Saturday, September 11, 2004
Sermon for The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 12th, 2004
By Father John R. Smith
It's been said that the Gospel is bad news before it is Good News. These past few weeks have been full of bad news: the capture by terrorists of the school in Beslan and the deaths of so many children and teachers; the havoc and loss of life caused by hurricanes Charley and Frances in Florida; continuing loss of life by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Sudan; so much negative campaigning on the political front; so when you add these things and more to the feeling of our powerlessness, failure, and daily sins of omission and commission it equals a tremendous feeling of disorientation. More than a feeling: we are really lost. What a way to start a sermon! What a downer!
But the Good News of the Gospel has to begin with this feeling of disorientation and lostness or we never quite get it's message of hope and salvation. Henri Nouwen wrote that "one way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there." We wonder where God is, but we’re never at home. Things are so bad that we don't want to spend time there. We busy ourselves with so many things outside of our home to keep us from admitting how lost we really are and we miss Jesus who has dropped by to visit us. When we hear the Gospel say "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." We don’t realize it’s us. God breaks his own law and the law of the Pharisees to reach out and save the lost. If we let Jesus find us at the address where we are really lost and need God, salvation can begin and love, joy, and freedom can break out all over!
The teaching of the Kingdom of God in the Gospel is that God's whole purpose is finding the lost. The parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to fend for themselves and searches for the one lost sheep is absurd. This example seemed absolutely crazy to Jesus' listeners. Would a person in the sheep herding business leave ninety-nine untended to go looking for one? Of course not! Cut your losses and stay with the main flock. Forget the lost one! In the parable the shepherd never goes back to the ninety-nine- the focus remains on the joy of finding the one sheep that was lost. The story of the woman with the ten coins is the same. It might be that the ten coins were part of a stash the woman held for a rainy day. Every so often she would pull it out and check it, but one time a coin rolled away. When she finds a coin missing she lights a lamp, using precious oil, and sweeps and searches the whole house until she finds it. When she does she calls all her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her in on finding her lost coin. There is never any mention of the other nine coins. All the effort is in restoring what is lost against all reasonable considerations-- whatever it takes: seek the lost. The Kingdom of God is made up top to bottom and sideways of the lost who have been found!
If this is the case, then I want to get in touch with my lostness, because its only there I find Jesus. That's why I think Jesus had so little interest in the Pharisees and Scribes, but loved hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. (Everyone's favorite sin is something sexual, and the "sinners" most likely were prostitutes.) Jesus spent a lot of time welcoming those people, eating with them, talking with them, visiting them, and otherwise consorting with them, irking the Pharisees and their righteous ilk in a big way.
To get in touch with lostness listen to Paul: "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life." It is when we admit our true lostness that mercy can find us. Like the sheep on the shoulders of the shepherd we come home and its wonderful!
Of course admitting that we are lost is no fun. We spend most of our life time trying to make the case to ourselves and others that we're really pretty good: law-abiding citizens and relatively successful at the "game" of life. We stay in constant motion, impatient like Moses’ people at his delay in coming down the mountain. Quick, let's melt all of our gold trinkets down make a calf and worship it. Our impatience means we'll do anything to get away from where we are: our lostness. Even if we become more lost. And what does the Boy Scout handbook say to do when you are lost? It says stay where you are! We, all of us, are the lost one God is seeking. God will find us!
I love St. Michaels because we seem close to our lostness and need for God and the Confession that we'll say in a few minutes appears to contain real contrition most of the time- at least I hope so. But what really governs God's behavior toward us is not our sins. And it's not our problems. It's God's need to find us in our lostness and bring us home. Every Eucharist is a new beginning and a thanksgiving of Joy! Let us live this moment to the fullest, be completely present to it, to taste the Kingdom here and now, and to fully be where we are so God can find us and celebrate through us, with us, and in us, the Spirit's presence in the world. And that, of course, is just the beginning.