The Good News!


Welcome! I am the Rev. Ken Saunders the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD (since May 2011). These sermons here were delivered in the context of worship.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies, are commentaries that follow scripture lessons) are specifically designed to be heard (and are written for the ear) so they may contain sentence fragments and they may be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be theological discourses or academic papers.]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RCL Year C (Proper 19) - September 12, 2010

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Christ Church
Cleveland, NC

RCL Year C (Proper 19) - September 12, 2010

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

We may think this morning… “Hey!! This week, these lessons are easy! We know right away what it says! You know, it’s like that hymn “Amazing Grace”… I once was lost, but now I am found… I got it preacher, you can stop right there! End of Sermon – See you next Sunday…

But, I’m not going to let you off that easy! Sometimes when we read the lessons, we think they are so easy… So easy that sometimes we like to get to the point because we think we don’t need to open the box…

It’s easy for us to jump right to being “lost” like the sheep and the coin from the Gospel lesson… We jump so quick that we loose the depth of what the scripture readings are telling us together this morning…

The prophet Jeremiah talks to us about how Judah interpreted what was happening to them… they were under attack, their lands were being destroyed, and their lives were falling apart. As far as they knew it, the end was near and all was lost!

They evaluated their situation and decided that they were suffering this dilemma because they were not following God’s ways, so God must be punishing them. The logic that they are using is pretty easy to understand. It is so easy to blame God for our misfortunes even though we are probably the ones who caused them in the first place.

But we have to remember, regardless of who is doing the destroying, out of the destruction God brings re-creation and restoration. Out of tearing down God builds up. Just like out of crucifixion God provided resurrection and out of death God brings us to life everlasting.

It’s hard to hear about that portion of the journey it difficult for us to spend time wrestling with the questions, trying to figure out where we have gone astray. It becomes so easy to blame God when something doesn’t go like we think it should. But, it becomes just as easy to praise God when something happens to us that we perceive as a blessing.

We think that these things are easy, because deep in our minds we think that it’s all about us instead of it being all about God. We are so hung up on that Amazing grace… that divine favor… God’s grace for us, that we don’t look beyond the gift of God’s Grace into our desperate need for God’s Grace.

We need to remember that God and only God has the ability to form, transform, restore, re-create, and resurrect. It must be that we are a bit hard-headed, and stubborn. We need that element of control because we have it all figured out. That’s probably why we don’t let God shower us with the abundance that God has in store for us.

In the new testament lesson, we get a first hand account of Paul’s testimony. Paul, a blasphemer, a persecutor, and man of violence was transformed into an example of the faith. Prior to his conversion, Paul thought he was very much in control. The scripture says that he acted out of ignorance. He was blinded by the things that he refused to believe. He was lost, and had that desperate need for God’s Grace.

And God went to work on Paul… redeeming him, restoring him, and re-recreating him for God’s glory. Paul was lost until Paul found God on the road to Damascus.

So, that brings up the question for us to ponder this morning, “In reference to God, who is lost – and who is found???” In reference to God, not in reference to the Pharisees, (who think that they have it all figured out)… or in reference to ourselves (because the Lord knows, we’re not in control, and if we use ourselves as a reference, and we consider ourselves found then everyone not like us is lost…) But in reference to God… Who is lost and who is found… In reference to God??

The gospel lessons this morning, Luke gives us 2 parables in the lost trilogy – the lost sheep and the lost coin. I say it is a trilogy, because the story of the lost son (some of us know it better as the prodigal son) that comes right after it, but we hear that story in Lent.

In the first parable, a shepherd looses one of his sheep. Shepherds are talked about quite a bit in the Bible, and is often used as a metaphor for how God tends to us and cares for us… In the case that Jesus presents, the shepherd has a hundred sheep (Now – a hundred sheep is a pretty large flock. Most families would only have a small fraction of that number.) And Jesus gives us a clear invitation to identify with this thankless shepherd asks the question, "Which one of you?"

Which one of you, having 100 sheep, and loosing one, would leave the 99 in the wilderness? It almost makes it sound as if leaving the ninety-nine was the natural response, but that is far from the case here. It’s actually an absurdity.

It’s not practical! Anybody with any kind of business sense would say, don’t worry about the one. Protect the core business -- the ninety-nine. We can survive a one-percent loss. We cannot survive a ninety-nine percent loss. But Jesus speaks to us about leaving the ninety-nine… leaving the 99 not "safely in the sheepfold," but in the wilderness – an extremely wild and dangerous place.

The little lost lamb is found, and "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.” This is a nice thought, but it’s truly absurd! But, I think it’s absurd to make a point… The point to see in this story is the radical and absurd ways that we are called to act as disciples of Christ in the world, because of the way God acts radically toward us.

It’s just like the church. Sometimes as a church we do stuff that the world would consider absurd. You can take your pick and fill in the blank. But we do these things in order to respond to the unquantifiable grace that we have received... the love, forgiveness, and pure joy that we can only get from God. When the shepherd comes home, he calls together all his friends and neighbors. The shepherd's joy cannot be contained, but overflows throughout the whole community.

The second parable this morning is about a woman that has 10 silver coins, but looses 1. Again the balance is upset… Where could it be? How could I have been so careless? How difficult is it to keep a mere ten coins in the bag? Lost! Nine coins will not be enough. All ten will be required to meet the needs of the month. Look under the bed. Carefully sweep the rooms and sift through the debris. Where could it have gone? Check the mantel once again. "Ah, there it is!" Rejoice!

Throughout his ministry, Jesus introduces us to the kingdom of God, a radical place of upside-down rules, an absurd place where the norms are different than that of the world. In these stories about the kingdom of God, Jesus teaches us about the radical nature of God's love. This is a place where the ordinary rules of business calculations do NOT apply.

The shepherd mourns the loss of the sheep, so the shepherd searches until he finds the sheep. The woman is frantic at her loss of the coin. But, the joy she expresses at the coins return is beyond extreme elation!

The parables of the lost, really aren’t about being lost at all they should be referred to as the parables of the found! The reaction to finding the lost sheep and the coin is a metaphor for God's joy… God’s joy over the one sinner who repents.

So God's joy really is the point of these parables…

The Pharisees think that they have it figured out, and chastise Jesus for eating with the wrong people… grumbling and telling Jesus that they are sinners… that they are all lost... But Jesus seeks them out and eats with them… Jesus finds them and shares a meal with them, and teaches them, and transforms them into and example of God’s grace, just like he does with us…

Like the people of Judah, we are all here in the wilderness, in the desolate desert, in the ruins of our life, living in the issues and problems that we have made for ourselves. The problem is, like Paul we think we have control of it. But, we are just as lost as we can be. However, no matter how lost we may feel, or how horrified we may become, God is there. God is there to restore us, to reconcile us, and re-create us… All we have to do is accept it and live into it…

The sheep wonder off and go astray, the coin drops off the table and onto the floor… But, all we need to do is remember that God is radically searching for us until we find God. Yes, you heard me right, God is so radically searching for us… searching for us until WE find God. And thank be to God!! God doesn’t follow the normal rules. God doesn’t write us off, or cut the losses because each and every soul is precious and deserving of God’s love.

God doesn’t keep us confined on a short leash, but lets us wonder around in the wilderness. And we do… we even get lost, because we are all a rebellious and sinful people. It is God’s love for us that continuously draws us back to God.

Regardless of how lost we may feel, or how sinful we may be (and when we finally figure out that it’s not about us) God is there… God is there among us, ready to draw us back… and bring us home to the church. So that when we repent we can be reconciled to God and be re-created and restored through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Because when we are lost, it is only through God that we are found!

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