Sermon #152 St. James the Less #60 9/15/19
"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.'" Luke 15:1-10
This morning I’m going to tell you a story about my childhood. I do have a disclaimer before beginning. Looking back, I consider myself a good kid, I usually followed the rules and was fairly polite to most people. You can talk to my mother and father, and I think they would say mostly the same thing. But being a good kid doesn’t mean you weren’t a handful…and I was a handful.
Being an only child for seven years can really make you delusional into thinking that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that’s exactly what I thought about my presence on this earth. I was certain that I could do no wrong.
So that’s my disclaimer: even good kids have their low moments, and I’m about to share with you one of those low moments.
On one particular day when I was around seven, for some reason, I was angry at my mom, and I told her I was gonna run away. I had made similar threats over the past year or two, but never went further than the end of the street (and usually didn’t even get past our own mailbox).
But this time was different. I was serious, so I filled my Batman backpack with important supplies like Legos, my Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and of course my Superman cape. I mean, what else do you really need? I grabbed a Little Debbie’s Fudge Round out of the kitchen for nutrients and then walked straight out of the front door. I took a hard left in the front yard and headed towards the fence line. I really didn’t want to run away, I just wanted to teach my mom a lesson…my poor mother.
My mom gave me the three-minute head start that she usually did before finding me by the mailbox or at the end of the street. But this time I was determined to put the fear of God in her.
As she came out to the front yard, I hopped the fence in the backyard, and if she went in the back, I moved to the front. We ended up doing this for 10 or 15 minutes. She went down to the end of the street to see if I was there. When she came back, she started yelling, “Wesley, where are you?” She did this a couple of times as she searched the yard again.
Finally, I surrendered and came out of hiding from under a bush in the front yard. But that scared tone in her voice, yelling at the top of her lungs, “Wesley, where are you?” is forever etched in my mind.
There is also a story at the very beginning of the book of Genesis that reminds me a little bit of this. You may remember right after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they realized that they are naked, and then they heard the Lord “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” and so they ran and hid themselves behind some trees.
God walked a little further, but then he called out to them, “Where are you?”
God the Father, as a concerned parent, called out to his lost children, “Where are you?” This question echoes throughout the rest of Bible. Time and again, God’s people drift away, sometimes rather aimlessly in their indifference towards God and his commandments, and other times they actively rebel against him.
But each time through the voice of a prophet God calls out to his beloved children, “Where are you? Why are you running from me?” And he does so as a loving parent, relentlessly searching for his lost child.
This idea of being pursued and searched for comes up in our gospel lesson today as well. Jesus tells two parables that have to do with being lost and then found. A shepherd leaves 99 to find the one, and a woman diligently searches for her lost silver coin.
But interestingly, in this story being found is synonymous with repentance. The shepherd finds the one lost sheep, and then Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The same thing happens after the woman sweeps the house and finds the coin. Jesus ends by saying, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
We would be missing the point if we didn’t see the connection in these stories between being found and repentance. Jesus is creatively trying to convey that God restlessly seeks after us, but once we have surrendered to being truly found by God, there is an action for us to take as well.
I think we can all relate to feeling lost or wandering at one time or another in our life. Whether you’ve been in the church all your life, or this is your first Sunday, we’ve all found ourselves lost over the course of our life. Maybe it’s been a spiritual wandering where we’ve felt distant from God, possibly questioning his existence, or his role in our life.
For many people of faith who may not have officially “left” the church, they still have likely gone through a spiritual dry season, if not many dry seasons where they have felt isolated, alone, and separated from God.
But maybe it didn’t feel like a “spiritual” journey for you as much as just feeling a lack of purpose in life, wandering but in no particular direction. Addiction, marital issues, financial troubles, or issues finding a job may have caused us to feel out of control.
This happens to people inside and outside of the church, and I might add it happens to priest’s as well; we don’t get a free past from feeling lost at times.
Whether in the most general sense or the most personal, we all know what it means to feel lost. All of us at one time or another have been the one lost sheep. All of us have been wandering in our own way, in need of being found by our Savior, of being raised up on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.
Our parables this morning convey to us that God is searching after us like the shepherd and the woman who lost her precious coin. The whole story of the Bible and the story of our life is God seeking after his people, wanting so desperately to draw close to us.
God being close to us has never been the issue. Our desire to run away, to rebel, or not to draw close to him because we are too busy or tired or afraid; even in all of that, he doesn’t give up on us. He will never stop pursuing us.
When Jesus was telling these parables, he wasn’t just telling a nice story. Jesus lived this out while dying on the cross. In that sacrificial act he was saying, “Nothing is going to stop me from drawing close to you-not even death itself. You are forever mine.”
The fact is, even if you were the only person in the entire world-Jesus would’ve died for you.
And implicit in our parable is that when we are confronted with the fact of Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross for us, then our lives must change. Like I said earlier, somehow in Jesus’ mind being found and repentance go hand in hand.
When we are found by God, or maybe another way of putting it, when we surrender to God’s pursuit of us, Jesus doesn’t just simply come to us and that’s the end of the story.
His presence in our life, by the sheer fact that he is God Incarnate requires repentance on our end. God has done all the heavy lifting, but something is still required from us as well.
When I climbed out from under that bush and had to face my mother, I knew I was in trouble, but I also knew I had brought it on myself. Whatever small thing I had been mad at her about paled in comparison to what I knew I did to her. The worry and anxiety that I had brought onto her.
I knew I had to make amends and say sorry, I knew that I had broken her heart in that moment. And nothing proved that to me more than hearing her voice yell out, “Wesley, where are you?” In that moment I realized how being found and repentance go hand in hand.
This parable of the lost sheep and coin is our parable too. No matter where you are in life, God is calling out to you too. No matter how unworthy you may feel, no matter how far you may feel from the love of God, He is pursuing you, desperately wanting to draw close to you.
And he will continue to call out to each of us, “Where are you? Where are you going?” until we surrender and truly desire to be found.
(14 Pent. Proper 19. Track II. Year C. Lk 15:1-10)