14 Pentecost Proper 19 Yr C September 15 2019
Audio 14 Pentecost Proper 19 Yr C September 15, 2019
Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-11, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
What does the kingdom of God look like? First the lost sheep, then the lost coin, and lastly the lost son. These three stories, taken together, show us that Jesus crosses boundaries to find and collect those who are lost, and they show us the exuberance and abundance of God’s grace and love, and the celebration when one is found.
Jesus hangs out with undesirable people. Or at least people the Pharisees thought were undesirable. The Pharisees were a group of religious people who kept some pretty rigid standards about who was acceptable and what made them acceptable. The Pharisees were what was called the purity movement. Not only were they the gatekeepers but they also were the rule makers. What was very important to the Pharisees was that standards were kept, therefore, those who did not meet those standards were not welcome, especially when it came to eating.
But something was different about Jesus. Jesus was raised in a good Jewish home, by good Jewish parents, but Jesus began to cross some lines, blur some boundaries, make people uncomfortable. The tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen, and Jesus was eating with them. In fact, large crowds of people would sit on hillsides and in parks to listen to what he had to say. The Pharisees were looking on, they were listening in on what Jesus was saying, and watching for who Jesus was eating with. This is the setting in which these stories, these parables, about the lost things takes place.
The sheep is lost. It has wandered off, ninety-nine sheep left behind, and the shepherd goes out to find that one darned sheep. The shepherd looks and looks and finally there it is. The shepherd wraps this sheep in his arms, cradles it across his shoulders, tucked around his neck, where the shepherd can feel its heartbeat, slowing with every step, calming with every assurance, you’ll be ok, I’ve got you now.
One coin, out of ten, was lost. The woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches diligently until she finds it. And when she does, she invites her friends to come and rejoice with her.
The third story is left out of our lectionary, the story of the lost son, most commonly known as the prodigal son. It’s probably left out today because it is the longest and most detailed of the lost stories, it actually has its own place and time. But the three really need to be considered together. The youngest son in the household demands his inheritance from his father, takes it and leaves. That effectively removes the son from the family and the community, he no longer really exists. After years of excess, the son realizes his mistake, and returns home. The father declares what was lost has now been found, and what was dead is now alive. The father rejoices at the return of his son.
Have you ever felt like that one who is lost? Have you ever wandered, wondered, if you would ever be found again, scooped up in the arms of anyone who loves you? You may know what that embrace feels like. But maybe not, maybe that return and embrace is yet to come. The one who waits, the shepherd, Jesus, anticipates your return.
Don’t you hate that feeling of losing someone in a crowd? The initial panic of “Where’d he go?” followed immediately by “Oh my God he’s lost!” Even when it’s just for a minute. We were at the Minnesota State Fair when the kids were very young, you all know what those kind of crowds are like. Up near machinery hill, playing on the Rainbow Playsets, and all of a sudden our son Tom is gone. We panic, and look desperately for him, convinced someone has snatched him and run off with him. And the god-awful longest minute later, there he is, running toward us, as panicked as we are, and we snatch him up and hold him tight never to let go again. There is never even a question of leaving the ninety-nine behind, of course I search for the one who is lost.
That one horrible minute of being lost, it’s not about anyone being at fault, it is about the love and compassion in the finding, and in the returning to the arms that enfold, and encourage, and celebrate our return.
Our State Fairs feel like the biggest party on earth. It seems like everyone in the entire state attends, all of humanity is there, all at the same time I am. And the food…the corn on the cob, and the cream puffs, and everything imaginable on a stick.
But the party held at the return of the one who was lost, is even bigger and better than any State Fair. Because, like the State Fair, no one is left out, every darn person is invited, even people I would never have invited to my party, there are people there I would never have eaten a pronto pup next to in any other place or at any other time.
Now 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.
The story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and the story of the lost son, help us to see how deeply Luke believes that this great feast, this great banquet, this amazing meal, is the portrait of the kingdom of God. In those stories, what was lost is found, what was dead is alive, and the celebration begins. In the third story, the lost son, we never find out if the older son, the one who was loyal and never got himself lost, ever joined in the celebration. He may very well have missed out because he was so angry at his father for welcoming back his brother. Each story shows us an increasing measure of loss and pain. But the measure of that loss and pain is nothing compared to the immensity of the joy of the one who welcomes the lost ones back.
The joy of the one who welcomes back the lost, and the celebration that ensues, shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like. It includes the outcasts and sinners, it includes the expanse of time and space. It includes the fellowship we have around our kitchen tables, our Eucharistic tables, and our soup kitchen tables. It includes even the one who would rather not be included.
I’m reminded of a movie I watched with my kids, over and over. Hook, with Robin Williams, the kingdom table is piled high with all the wild and wonderful things that can be imagined. And the people sitting at that table, are lost boys, battered, bruised, lost, and found.
God’s kingdom table is populated with all those who have turned from God and returned to God. God’s kingdom table is populated with all those younger children who have been reckless, and all those older children who have been loyal. God’s kingdom table is populated with all those who stand on the margins and look in, and those in the center whose gaze is nearsighted. God’s kingdom table is populated with those who wish to be first, and those who are always last. God’s kingdom table is populated with all of us who are scooped up by the joyful, compassionate one, and ride on those shoulders all the way to the celebration. The table is set, the party is ready. Come.