Sunday, March 31, 2019

Gather the Lost: Coins, Sons, A Rancher, A Samaritan and some Green Green Grass

Imagine a lovely open field of fresh green grass, beside a clear flowing stream. In the middle of this field, stand two able-bodied men and their aged father. A few steps away, yet within easy hearing distance is a woman and many of her friends: and they are in a good mood. Also a few steps to the other side of the father and sons, there is a rancher and his sheep, a few wooly ones by his side and one across his shoulders. A bit further away beside the stream, is a Samaritan man, you know it by looking at him, and beside him sits a weak stranger, bruises on his face and his arm is in a sling. There is heartbreak and recovery, panicked despair and reckless happy abandon, and people trying to do the right thing. Why do they stand in this field at this moment? Because Jesus heard his detractors grumbling and trying to slander him by mentioning again that this man Jesus - he FEASTS with the most low life traitorous pirates of ill repute - how could he be of God? 

His response is first to tell about the rancher - well - shepherd, who loves and cares for his sheep.  Just the other day he is counting them, And whoa - one is missing. So he goes and searches over hill and dale to find that lost and poky sheep and bring it home where the rancher rejoices. Next, Jesus tells of the woman who is checking her change purse and discovers that a coin is missing. So she lifts every bit of furniture and shakes out the rug and lights a lamp to search high and low, so that she might find the coin that she has lost. When she finds it she calls all her friends and throws a party to celebrate. The point of the sheep tale is that the sheep was found and there was rejoicing. The point of the coin tale is that the coin was found and there was rejoicing. And to me lost and found should be understood as teachings about death and resurrection and eternal life. 

In today’s selection, Jesus continues the lost and found, death and resurrection series. There were two sons. Two sons of a man who has given over his life to his sons. The word that is used to speak of inheritance isn’t the bank account - the word it is substance - it can be his assets, but it can also be heard as his life. And since this is about death and resurrection - let's go with life. This man, this father, is at this point, all but dead having given away his life. The crucial point is not the division of assets or pig sty. The point is that the second son gets lost. So lost that he too might as well be dead. 

One scholar suggests that this parable should be called 'the father that forgot to count.' The rancher counted. The woman counted. The father had two sons. The older son, who stayed home and did his duty, may have been just as lost as his playboy brother, but it was harder to notice. Being responsible and sticking to the estate are good things, but not if we forget we belong to something greater than the task in front of us. And so while rejoicing that the younger son was found, the father forgot t o look around the estate and seek out and find and celebrate his older son too. 

So why you might wonder, why are the stranger and the Good Samaritan are in this field with us. It is because of the all but deadness of the lost sheep and the all but wasted of the lost coin and the all but gone father and the lost sons. The Good Samaritan is about a man who is all but dead and the entirely outcast savior - it is another lost and found story. The Samaritan goes out of his way to rescue this stranger who was left in a ditch. The question that that parable began with was who is my neighbor - which of these people do I have to love and how much do I have to love them. The answer is there is no us and them, and how do you love - you lift the lowly and safeguard the vulnerable. 

So if you gather together this whole field of lost and found things and creatures and you ask what is God’s reign like and how show we live into it - What answer do you discover? In all of the gospels, none of the stories where Jesus encounters all but dead things does he ignore it. There is judgment here, but it isn’t about lives of ill repute or numbness, the judgment here is whether or not we accept that God is raising us from all the deadness we can concoct. 

For Lent, I have been preaching through the five job descriptions of the baptized life. Continue Return Proclaim Serve Strive. This week we are on the fourth - serve.  The promise to love and serve is not just saying will be good scouts and will tolerate others because it is nice and polite. We are invited by Jesus to be making our lives an example of the love and forgiveness that is already given in his life, death and resurrection. It is a celebration of how God loves us and will send people like you and me to find all the lost. Loving service to all neighbors is the grateful response, it is the greatest command. Our loving practices and actions and attitudes for all neighbors and therefore serving Christ in all persons responds to real human needs, not just with small change, or kind thoughts.  It is instead like a rancher seeking a sheep and a woman finding a coin and a father rejoicing when his lost sons return. 

It is love that persists in following Jesus by belonging to his community and growing in Jesus by serving with his community. Imagine a field of soft green grass And clear flowing water Where all the countless lostness becomes foundness. Who and where are you in this field of lost and found, Death and resurrection? What might move you from fragmented loss to connected wholeness? 

Holy Week is coming - I invite you to come face to face with all our lostness. Easter will follow- Jesus is Sending us out To love and serve. How and with whom will you go? God’s soft green field is one of unearned foundness, selfless forgiveness, and resurrecting love. All of those stories, Good Sam and the Found Sheep and the Found Coin and the Two Sons, they are pictures of who we are supposed to be as people who follow Jesus into the lostness of the cross, and who we are to be as we go where he sends us beyond the empty tomb. Go be found by Jesus, the good shepherd. Go, Find, love, serve, and gather.  What is lost can be found.

March 31, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church

-the one where i had to offer it from memory cause i pushed the wrong buttons on the tablet

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