Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Sep 15, 2019

    The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 15:1-10

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    On Tuesday, I found a dog. Well, actually, my neighbor found the dog in the middle of an intersection in our neighborhood. He was young, and a beautiful brindle color—some kind of pit bull mix. He was obviously friendly as he jumped up to greet us while we sat in our cars wondering what to do with him. My neighbor was on her way to the doctors and I was heading back home from dropping my daughter off at school. So, wanting to help this cute dog, I decided to put him in my car and take him home and my neighbor would post online and see if anyone was missing him. I got out of the car to collect him and the minute I touched him I realized that this dog was not clean. He was oily and smelled like a mixture of rolled in animal and urine. For a moment, I was having second thoughts but then re-committed myself to doing the right thing. After all, he was just a baby. So, I got him home and put him in the backyard with some food and water. Now, this dog was as sweet as he was stinky—and now I was stinky. On top of everything, this poor creature didn’t have any manners and began doing everything he could to get into our screened in porch. He just began pounding on the door and our dogs inside were getting very agitated and I worried he would simply shred the screen and break the door. Very quickly, my commitment to doing the right thing morphed into me wondering why I make the kind of choices I do and what did I have to do to get rid of this dog as fast as possible. Everything he touched smelled and I had visions of him getting into the house and ruining my life.

                But I kept thinking of the people who might be looking for him and my own memories of losing a dog kept coming back and I remembered the anxiety that came with wondering where my beloved pet was. I think all of us can think back to a moment where we lost something we really treasured and the frantic worrying and searching that comes with it. We know what it is like to rush around, looking under beds, removing cushions, or driving around neighborhoods, putting up missing signs, calling out for lost pets—or lost people. Depending on what it is we lost, it can be pure torture.

                That image of the frantic seeker is one Jesus shares with us today to describe how God desperately wants to find God’s lost children. And we are those lost objects, sinners who have wandered away from the flock out into the wilderness, who’ve broken through the gate of the Kingdom to go our own way. We are the ones for whom God is searching so desperately, we who may be clueless or careless of this fact. So we are not the seekers here—we are the sheep or the coin in hiding, we do not share the anxiety-riddled want of our maker. So what happens then, when we stumble upon a fellow coin, or sheep--that person for whom God is seeking? What happens when we are the ones who find them first?

                Well, the Pharisees give us an example of what so often happens. They are quick to reject and to judge. They reject those folks Jesus spends time with. They refuse to associate with them least someone think they have anything in common. Furthermore, they label them sinners, these tax collectors and whomever, ensuring that their unworthiness reached all the way to heaven…even God wouldn’t want to hang out with them. They judge Jesus—for associating with people who these religious leaders saw as mostly undesirable. And the unspoken message to Jesus was: you also don’t want to be seen as being one of them. Indeed, these leaders are comfortable in their own sense of belonging, but it is a community predicated on having outsiders—those who cannot be allowed to fit in. Jesus responds by countering the Pharisees’ understanding of God—that these individuals whom they have labeled unworthy, are exactly the ones God is seeking. Jesus is telling them that while God loves these religious leaders, God also loves these tax collectors and sinners as well. The counter-intuitive message here is that which God so longs for is often the very thing we human beings reject. As Luke so often does, the priorities in Jesus’ parables are flipped. There is a radical love at work here that cuts through convention around who is in, who is out, who is worthy, and who is not, who is deserving and who is not. In the Kingdom of God, there are no desirable groups of people nor undesirable groups of people; there are only those who are already at the table with God, and those people for whom God searches in order to bring them. There is no other. Jesus, in coming to make a home with humanity came to be with everyone, but most especially with those who were particularly lost, marginalized, cast aside.

                So often when we find these treasures of God, we reject them because we don’t see them for what and who they really are—beloved children of God. Sometimes we call them sinners, most often we call them things like, “illegal,” criminals, queers, too ethnic, lazy, unfortunate, overweight, dirty, homeless, or just not right. Perhaps its because they feel too different from us, Perhaps its because we have fallen into that trap of thinking that God is only on our side; perhaps we are simply afraid that they will break into our proverbial homes and ruin our lives. But what happens when we reject these individuals or groups of people is not that we politely avoid them—or that we eat at different restaurants, or simply call them sinners and leave it at that—no. What happens when we fail to see each other as children of God is we end up in really dark places. Places where things like discrimination, violence, poverty, fear, and even death thrive.

                In his book, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson talks about a man named Walter McMillian, a young African American man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young woman. It was a crime he didn’t commit. Stevenson talks at length about the judicial abuses McMillian endured, such as being locked up on death row before he was even tried, not having good legal representation, the local law enforcement coercing other men to falsely testify against McMillian who on the day of the murder had over a dozen alibis who could account for his whereabouts. McMillian ended up with a death sentence because his dark skin deemed him undesirable and expendable by those in power in his community. In their minds his life was somehow worth less. This is the end game of not seeing the treasure that God sees in each of us. But the lesson that Jesus brings to us in these parables today is that this is exactly the kind of darkness Jesus came to shine light into, and the type of person we will find Jesus with, testifying to his belovedness in a tiny, sweltering cell on death row.

                Our scriptures for today remind us over and over again that we are all sinners just like the ancient Israelites who turned their backs on God to put their hope in a golden calf. Just like Paul who testifies to his own blasphemous and violent past, who writes: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”

    We all need to hear that in spite of our brokenness, God is seeking us out no matter what. That we are all beloved of God. And when we encounter another in this earthly pilgrimage, let’s be reminded that God is looking for them too, and that God will find them, and let us behold the treasure that God sees in each of us, and hold it with reverence and care. Dealing with the lost dog was easy compared to dealing with lost human beings and yet, I found myself stretched. Being reminded that we need our shepherd helps us remember that being found doesn’t mean we have some special status now, it means that we are keeping our eyes open to see what the world doesn’t want to see: the beauty and belovedness of each and every human being who God continues to long for.