Sermon – 09-15-19 – Proper 19 – Harvest Home – Cycle C
Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Sermon Title: “The Lost Ones”
A lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost pearl, a lost son, and a lost us! How can we be lost if we are sitting in the church we call home? If there is something nagging in our mind or heart and soul, we are lost from a close relationship with God. Get rid of it! You say, “How can we get rid of something we said or did 50 years ago?” Or how I knew I was unkind yesterday, the minute I ignored a need of which I was aware but kept on walking or driving or eating. How hard would it have been to turn around and offer myself and my possessions to a hurting person?
Would that have been harder than getting rid of the nagging feeling I carry with me wherever I go from that day forward? Is the sin of not doing something we should as great as doing something we should not? Does sin have levels? Is some sin worse than other sins? So we wonder if we are equal to the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Or are we equal to the Israelites who turned their gold possessions into a golden calf to worship? THOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME! God was angry! But Moses implored God to forgive the false worship and God forgave his people.
Paul was an enemy of the new Christians. He thought he was pleasing God. He thought the followers of Jesus were against God. He thought he was saving the Hebrew religion – keeping it pure. God, through Jesus, stopped Paul in his tracks and saved Paul! In turn, Paul grew the Kingdom of God on earth, preaching about Jesus allowing himself to die on the cross so that future generations might be saved. Here we are, the continuing thread of the saved ones! We need not be lost anymore!
Is being lost the same as sinning? Oh my! This is funny if we think of a sheep nibbling its way to the cliff without realizing where it is heading. And the coin, as it rolled out of sight when it dropped from the woman’s hand. Do we nibble our way into the land of the lost? Do we roll into darkness? Then there is the son – the son who wandered away. Was his a nibbling situation or was he focused on the giant, glamorous money tree with deliberation? He was lost when he found himself alone and in big trouble. It was not a leaf at a time occurrence. He had taken a giant leap for the cliff where the city grabbed him and used him.
How close have we come to being the prodigal, the lost son? Who advocated for that son? Moses advocated to God for the Israelite people. The father advocated for the prodigal son. Jesus, himself, advocated for Paul. Advocate: to stand behind, to lead the way, root for, to open the door, to plead for, to pray and wait. Who has advocated for you in your life? Have you been an advocate for someone? My sister is an advocate for me. She taught me the power of prayer.
Chances are that someone advocated for you or you would not be present here today. Who influenced your life? Or who wanted to influence your life but you resisted? Remember that the Holy Spirit is sometimes called our “Advocate.” We believe the Holy Spirit cares for us with a love so deep it cannot be fathomed. The Holy Spirit stands beside us when we face God and confess that we have made an awful choice or mistake, if you will. The Holy Spirit advocates for us as we move step by step through our lives. The Holy Spirit counsels us and rescues us.
Just as the shepherd says, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep!” we hear the Holy Spirit saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found and rescued this wayward soul!” Just as the woman is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost coin!” so Jesus is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found the soul for whom I died!” And the Father in heaven is saying, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need not repentance.” Do you hear that heavenly singing? It is the angels. Yes, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents!
Okay! Are we the one sinner who repents or can we claim to be among the righteous? I guess it depends on which minute we are asked that question. After we say to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we may be righteous for a second or so. But that second is what we live for! To be forgiven, to be as white as snow in the inside. To hear the joy and gladness in our ears and in our souls. That is when we join Paul in shouting, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”
And while we are on that high, we are expected to praise God with our actions, not just our voices. That is why today we have this beautiful and bountiful display of God’s goodness before us. That is why we faithfully bring food Sunday after Sunday or week after week. We recognize the mercy and faithfulness of God in our lives.
How is the bounty in this world distributed? According to righteousness? Rain falls on the just and on the unjust. It is a puzzle why we are not evenly blessed with bounty. It is like asking why do good people suffer. We need to acknowledge that the suffering of this world does not match people’s righteousness. The people who live in drought can be our brothers and sisters in Christ. The people, who live where cruel gangs control neighborhoods or the whole country, could be the chicks under the wings of Christ. But Christ could be expecting us to be extensions of his wings to these people.
Who will receive this bounty after we have enjoyed the sight? Who will receive this bounty that we could have kept for ourselves? People who never had the privilege. People who had opportunities but made poor choices. People who never knew human love. People who were bullied until their self-worth is mashed into a pulp. People who never knew that Jesus was more than a swear word. People who are viciously mean.
Then again, how much gratitude are we to expect for the sharing of our bounty? Will receiving gratitude make the giving more worthwhile? It is in the giving that Jesus will say, “Good and faithful servants.” It is in the giving that we can feel the reward. It is in the giving that we can grow to see what more is needed. We as a congregation are givers! We can be pleased that it is this way. Does God have a vision for us to be challenged to somehow let the receiving person know that “Jesus” is real and not only a swear word. “Jesus” is the name by which angels will sing over one sinner who comes home. Who is going to bring that person home? Is it you? Is it me? Is it all of us together? One plants the seed. One waters. Over and over, tirelessly. Like the plants which became this food. The seed was planted and watered and harvested. So be it with the person who is rescued and becomes living grain and fruit for the Kingdom of God.