Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sermon Texts: Psalm 23 and Luke 15: 1-10

Sermon manuscript:

My kids love playing hide and seek.  It’s so much fun to watch their mischevious faces as they run off to find a place to hide.  Julianna always goes to the same place to hide.  She runs to the corner of our bedroom, giggling the whole way, and then she flops herself down on our long accent pillows, and waits for me to inevitably come into the room saying, “hmm, I wonder where she is?”  First I look in the closet, then I look in the bathroom.  She’s still giggling with delight that she’s fooled me when I start creeping over to the corner saying, “hmm, what’s that sound, is she over here?” 
And she does that thing where she hides her face in the corner when I’m getting closer to make it harder for me to find her.  Isn’t that funny.  We all do it, and we’ve all seen it happen.  Hands over eyes or a face in the corner is an effective hiding place, because obviously the one looking for us can’t see us if we can’t see him, huh? 
          Jesus tells this beautiful idea that rings so frequently throughout scripture, that God is like a shepherd.  He’s been accused by the Pharisees for eating and socializing with sinners.  They thought the holier you were, the further you stayed away from the infecting loose morality of these prostitutes and tax-collectors and fishermen that Jesus called friends. 
So, he goes into this story, relating to the pervasive identity of the Isrealite people as shepherds, and says, who among us, when we lose a sheep in the field, will not leave the other 99 grazing in the pasture and go to look for the other missing one. 
Who among us, right?  Perhaps Jesus shames his audience, because the truth probably is that many of the people there certainly wouldn’t see themselves leaving the other 99 in the field and letting the lost one fend for himself.  That is obviously the case with the Pharisees who are quite content to leave those they considered “lost” in their own “briars” and rough patches.  Israel was a stratified society.  The pure stay away from the impure.  The way they saw it, this was a commandment from God.  And it’s not like they were being mean, there are all sorts of prohibitions and commandments in the law about purity and maintaining purity. 
But Jesus was telling the people that God was up to a new thing. Perhaps God had been up to something other than what the Pharisees thought God was up to all along, and they’d been misinterpreting what this God of theirs held dearest. 
It was okay for the people who heard this story about the lost sheep to not really relate to this foolhardy shepherd, because Jesus wasn’t really talking about us, he was talking about God—and he was talking about himself.  He was talking about this kind of salvation that he was here to offer, and that would be offered through the body of believers who would accept his message . 
So, just in case that shepherd metaphor didn’t sound far fetched enough, he tells a story about a woman who loses a coin and then spends all day cleaning up her house, taking everything apart, looking in all the drawers. 
I can relate to this one too in some ways.  I’ve got this list on the refrigerator and I title the list “I once was lost” in the optimism that one day I’ll be able to scratch through the thing on the list (my sunglasses clip ons, or our other set of keys).  At times, the frustration of not finding those items does prompt me to spend a few moments sticking my hand down in the crack between the cushions on the couch or taking off the air conditioning vents to look.  ButI don’t really spend all that much time before I just think, “well, I’ll most likely find it when I stop looking for it anyway” and then I just write it on the list. 
But I don’t have any “coins” on my “I once was lost” list.  And it’s not that a coin was just worth so much more back in Jesus’ time either.  It’s just a coin, and then the lady turns her house upside down for it!  Then she finds it, so what does she do to celebrate?  Does she just scratch it off the list and have that nice sense of accomplishment?  No—she throws a party! 
The point in both of them is that God is searching. And no matter how unimportant or inconsequential we think we are—God is overjoyed to find us.  One thing that Wesley is trying to get straight is exactly how big God is.  The conversation usually goes something like this: “Is God bigger than the earth?  Yes son, God made the earth, so God is bigger than the earth.  Is God bigger than the sun?  Yes, son, God is bigger than the sun.  Is God big big bigger than the whole universe?  Well, yes son, but God also lives in your heart.  So, God can do anything He wants?  Yes—God can do anything he wants.
          Sometimes we feel the same way, don’t we.  If God is big, big, bigger than the universe, and has all these things going on, then how or why do we amount to anything?  We are the inconsequential coin, lost under the rug. But Jesus says that God is searching even for us.  Even for those people who the pure Pharisees might consider to be inconsequential or unimportant. 
          I talked with some of our church people who are involved in the prayer chain in our church lately.  This is such a vital part of our church’s ministry to the community.  If you want to be involved in it—just take a look at your newsletter to see who is involved, and ask one of the people there to include you.  The people on the prayer chain have often been the ones who have contacted me to inform me that one person or another is sick or in the hospital.  Their willingness to hold a person in prayer and then pass along the concern to others is sometimes how I hear about emergencies or illnesses that I can respond to with pastoral ministry.  This word, pastoral, comes from that idea of God being a shepherd, and that one of our responsibilities as a “pastor” is to be a shepherd—it is to bring to life that identity of God as one who searches out those in need. 
          I spoke with Imogene on the phone about the prayer chain the other day, and she said something really wise—she said, “I think that one of the strengths of the prayer chain is that it give people a real sense of peace that they are being remembered in prayer.” 
          Many of us have been in those kinds of situations where we feel lost or misplaced, even when we are fully aware of exactly where we are.  I can imagine that there’s not many more places where we feel “out of place” than when we are laying there in a hospital bed with a hospital robe not covering us. 
          That’s when we need to know that God is actively seeking us.  We may feel lost, but God wants us to feel found.  We are found, and God rejoices over each of us like that woman finding the coin.  We are in a prolonged state of being found.  If you take that split second of pride and joy upon the discovery of something previously lost to you, that is the way that God feels about us our whole lives through.  We and our needs for security and salvation are not inconsequential or unimportant to God. 
          But, how many of us, even though we know we’ve been found, cover our eyes and live like we are pretending that God doesn’t see us. 
We know, we really know we have been found, but we’re turning our faces away from that loving father with arms outstretched because it’s fun to hide.  We childishly turn our faces away from God because if we don’t acknowledge that God sees us, we can pretend He really doesn’t. 
          Why would we ignore that we’ve been found?  We do—we oftentimes don’t live our lives like we’ve been found.  There will come a day, and hopefully it is before we pass away from this wonderful gift of life, that we will look back on our lives before we acknowledged our Father’s presence and outstretched arms much as we do now looking back on that childlike self putting his nose in the corner and pretending the Searcher of our Hearts wasn’t actually there. 
          But he is—and as soon as we live into that reality that we’ve been found and are cherished as a doting father cherishes his little girl in the same hiding spot she always goes to.  We can live our lives in that embrace.  That can shape our whole existence.  That embrace can give us our ultimate identity.  We are found.  Not a single one of us is forgotten. 

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