"Welcome Sinners! Let's Eat!"

15 September 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “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.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “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.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Prayer.

It is a dangerous thing to find fault in others,

especially when it comes to religion.

When others find fault in us

We tend to take it personally.

When we find fault in others

it is like an invitation for others to return the favor.

Let the food fight begin!

“Judge not, lest ye be judged”

Jesus says in Luke 6:37.

Jesus takes a different approach.

Instead of finding fault with others

he joins the tailgate party,

he joins the crew and orders an abundance of chicken wings,

he gets off his theological high horse

substitutes common talk for church talk,

and welcomes everyone to dinner.

Jesus knows how to flip a burger,

slather on the BBQ sauce,

and throw a block party

where everyone is welcome.

Knock his behavior if you want,

but do so at your own peril,

knowing full well the Bible has already penned a new job title for you:

“Pharisee.”

“Judge not, lest ye be judged”

We hear the biblical narrative of the woman sweeping her house looking for the lost coin,

and of the shepherd leaving behind his 99 to go in search of the one lamb who is missing,

and we make the assumption that this is a divine imperative

that we chase after those who have become lost to us.

We assume it is all about us.

The coin has no conscious knowledge,

so if it is to be found,

it is wholly dependent upon OUR initiative.

The  sheep is a dumb animal,

most certainly never to find it’s way home,

so, it too, is completely dependent upon OUR attempts to bring it home.

Jumping to conclusions,

making assumptions,

leaping before you look,

and completing the sentences of others

just is not a helpful strategy!

Let us also listen to an equally powerful parable of Jesus,

the story of the Prodigal Son and his brother,

which immediately follows our Gospel for today.

I see a father who,

despite every cell in his body telling him not to let his son go,

he bites his tongue,

he lets him go,

and then he doesn’t go after him.

I can’t help but stop and ask, “where is the consistency here?”

“Dad, go after your son! …

like the good shepherd who goes after the lost sheep,

like the woman who searches for the lost coin.”

And yet, he watches, and waits,

watches and waits,

watches and waits,

with every expectation that at any moment that rascal son of his

will round the corner in the road and return home.

When does one watch and wait?

and when does one corral the 99

and set out on a mission to retrieve the one who is lost?

Perhaps these parables are not about us;

perhaps they are all about God.

Let’s take another look.

We make the assumption that today’s Gospel

accounts of two parables

are about going after the lost,

when in fact;

these may be

parables about God’s joy when a sinner repents.

Jesus may be telling us something

about God’s nature and characteristics,

more so than instructing his disciples in policies and procedures

that should be followed after he is gone.

Listen carefully to these words of Jesus,

“When he has found it (the lost lamb, that is),

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.’

Just so, I tell you,

there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Which,

in my mind,

throwing a party

for recovering what could have been a one percent loss

is a little over the top ...

Which is exactly as Jesus meant it to be!

Similarly, with the woman searching for a lost coin,

“When she has found it (the lost coin, that is),

she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying,

‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

Which,

in my mind,

throwing a party

for finding a lost coin

is a little over the top ...

Which is exactly as Jesus meant it to be!

Two thoughts.

1. God’s joy begins at the find. And it spreads quickly to the rest of heaven.

I don’t know where we ever got this impression

that our God is an ogre,

but it is wrong.

Yes, God’s history of involvement with humankind,

as recorded in the Hebrew / Old Testament scriptures,

paints a picture of a God of law, covenant, and judgment.

With this as the only lens through which one observes and creates a knowledge base,

yes, I can see how one might draw incomplete conclusions about God.

Yet, when put together with the Gospels and the epistle letters of Paul and Peter,

we can easily see that God would rather not be in the business

of shelling out punitive judgment upon his creation,

his beloved children.

God is so much more concerned with our well-being.

God sent us his Son, Jesus Christ,

not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through Him.

Our well-being is rooted in living the example of Jesus,

creating an environment of forgiveness and dwelling in it,

and in the gift of eternal life.

Our God is in the joy business:

working in the creating department,

and in shipping.

There is joy in living his example;

reaching out to the lost, the lonely, the outcast, the untouchables, and the unclean.

There is joy in serving others, knowing they can never repay you, and they shouldn’t try.

There is joy in reaching out a helping hand and for someone else to take it.

Isn’t there joy in forgiveness?

Forgiveness is like opening a locked gate in the barnyard.

It allows a relationship to move forward,

sharing the road together for a while longer.

It sets free souls

that stagnate in a pen of purgatory,

awkward avoidance,

and wounded pride.

God experiences such joy with forgiveness

that his joy overflows and infects all the souls in heaven.

Angels rejoice! and why not?

No one goes over the top with

the biggest, best, wonderful party

more so than God.

2. My second thought is this: Being found isn’t about being returned to a former state.

The former state was of living in sin.

Being found is all about repentance;

this is the key to God’s joy.

We downplay the role of repentance,

to our peril,

in today’s society.

And yet, it is repentance that holds the key to solving so many of the world’s problems. Fundamentalism; either Moslem, Christian, or Jewish fundamentalism

will come to an end

if all would agree to a process of repentance.

Racial and gender discrimination would come to an end

with a commitment to repentance.

Economic injustice would cease

with a universal acceptance of the repentance process.

This is what would bring joy to God, and to all of heaven!

It is time to stop talking politics and to start talking about reconciliation and repentance.

That process, which brings such great joy to God,

begins with stopping the offense.

Repentance begins by ending the oppression.

Let go of the power and the pride.

Give up the attitude of deserving anything in life; nobody deserves anything.

Everything comes from God’s grace, not through bloodline or birthright.

Lose the sense of privilege.

Instead of paying a premium to go to the head of the line,

join me at the end,

along with everybody else.

The second step of repentance is a personal resolution …

to never, ever commit the offense again.

Make it your personal, internal crusade.

Stop the hurting, and vow never to hurt again.

Make the vow,

and most importantly,

keep it.

Thirdly, and this may be some of the most difficult to accept,

repair the damage that was done.

Make reparations.

Make right the wrong that you committed.

My mother would call this “Cleaning Up After Yourself”.

Camp counselors call this “Returning the Woods to the Way You Found It”.

If your actions caused another to be injured,

pay for their hospital expenses

and

their pain and suffering.

Finally, God is filled with joy when repentance is complete,

and that begins when we set out on a new direction.

Turn your back upon the old ways,

ways that led to pain and sorrow.

Turn and face a new beginning.

Turn your life around and make a new start ….

The Lord is throwing a party just for you,

so come and take a seat at His table!

Keep your eyes on the prize,

and that is Jesus Christ.

Finally, let me recognize the fact that

we can’t force people to behave,

or even to return our initiative with a civil response.

The person repenting of their sins has to have

some kind of cooperation with those whom he or she has victimized.

This is where we simply have to be able to leave the rest up to God.

We have to trust God that,

by his hand,

hearts will be healed and all parties will be able to move on.

The reason we fail to get cooperation

may be according to some larger, more grand, divine plan.

We may never know the answer to the question,

“Why?”

And so, dearly beloved, join God’s party!

Rejoice, for it is a good one!

At the same time give thanks to God

that you haven’t been left behind,

that God has found you.

Write repentance upon your heart:

Your personal repentance from the sins you’ve committed;

And the repentance of others for the pain they may have caused you.

Repent, and there will be less sin in the world.

Repent, and give God some joy,

and that will spread to every angel in His heavenly realm!

Repent, and God’s kingdom will become …

one step closer than it was before.

This is the Word of the Lord, as it has come to me this day.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.