First Congregational Church
September 15, 2013
17th Sunday after Pentecost, Blessing of the Backpacks, First Day of Sunday School, Camp Reports
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole bought Lena a piano for her birthday. A few weeks later, Lars inquired how she was doing with it. “Oh,” said Ole, “I persvaded her to svitch to da clarinet.” “How come?” asked Lars. “Vell,” Ole answered, “because vith da clarinet, she can’t sing.
To my way of thinking, there was at least one reason to use that joke in a sermon titled "Perception." Little Jimmy Kolehmainen has a certain perception about a "box inside the treasure box" somewhere here in the church. If any one else can come to the same perception, we might be able to find his mother's car keys.
Luke 15:1-10 NIV
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Thank you, Mary. I don't know about anyone else, but I love these two parables. I love the fact that Jesus uses a rough-around-the-edges, low-status, lowly, even despised shepherd to show us what God's love is like. I love that he uses a poor woman - probably at the end of her rope because that coin representing one tenth of her wealth and probably having a significant purpose - also shows us what God's love is like. I love that these two stories, that have probably been used as a basis for mission work and repentance is maybe not as much about those things as about God's over-the-top grace and joy. Footnote: both stories end with heaven and angels rejoicing, without comment on "sinful behavior."
Most of Jesus' parables have a bite or kick to them - something that doesn’t set quite right and keeps you thinking, wondering, wrestling with the story until you begin to wonder if you’ve understood it all. We can appreciate the joy of the lost being found, but what about the 99? Jesus at least heavily implied that they didn't need to repent. That's not an especially exalted theme in a lot of preaching that goes on - regardless of denomination.
One sermon I came across was titled, "The Parable of the Ninety-Nine, Or Why It's Probably a Good Thing That Sheep Don't Talk." Her question was "If one sheep is with the shepherd and ninety-nine aren't, who's really the stray?
It's easy to see the "lost" among us: the ones that hurt themselves or others, the ones that schools call "at risk," the ones that fall between the cracks in a variety of places, the ones who aren't like us. It isn't so easy to see the teenager who works so hard to be "perfect" and who is will to do just about anything to fit in - to be lost. The parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around athletic games and recitals - may be lost. The senior citizen - regardless of their pension plan - may feel lost if life doesn't seem to have much meaning, especially if life held greatest meaning with a deceased spouse. It is likely that there are a number of people that feel lost - right here in this gathering - and yet our perception is that life is probably just fine.
Then there are the "celebrations" when the lost is found. If you think about it, the "celebrations" are a little on the goofy side. At the party for the recently-rescued sheep, is it to be the main course? When the lost coin is found, does the woman end up spending it on the food and drink she would have provided at her party? Oh yes, that's right. These are parables - stories rather than Biblical reality tv - meant to teach lessons and truths.
What many of us fail to realize is that the big thing is not our being lost in this thing we call life, but God's quest for us - all the time - in so many ways. We don't always realize that God is way more concerned about us than we can fathom - even on a good day. Ours is not a tyrant God who demands subservience to impossible demands, but rather a God who actively seeks restoration, a "God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness," as we are reminded in Exodus and Psalm 85.
The word that is translated as repentance doesn't mean contrition or remorse but a change of mind and purpose. It's a shift in how we perceive and respond to life. On any given Sunday, the odds are that there is at least one person sitting in these pews feeling lost. So if it might be you, what change of mind and purpose are you needing?
Is it that the focus of thoughts needs to be on the blessings in your life, rather than on the plagues or pestilences? Granted, sometimes, like now - for the people in Colorado, Mexico and the Boardwalk, the focus of life needs to include the outside forces that impinge on life. But when it's time to heal, sometimes we have to stop "hiding" from God - that it is easier for God to find us. Sometimes we can give ourselves those moments of respite from intense pain and suffering by looking at what we have, and who we have been given, and who we are - especially in who we are in Christ. Sometimes we may realize - in checking our perceptions - that we aren't as lost as we maybe thought we were.
The beauty of The Church is that this is a place for all who feel lost, regardless of the visibility of anyone's lostness. This is the place where we all get to admit not only our lostness, but we can confide our hopes and fears, dreams and dashed hopes to God. On top of that, when we do those very things, God throws one heck of a party and invites all the angels to celebrate.
The perception is that these two parables are about sinners and and being lost. Truth is, these two stories are about a God being so crazy in love with God's children that God will do anything to find them. To find us. So let us enter into the party.
Gracious, loving and merciful God, sometimes we are like wandering sheep or coins that roll away from you. So thank you for your crazy, drastic love that never stops seeking us - to help us to that place where we are "found" in you. Thank you for the parables you have given us that challenge our perceptions of life, us and you. Thank you for giving us opportunity after opportunity to freely chose how we think and realize the purposes you intend for us. Help us realize when and how we can shepherd each other, as all your flock says "Amen."
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.