This morning i preached at the monastery to wrap up a retreat for the associates of the order. It was great, here are my sermon notes.
Gospel reading- Luke 15:1-10
I would like to open with a moment of silence. And in this moment I would like us to ponder upon and offer up thanksgiving. Also to just take a moment to reflect on this fire and the devastation its has caused but also the beauty and new life it will bring.
External and omniscient God
We just thank you for life, and your comforting touch.
I pray for this time together with you as a community
That you would speak to us
You would move within us
And that you would guide us
We pray all these things through your
Most righteous spirit
Before I begin I would like to pose this question that I would like you to keep somewhere in this part of your brain. Where does church happen?
Todays story opens up with a description and a characterization of some people.
Tax collectors, and sinners. Who do these people represent? Are these the bad guys, the outcasts, or a marginalized group of people?
At first glance I think of these people as the villains, I really feel the need to frame their existence in this story as “the other”. But then, there are more characters added to this story; The Pharisees and the scribes. Again, at first glance trying to figure out whom these people are my thought process is, if the tax collectors and sinners are the bad guys then the Pharisees and scribes surely must be the good ones. After all, they must be respectable people, they have nice important jobs, with, titles.
But then I’m like hold up, If Jesus has taught me anything; it is to be weary of the establishment. And to question these so called respectable people. So if we are questioning the people who are supposed to be good people what are we supposed to do with the sinners and tax collectors?
Well, if we follow Jesus’ lead, then, that’s right, we invite them over for a dinner party.
I think its important enough to mention if only for a second, the reaction the so called respectable people had when they found out who Jesus likes to share meals with. Verse 2 in our gospel reading says, “and the Pharisees and scribes complained saying this man receives sinners and eats with them.” There is definitely a hint of condescension in their speech, maybe a touch of sarcasm and a dash of skepticism.
Im like, well what’s the big deal? What’s it matter to them who Jesus eats with?
Then I think about what dinner with Jesus and some sinners would look like in real life. Im sure there is a good amount of people sitting around a big table, tons of loud talking and jokes, and if I know Jesus the way I think I know Jesus im sure there was a little wine, well maybe a little more than a little. And if there wasn’t enough I’m sure Jesus would have made more. Everybody knows that Jesus can throw a good dinner party.
So then I go back to what the Pharisees and the scribes said and their accusing and skeptical tones and then I’m like, maybe they might have a point. If Jesus is this perfect man why he in the house gettin drunk with the sinners?
The Pharisees are starting to look a little better to me now. They're not in the house with the tax collectors drinking wine eating dinner and having a good ole time. It sounds like what they are doing is calling Jesus out. They see an issue and they are letting him know.
But then, that’s when Jesus gives them one of his great gifts in the form of a parable. He says what man of you, having a hundred sheep; if he looses one does he not leave the 99 and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing and when he comes home he calls together his friends and neighbors saying rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 just persons who needs no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she looses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it she calls her friends and neighbors together saying rejoice with me, for I have found the piece, which I lost.
So again I ask the question, where does church happen? And it seems that Jesus with his parables takes it a step farther by saying not only, where does church happen but also answers the question what is the job of a witness?
Jesus flips the apparent judgment of the Pharisees upside down. If we are called to witness as Christians should our efforts be exerted on trying to contain the 99 sheep that aren’t lost? Should our witness be as God’s watchdogs making sure people don’t get out of line?
It would seem that Jesus is challenging that understanding. If you look at what he said and what he did in this story, oh yeah he’s definitely challenging that idea. If the most important thing is finding that lost sheep or that coin you’ve dropped and having to search through the trash to find it. First off isn’t it peculiar that Jesus would compare a sinner to a coin that has fallen in the midst of trash? And in order to find the coin you’ve got to reach down, riffle through and get your hands dirty in order to get that coin?
Hmm, maybe Jesus is onto something here. What it seems like is happening is Jesus sits around the dinner table eating and drinking with tax collectors, sinners and the like not because Jesus just feels like having a brie but because he is ministering to those lost sheep.
I mean it doesn’t make much sense to look for the one lost sheep in the crowd of 99 or to keep looking in your hand for your missing coin like its going to magically appear. But we must if we want to find these things, go out and look for them. They are lost for a reason. Most of those reasons will make us uncomfortable, but I believe we are called to step out, to sweep up, bend over, and play in the dirt a little until we find those missing coins.
In conclusion Id like to pose the question again. Where does church happen? Does it happen in these holy spaces, within these walls around us? Or does it happen around the dinner table or at the local pub sharing drinks with people we hardly know. Could it be something as small as praying for your food in a public space that causes people to look over and wonder what you are doing?
Perhaps its all of these, perhaps we must change our approach if we want to find the lost sheep of the world. Because what works to keep the 99 sheep together obviously didn’t work for that one sheep that chose to walk away. Amen