connected and together matters! Our bible texts are like that today. Some people are complaining that Jesus is hanging out with people he shouldn’t have been, people who weren’t considered nice and ok. The people complaining wanted to stay separate from those people whom Jesus was hanging out with but also kinda wanted to be near Jesus. Jesus says nope! If you want to be near me, then you have to be near everyone-even people you may not like or think you shouldn’t be around. Why? Because belonging and togetherness is what God values most! God wants everyone gathered into God’s love and grace-that’s why God sent Jesus-to show us what God is like and how we are to act since we are all made in God’s image. That’s really hard and a bit mind blowing even for adults. I’m made in God’s image, you are and so are the people you don’t like! BUT the good news is that Jesus invites us each day to look for what is precious to God-other people. This week is God’s Work, Our Hands weekend and part of that is realizing that everyone-even people we’ve never met, need to be included in God’s love and need to belong in God’s community. We’ll keep working at it and try not to complain when there are people who are different from us or we don’t like-as complaining keeps us separated. But when we can rejoice with everyone and FOR everyone- we are connected! Let’s practice rejoicing: This person has a blue shirt: yay! This person has glasses: yay! This person is the smallest: yay! This person is the biggest: yay! We are a people of joy and rejoicing in God’s love! YAY!
We all have stories of getting lost in stores or losing our own children in stores…our joke with Andrew isn’t don’t get lost but here’s what to do when you do get lost. We’ve lost him nearly everywhere we’ve gone. At all ages. At the age of two in the Phoenix airport (before 9/11) he almost got on a plane going to London! We were in line to get something at the gate agent desk-Mike went to the restroom leaving me with Kayla-4 and Andrew 2-who was supposed to be sitting nicely in his car seat. I look down, he was there, I look up for a minute and then look down again, and he was gone. Seriously. I start to scan the area only to see my red headed boy running for the open door to the plane to London. I quickly scooped him up and was relieved that I had found him. Currently, he’s somewhere in Zanzibar and we’re not really sure exactly where…but he’ll turn up! Or there’s the story from Mike’s childhood of a family road trip where they stopped at a rest area. They piled back in the car and were a little bit down the road when the realized they had left Mike’s younger brother Dave at the rest area. Now why Mike didn’t speak up earlier is a question…but their parents noticed Dave was missing and they immediately turned around. Fortunately, Dave didn’t even know he’d been lost! Despite what Mike might of thought of leaving his little brother behind, I’m sure that their parents rejoiced that they were all together again. When we notice that we are separated from people we love, we stop and focus only on searching for them. But what about the separation we create or uphold from people whom we don’t even know or want to know?
This being connected, disconnected and reconnected is part of the human experience it seems from the beginning. From Genesis on, we see this pattern of connection, disconnection and reconnection, over and over. From the first people in the garden, to Joseph and his family, to the Israelites in Egypt and then in the desert, and then to the promised land, and then in exile, and then the return to Israel. And there are some common behaviors that accompany this pattern. People needing to know where they rank, people ensuring that others aren’t elevated over them, people making sure that they get their fair share so that no one impedes on their wants and desires. Or as the pharisees and scribes in the Luke story this morning, there is much grumbling and complaining about other people. Now I don’t want to pick on the pharisees and scribes, as they are us-right? How many of you have ever complained or grumbled? OOO me! Me! It seems that this is not a new phenomenon or one that we have solved in the past 2000 years. I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes people even complain and grumble about stuff at church. Weird, I know.
Why do we do this? Church, in particular, is supposed to be all about connections. Complaining and grumbling is about being disconnected. The pharisees and scribes were grumbling behind Jesus’ back (which is hilarious when you think about it!) because he was connecting with people who had been disconnected by the rest of society, for seemingly good reasons. I mean, tax collectors and sinners? People who are unclean and don’t follow all the traditions, or maybe don’t even know all of the traditions, are excluded, lest something change or not be the way it had always been. And the word that the pharisees and scribes use that we translate as “welcomes” really means “seeks.” Jesus seeks out those whom everyone else grumbles and complains about, those whom should be held at arms-length, are a lost cause and are not part of the group.
Jesus does overhear this grumbling and tells them three parables about connections-two of which we hear today. A shepherd who leaves his other 99 sheep to go after the one-the black sheep if you will-to ensure that it is brought to safety with the others. Or the woman who loses a coin and spends hours looking high and low until she finds it. You see, God is like this, Jesus is saying. In God’s vision, there is nothing that can separate us from God or each other. God will go to great lengths to connect with us. And what’s more, when we connect, or reconnect with God, there is rejoicing! Rejoicing is all about belonging and connections! Jesus’ response to complaining is to draw the complainers into God’s joy! Jesus is redefining the laws that separate and repentance means recognizing our distance from God and trusting in God’s connections with us. Sin is anything that separates us from God and each other-sin tears at the fabric of community. Sin is complaining that not everyone thinks like us or acts like us and we want them to change. Sin is not challenging the idea that some people are a lost cause and not worth our time. Jesus came to declare that this sin, sin of separation from God and each other, is not God’s will. God values wholeness, and redemption, and God’s work in the world, is to return us to wholeness, to oneness with each other, creation and God. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, has a deeper meaning of being one with God and everything/everyone God created. When we pass the peace in worship, we are living into the idea that we all belong here-we are one with God, with one another and one with all people beyond this space.
Just as this connection and rejoicing is part of God’s nature, as creatures created in the image of God, being one with God, we are to be joyful connectors to all people. Our work in God’s kingdom is to be those who seek people who are disconnected from the rest of society, the outcast, the picked on, the object of internet jokes, the so-called weird, and find them and bring them into the wholeness and unity of God’s people. Our work is to seek relationship with all people even with those who ascribe to different political, religious, or social beliefs. In today’s world, I think that is the harder task. It’s easy to grumble about those whom we think are wrong or a lost cause, we can ignore them, we can just unfriend them on FB, change the channel, not make eye contact in the neighborhood, refuse invitations. But this is the radical, countercultural work we are called to. This work for wholeness is risky, people will grumble about us, call us lost causes and demand that we follow the rules for society as set up by those in power and authority. But there are people everywhere desperate for us to search for them and rejoice over them. They have been disconnected for so long they have given up hope of joy and belonging. And so as people connected to the good news of Jesus, focusing on the joy of wholeness, we can set aside our own grumbling, live in gratitude that God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus Christ is where all belong, whether we think they are worthy or not. None of us has earned it, but every one of us receives it, connected by Jesus into this new reality, and we are all joyfully found and loved by God. Thanks be to God.