SERMON 9/12/10 Proper 19C

Luke 15:1-10
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Being lost and later becoming found seems to be a reoccurring theme on reality TV these days. “Dual Survival” and “Man, Woman, Wild” are two additions to the reality TV genre that are very entertaining. Both shows seem to follow a common theme, in which two people act as if they have left the security and provisions of their community, and travel together until they become lost in a jungle, desert, mountains, or rainforest environment. Realizing their plight of being lost, they switch into survival mode. On each episode, the two survivors build a fire, create a shelter, and hunt for food. They face overwhelming odds, they eat nasty creatures, and after several days, they eventually are rescued by someone from their “support team.”

Having done some camping in the Scouts as a teen, I rather enjoy this kind of entertainment, but I wonder what would an alternative reality program would be like from the “support team’s” perspective? Maybe this new “support team” series could simply be called, “Rescuers.” The opening scene might begin at the community’s base camp where each week, rescuers strap on their backpacks filled with water, basic food stuffs, matches, blankets, and dry clothes, and head-out into the jungle, rainforest, desert or mountains to try and find the two stars of the show. I had better email Discovery Channel next week with this idea before someone else does.
As trivial as our TV entertainment may seem these days, our Christian journey is very similar to these two reality shows: the story of the lost and the story of the rescuers. Some of us have or are facing the thick jungles and arid deserts of life: the loss of a loved one, the news of a terrible illness, the brokenness of a relationship, or some other tragedy in our lives. We face these circumstances with the notion that “I’m self-reliant, I’m a pull-myself-up-from-my bootstraps person, or I am a face anything by myself survivor.” The reality of this self-reliant mode, is that we may discover in the midst of facing it alone, in relying on ourselves alone, we find ourselves lost in deep sadness, fear and loneliness.

On the other hand, some folks are the ones who strap on their backpacks and go out seeking the lost. They take with them the basic provisions for the heart, the blankets of restoration and reconciliation, the dry clothes of compassion, and the flames of healing and solace. They take off into the woods of pain to seek out those who have found themselves in the midst of loss. Survivors and Rescuers is emblematic of our faith walk. We may find ourselves at some point as the ones lost in the desert places and at another time, the ones trying to find those who are lost. We cannot forget that in this Christian journey, it inevitably is the “great seeker of the lost” God himself, who is really at work in our lives, whether we are lost or found.

In today’s gospel, Jesus was out preaching and teaching to sinners and tax collectors (lost folks). Today, sinners and tax collectors would be like those on the margins of society, those people who live outside socially accepted norms. These folks might include the impoverished, people in the penal system, the homeless, the incurably mentally ill, or even certain religious groups. The scripture today reads, “Now the Pharisees and scribes, (those on the inside/the in crowd) were grumbling saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’.” The insiders were appalled that Jesus would so blatantly reach out to those on the outside. With great love, Jesus responds to the grumbling with a parable about sheep and lost coins. Sheep and coins were something of immense value in those days and most people understood that notion. Through these two stories, Jesus was revealing that God’s divine heart reaches out in love to those who are marginalized, those who are suffering, those who are lost, and those who need rescue.

As the stories go, the shepherd leaves the flock and goes after one solitary sheep in order to bring her back, then celebrates when she is found. Even though she has nine other coins, the woman searches the whole house for one coin until she find it, then throws a big party to celebrate. We are the sheep and coins and to God, each of us is of immense value in God’s divine heart. God suffers when we are lost. God frantically goes out searching for us, but don’t miss a very important nuance of the parable. Jesus was eating with those on the margins. God not only seeks to find the “insiders,” God goes after sinners and tax collectors too, those on the margins of society, those who may be considered on the outside. God suffers for all that are lost, and God celebrates when all are found.

God straps on his backpack filled with compassion, mercy, love, and grace. God trudges through the jungles and desert places of our loneliness, brokenness, tragedies, and sin. God relentlessly seeks those who are lost. Jesus comes to us; he calls unto himself all those who will listen to his teachings, whether those people are like us or not. Every person who hears these words of Jesus and responds causes God to rejoice. Our response leads to a life of faith marked by attributes such as those the shepherd and the woman embodied: love for the lost; persistent pursuit of the well being of others; joyful, generous friendship; and sharing with one’s friends and neighbors.

The search does not end with God. We who have been found and returned to the security and the abundant provisions of God found in the community of faith, cannot rest for long, because there are others out there who need rescue as well. We too must follow our Lord’s lead, strap on our backpacks and seek out the lost. We are called to reach out to those from our community who have left the security and safety of God’s love in us. We are called to reach out to those, not from our community, who may not know the security and safety of God’s love in us. The great “Rescuer” seeks them, searches for them, and celebrates upon their discovery. Isn’t time to recall our rescue by God’s saving power? Isn’t time to dust off our rescuer backpacks, fill them with the basic provisions for the heart, the blankets of restoration and reconciliation, the dry clothes of compassion, the flames of healing and solace, and head out into the jungles and deserts of broken relationships, loneliness, fear, doubt, and tragedy? As we continue on this quest, we must never forget, that inevitably it will be God who will find us, both the lost ones and the rescuers, in whichever role we play at that particular time. It will be God that bring us both back to the safety, the security and the abundance of God’s divine heart, God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace.
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