Will We?

Marktoberdorf1

This sermon was preached at New Life Presbyterian Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan and was focused upon Luke 15:1-10.  The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Luke 15:1-10

The opening sentence sets the scene.

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.”

Jesus had a way about him, and he had words to share. These words were opening hearts and igniting imaginations. His words and his very presence invited people into a reality called the Kingdom of God. It was so inviting that people drew near to listen, including people who knew what it is like to live on the fringes of society. They were coming near, and they were leaning in with their ears and their very presence.

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.”

That sounds like something to celebrate, but while this opening sentence is inviting, it sets the scene for a controversy.

The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Yes, the tax collectors and sinners – the imperfect, the outsiders, the misunderstood, and the marginalized – they were leaning in and coming ever nearer. And people from the religious establishment saw this as problematic.

When they complained that Jesus welcomes sinners and eat with them, the Pharisees and the scribes were not grumbling about some odd meal that Jesus had – a bite to eat at some point with these individuals. They were saying, “He associates with these people. He associates with these kinds of people.”

And they weren’t wrong. Jesus associated so closely with these people that he identified with them in many ways. Jesus lived his life as an outsider too. He had the audacity to live as an outsider among the outsiders, and from that position, he spoke as the teacher – the Rabbi who imagined, envisioned, invited, created, and embodied the Kingdom of God.

From this place of controversy, he speaks. Today, he offers holy words and issues an invitation:

To the Pharisees and the scribes, Jesus said, “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.’” Which one of you would not do the same?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Would they do the same? Would we?

Jesus continues. “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.’

Which one of you would not do the same?

That question lingers in the air.

And it is an interesting question, isn’t it? Would they do the same thing? Would we?

Jesus says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” and “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Ninety-nine righteous persons who think they need no repentance.

God celebrates those who are coming near, especially when they have been cast off or placed far away. . . sometimes, because they have walked in that direction themselves. . . and sometimes, sadly, my friends, because they have been cast out by people like you and me. . . people of the religious establishment.

God celebrates when these beloved ones come near.

Which one of you would not do the same? The question lingers. Will we do the same? Will we celebrate?

These are interesting questions, of course, because it might seem like a wild and illogical idea to leave all ninety-nine sheep, not in the pin, but in the wilderness, just to seek out one. We might ask, “Who would actually do that?” It might seem like a wild and illogical idea to turn a house upside down to look for one silver coin only to then throw a lavish party to celebrate, perhaps spending even more than that one coin. We might ask, “Who would actually do that?”

This is the wild, illogical, beautiful, and life-giving grace of God. The God behind this grace is the very God behind the Kingdom of God, the reality to which Jesus invites us. This is a grace-filled reality where ninety-nine are valuable, yes, but no more valuable than that one. That one is so valuable that the shepherd will do all he can to seek and celebrate that one sheep. That one is so valuable that God, a searching woman, will do everything she can to seek and celebrate that one silver coin.

My friends, we are valuable in this grace of God, and that grace meets us today,
for we are always being sought,
we are always being found,
and we are always being celebrated,
even when we feel alone,
even when we feel lost,
even when we feel forsaken.

This grace meets us,
when we are thrown unexpectedly into grief,
when we hear that challenging diagnosis,
when we struggle continually with addiction, and
when we fear the pains and violence of this world.

This grace meets us today,
when we remember this day’s challenging anniversary,
fifteen years after that painful 9/11,
a day that changed our nation,
a day that changed our world.

Wherever we are on this day,
God’s grace seeks us.
Wherever we are on this day,
We are valued, loved, and celebrated.

Grace seeks and finds us in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus invites us into this reality,
for the grace which claims us
becomes the grace which calls us.

Jesus asks, “Which one of you would not do this?” Today, no matter how wild or illogical, we can say ‘yes’ with our lives. Today, we can follow the God who seeks. Today, we can follow the God who lavishes others with love and sacred value.

And of course, throughout this scripture and this sermon, another question has lingered all along: Will we go out and seek the presence of our neighbors? And will we do this with a different mindset than we have had before? Too often, many of our neighbors have been pushed out by the religious establishment. Or if they have been sought, they have been viewed primarily as ‘lost ones needing to be saved’ or as ‘opportunities to save our churches’ from decline.

Can we see them in the way that God sees them,
as people who are treasured and valued with gifts to share?

Can we seek them in the way that God seeks them,
honoring them and celebrating them all along the way?

Perhaps in the seeking, we will go out from what is known and comfortable,
and learn that our neighbors have ways of leading us.

So let us seek and be led,
by the presence of our neighbors,
and most fully, by the presence of the God who seeks us all.

The grace which claims us
is the grace which calls us.

So let’s follow.
Amen.

Renee Roederer

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